less shadow detail mght be 'more'...

Discussion in 'Lighting' started by David Lyga, Nov 27, 2012.

  1. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

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    Does anyone like certain photographs BECAUSE they have black shadows?

    I have been having a conflict with my sense of aesthetics for many years over this. There are too many photographs out there that are actually enhanced by lack of shadow detail. But, let's face it, that 'information' is permanently lost through the film's underexposure.

    I think that the answer lies with the subject matter and the mood that one wishes to convey (or the mood that the subject FORCES one to convey). There is 'mystery' imparted in some situations by allowing one to 'read into' the picture in order to mentally create appropriate data. Obviously, this is not always the case and there are countless photos that demonstrate a lack of aesthetics solely because they look so underexposed. But with such 'underexposure' of the negative the highlights usually benefit through better separation, as they are not so far up the exposure curve and into the more contracted 'shoulder' area. - David Lyga
     
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  2. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Whatever the picture dictates. To me shadow detail can be downright distracting sometimes, and am no stranger to both completely black shadows, or areas of highlights without detail. Under-/over-exposed and/or under-/over-developed - technical terms defined by technical standards usually - while creating a successful print might break all the rules in the book. I've come to a point where I only look at a print and decide whether it moves me or not. That's all that really matters to me.

    But, I think that it's best to leave options open, so I usually attempt to insure I have enough shadow information and avoid blocked up highlights in the negatives. It makes things easier come printing time, and I use printing technique to 'hide' content. It's much easier to 'hide' details that are present in a negative, than to try to reveal something that isn't there.

    What I think is utterly important is to look at our own work flows, and try our way with things. If we're not sure how we like our prints, maybe it's a good idea to find a familiar scene and bracket exposures and/or experiment with developing times and agitation. Just so that we can find a negative that prints exactly how we like, and just forget about conventional wisdom for a while.
     
  3. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    Totally depends on the subject matter and one's personal aesthetic/preferences. No rules.
     
  4. Shawn Dougherty

    Shawn Dougherty Subscriber

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    These fellows have summed up my thoughts pretty well. Whatever the print and printer demand...

    I try to make average negatives that give me lots of options in the darkroom. It's easy to burn down shadows...


    Although you make a good point here.
     
  5. wilfbiffherb

    wilfbiffherb Member

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    just because it is PRINTED with blacked out shadows doesn't necessarily mean that that's what the film is like. The photographer may have just opted to print it that way.
     
  6. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    Depending on the film/developer combination, the highlights should maintain full separations up to pretty high levels (at least ~Zone XII in ZS parlance) with good-to-useable separations thereafter up to ~Zone XV, provided normal or mildly contracted development is applied. Big time underdevelopment and/or compensating procedures significantly flatten highlight contrast (effectively blocking highlights but with lower densities) so they must be carefully used. This is why when dealing with very high contrast subjects I suggest considering printing techniques when making the exposure/development decision at the scene.
     
  7. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    This is purely my preference for my preferred subject matter.

    I don't expect exceptional amounts of detail in the shadows.

    Unless the shadows are an integral part of what I want to portray about my main subject, which is rare, I prefer the shadows fall to black or darn close.

    I think this lets the mid-tones and highlights to actually look a bit brighter and more defined, even when printed a bit darker in reality.

    This doesn't mean the shadow detail isn't caught on my films though. I shoot normally at recommended norms. For Delta 400 I use EI 500 with my incident meter and DD-X as suggested by Ilford to get normal contrast..

    When printing I can typically back off enlarger exposure for these negatives at least 2 stops before shadow details I really want start going away, that's a pretty big safety margin.
     
  8. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Yes, if you have enough oomph in your light source to actually shine through those dense highlights without going into reciprocity failure territory of the paper... I love my Leitz V35 enlarger, and it has taken a little while to get calibrated with my negatives such that I have enough contrast, but also able to stay under 2 minute exposure times one or two stops from wide open on the enlarger lens.

    I like my Omega, and with a 250W bulb in the lamp I can use a fair bit denser negatives, but for 35mm it's a finicky enlarger to use, especially getting correct focus because of how much it wobbles.
     
  9. batwister

    batwister Member

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    When contrast is increased, with artistic intent, shadows can represent mystery. An abandoned house for example, with a half open door showing slight detail in the room beyond, might benefit from a contrast increase. But you have to ask yourself if the detail through the door actually drew you to make the picture - otherwise you will be changing the original intent of the photograph in the darkroom, removing the detail with contrast.

    With full shadow detail however, a picture can be mysterious or mood driven by the inherent nature of the subject - think Diane Arbus. Ultimately I think this question comes down to craft vs straight photography. Revealing everything can make a picture just as mysterious, and personally, I prefer a photographer who can create mystery or mood in a picture through the seeing alone. Everything done in the darkroom should only be elaboration. To add to Ansel Adams' idea - you can get away with adding extra notes to a major chord, but changing it to a minor fundamentally changes the original intent and structure of the piece. There will be a confusing dissonance or conflict sensed by the listener/viewer.

    In short, I don't think it's purely a question of aesthetics. I believe aesthetics are inevitable when there is intent. I think I was initially drawn to Thomas Joshua Cooper's work for aesthetic reasons, craft aesthetics (well executed high contrast images) and I only saw what I was looking for, but I carried on looking because there was something else.
     
