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  1. #1
    David Lyga's Avatar
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    less shadow detail mght be 'more'...

    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
    Last edited by David Lyga; 11-27-2012 at 09:54 AM. Click to view previous post history.

  2. #2
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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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.
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

    "Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman

    "...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh

  3. #3

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

  4. #4
    Shawn Dougherty's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Bertilsson View Post
    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.
    Quote Originally Posted by Michael R 1974 View Post
    Totally depends on the subject matter and one's personal aesthetic/preferences. No rules.
    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...

    Quote Originally Posted by David Lyga View Post
    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

    Although you make a good point here.

  5. #5

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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. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by David Lyga View Post
    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
    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. #7
    markbarendt's Avatar
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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.
    Mark Barendt, Beaverton, OR

    "We do not see things the way they are. We see things the way we are." Anaïs Nin

  8. #8
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael R 1974 View Post
    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.
    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.
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

    "Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman

    "...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh

  9. #9

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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.
    Last edited by batwister; 11-27-2012 at 12:19 PM. Click to view previous post history.

  10. #10
    ParkerSmithPhoto's Avatar
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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.
    Parker Smith Photography, Inc.
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    Commercial & Fine Art Photography
    Portrait Photography

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