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Thread: Contrast

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    Contrast

    Hello!

    I'm having a bit of a difficult time in the moment imagining whether a photo is going to be of high contrast or low contrast, and i'm ending up with a combination of both on roll film (35mm) and it's causing some development problems, i think. Does anyone have a recommendation for teaching me to better differentiate what is high/low contrast. For instance, in the winter, a scene with a ton of snow and a tree would be very contrasty right, because the snow will be white and tree will be much, much darker. I'm slightly confused!

    Thanks,

    Mark

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    cliveh's Avatar
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    The contrast in a black & white image is determined by the number of intermediate shades of grey between black and white. A picture of a Zebra may be high contrast (fewer intermediate shades), but a picture of an Elephant may be low contrast (lots of intermediate shades). Does this help, or did you mean in relation to processing of photographic materials?

    “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”

    Francis Bacon

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    When thinking about contrast, think of "quality of light". Is the lighting condition more direct or is the sun light obscured and defused with cloud? Also, look at the shadows your subject presents. Is it crisply defined and definite or are edges defused and not so definite?

    If you have both on your roll film, there isn't much you can do about this. I would just develop it normally and do what I can at printing time. Or, if you have extreme conditions, then you could choose to sacrifice some in favor of the other.

    As to snow condition, that's really hard to guess unless I can see your negative (or the scene). Tree may be dark but it could also be illuminated by reflection snow from every direction.
    Develop, stop, fix.... wait.... where's my film?

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    The example about the zebra/elephant is the extent of what i understand. What I think I'm trying to understand is how to more determine in my mind what the outcome will be. I mostly shoot landscapes and architectural pictures and I'm often having a challenging time (particularly in the summer) determining if a photo is going to be contrasty or not.

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    When thinking about the quality of light, how exactly does this affect contrast?

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    Bill Burk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mporter012 View Post
    The example about the zebra/elephant is the extent of what i understand. What I think I'm trying to understand is how to more determine in my mind what the outcome will be. I mostly shoot landscapes and architectural pictures and I'm often having a challenging time (particularly in the summer) determining if a photo is going to be contrasty or not.
    I like the Zebra / Elephant story too.

    The Zebra, in full sun, is Normal.

    Now imagine the Zebra - half in shade and half in sun. That is a high contrast.

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    Bill Burk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mporter012 View Post
    When thinking about the quality of light, how exactly does this affect contrast?
    Elephant on a sunny day, late afternoon would have more contrast than on a foggy cloudy day. But I suppose there aren't many foggy days on the Serengeti.

    What kind of light meter do you use? There are different approaches to determining contrast depending what you have.

    What kind of metering and development system do you feel like using? There are plenty of choices, and if I know what system you might be interested in, I can use that terminology.

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    cliveh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mporter012 View Post
    When thinking about the quality of light, how exactly does this affect contrast?
    Cloudy gives a softer, less contrasty image. Direct sun gives a harder, more contrasty image.

    “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”

    Francis Bacon

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    I would also venture to guess that clouds are hard to come by in Serengeti! At this point in my photographic explorations, I'm only using an in camera light meter. I understand that when I get a hand held it is going to improve my accuracy.

    If I'm understanding correctly, light is going to affect the contrast of a scene because it will cast harder shadows, creating darker areas (possibly black). Back to the example of snow though, If I am shooting a shooting a scene (which i often do) that has a frozen pond with a light snow cover with a background on a hillside, with an overcast sky, it would still seem to me to be contrasty, due to the amount of shades the separate the white snow and the dark hillside?

    Thanks!

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    Bill Burk's Avatar
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    I can relate to that phrase "photographic explorations"...

    In-camera meters are the "hardest" kind of meter to use. They get the job done, but by hiding details from you, they make learning hard. Not only that but when you want to get the information, you have to work backwards.

    Say you are out on the shore of the frozen pond on a clear sunny day. Hold your hand up and point your camera at your palm and take a reading. Does it show one stop higher than "Sunny 16" (Suppose a 125 speed film, shutter speed 125 - does the camera tell you to use f/22)? It might, or you might be able to move around until it does.

    Now the tough part to do in your head is ... figure out "how much darker" it is in the shady side of the trees on the far bank. When you take the picture, you will want the trees to be more than blank black silhouettes. So you have to figure out how dark that shade is somehow. You might have some trees on this side of the pond you can walk around. They'll probably have the same "light quality".

    And how bright the snow or ice is. Same problem, you can find out how bright that is the same way, by walking around to it.

    Ignore some of the very brightest and very darkest details. Some things are supposed to come out pure black and white.

    You'll probably have more than 7 stops difference between light and dark. So that would be relatively contrasty.

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