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  10. ParkerSmithPhoto

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    Ralph Eugene Meatyard was an "unconventional" printer who often had pure black in the shadows. He is also, in my opinion, one of the true greats of American photography. I saw his photographs at the High Museum many years ago and I can honestly say I've never seen more powerful photographs in my life.
     
  11. Fred Aspen

    Fred Aspen Member

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    Thomas, I'm having trouble imagining a negative that requires a 2 minute enlarger exposure with a lens aperture of f5.6. I've been in photography professionally and can't remember making enlarger exposures more than 45 seconds or so under conditions where a neg was grossly overexposed.

    Perhaps a typo? Or do you have a lot of filtering in the light path? Please explain.
     
  12. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    It's a creative call. I have this engrained habit of always exposing for shadow detail. If I decide not to have it in my final print, I burn in the shadows or bump up the contrast. Aesthetically, for my images, I like shadow detail. My images can look too heavy if there are inky shadows. But one photographer that does dark shadows well is Ralph Gibson.
    http://www.ralphgibson.com/gallery.html
     
  13. Fred Aspen

    Fred Aspen Member

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    David, I agree with you and with Thomas' thoughts that shadow detail, for me, usually doesn't do a lot for overall intent and in most cases, in my opinion, detracts from the intent. Shadow detail usually adds too much unnecessary 'busyness' to my images. I like an image to convey the message, make the point, without a lot of 'background noise.' Just my take on what I like after 50 years in this game.
     
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  15. Fred Aspen

    Fred Aspen Member

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  16. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Not a typo. It's how long it would take with my Leitz Focomat V35 with a negative of what I consider a bit more than normal density. It takes a bit longer with the Minolta C3 enlarger, and a bit less time with the Omega Pro-Lab if I use the 150W bulb.
    I print using contrast filtration on multigrade papers, the Omega is a condenser model where I use Ilford filters, the Leitz has a multi contrast head, and the Minolta is dichroic color head. The Leitz has a way of removing all of the filters in the light path, and that increases the printing speed by about one stop, compared to Grade 2 filtration.

    Normal exposure time for me is between 22 seconds and 64 seconds at f/5.6 with a piece of 8x10 or 11x14 paper. If I developed my negatives to one stop denser (by overexposing one stop and not compensating in development), my enlarger exposures would be between 44 and 128 seconds. That's two minutes. What is so strange about that? I like what I get from fairly dense negatives.
     
  17. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    And Gibson both overexposes and overdevelops... Isn't that funny?!
     
  18. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    I don't find Thomas's numbers strange. There are several variables. But I have quite a few images that can require highlight burning sequences in the minutes depending on the enlarger used. As long as your negative stays flat, no problem.
     
  19. Fred Aspen

    Fred Aspen Member

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    Thanks, Thomas, for taking the time for an explanation; I learn something new each day!
     
  20. Fred Aspen

    Fred Aspen Member

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    Michael, I do the same but quite often the lens is stopped down to f11 or so to allow time for manipulation.
     
  21. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    Yes to a photo nerd

    It's always good to have some shadow detail in the bank with your negs right? You might want to use it later. If you want no shadow detail by under exposing your film, you're sure of yourself. It's like doing a crossword puzzle with a pen. :smile:
     
  22. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I'm certain I could learn a lot from you, Fred; there is little (if any) substitute for experience.

    I have found, over time, that I tend to gravitate toward negatives that are very bold. By being a bit critical about my results I have kept adjusting how I expose and process film, in order to get what I want in the print, and that has taken a lot of time. I could shoot and process my film so that my printing times would be shorter, but I find it more difficult to get a good print that way. The highlight contrast that Michael speaks of is pretty important to me; often that is where I find the real sparkle of a print is.
     
  23. Fred Aspen

    Fred Aspen Member

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    Just wanted to add one more observation to the discussion of David's question: I think it boils down to the "creative call" as mentioned above. I write a fair amount of fiction and I like to think I create images to tell a story. There are two camps here: one is trying to have one's images tell a story, or, making a record shot recording all the fine detail of a scene. Being a writer, I fall into the first category. Ansel, in my opinion, was in the second camp.

    (Secretly wanted to be a photojournalist but passed on the opportunity when it presented itself.) Oh well,...
     
  24. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Depends on your system and your experience. For slide shooters it's just how they shoot anyway.

    It can be done very reliably and there are truly good reasons people might want to minimize exposure on regular B&W negative film.

    It allows faster shutter speeds, reduced grain, and faster enlarger times.

    The biggest advantage for me is not having detail in the bank but having latitude so that I don't have to think about resetting exposure in the middle of a set, latitude let's me worry more about composition and timing.
     
  25. David Lyga

    David Lyga Subscriber

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    Yes, thank you all for liberating me and refusing to allow me to suffer guilt in the process.

    It's true that you can have shadow detail in the negative but find that leaving it out of the print (because of the need for more contrast, perhaps) can make for a better print with far more impact. Viscerally, it SEEMS to be 'wasting' information but, with much print viewing, I agree that sometimes 'less is more'. Yes, to reiterate, the highlight contrast sometimes 'tells' the story better than anything else can, through its 'boldness' and (really) beauty. Much learned and confirmed here. - David Lyga
     
  26. Helinophoto

    Helinophoto Member

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    IMO unless it's a high-key photo, shadows and blacks are totally natural.
    I find photos with absolutely no shadows quite flat and lifeless (this goes for photos with absolutely no highlights/white either).

    Just looks kind of funny when everything is squeezed into a few zones.