Manfrotto.Sometimes we need to lose detail in order to gain a picture...This was never an issue with film, particularly transparency film, and even more particularly Kodachrome, because once you’d shot it, that was it, and the only people who could make any further difference to the image - for better or sometimes worse - were the repro house and printers. Not only that, but no matter how much you underexposed, there was always something shadowy lurking in the depths of the film. The DMax was never completely max. I think it was this that led many magazine photographers to underexpose, because there was a certain deep richness in a dark Kodachrome that a) looked perfectly fine on a lightbox with your eye pressed to a loupe, and b) the repro guys could always pull it up if necessary. ..Some of us went to extremes, it’s true, to the despair of picture editors. Caroline Despard, my picture editor at the Smithsonian magazine for many years, once handed me a Japanese photo book with images so dark it was hard to make out was going on. ‘Have it, please,” she said, “You see what can go wrong. And you sometimes do this.” I picked up my exposures from their descending spiral...Anyway, this preamble is by way of arguing for the pleasures of deep shadows and contrast - the subject, in fact, of this week’s tutorials over on the other page. In the 1930s, the renowned Japanese novelist Junichiro Tanizaki wrote a long essay titled In Praise of Shadows: “our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty’s ends.” He was actually writing about the beauty of candlelight and the unpleasant glare of the new electric lights, but it’s an esthetic that still has a place, even in photography. The trouble is that the exceptional processing capabilities of software like Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture and DxO have become impossible to ignore. We can recover highlights and shadows, optimize, equalize, whateverize, so maybe we should. ..Tanizaki didn’t like the way in which everything was revealed in an interior. There was a loss of mystery and of nuance. This shot, taken in St Peter’s, Rome, is just such an example. I was on the set of Samsara, the sequel to the immensely popular cult movie Baraka, and we had two days’ filming in the basilica. That meant we had permissions, so fortunately I had the use of my tripod. Shadows in the huge space move rapidly, and we had a very bright sun, so they were etched sharply. The day before, Ron Fricke, the director, had spotted this one flying across the wall - not enough time to set up a shot. We noted the time and had it on the list for the following day...I was surprised at how quickly the pointing hand’s shadow moved. Just now I looked at the EXIF data, and from the moment the sunlight first hit the hand until it moved off the arm completely was just two-and-a-quarter minutes. So, no time to waste. I did bracket the shots, but more out of habit than necessity, because I already knew what I wanted: a stark, graphic shot that emphasized the shadow of the arm and hand, together with just the edge-lighting around the marble hand itself. That simply meant holding the exposure down so that there would be no highlight clipping. That was 1/6 sec at ƒ11 and 160mm on a full-frame DSLR, at ISO 100. But it’s the processing that really decides what this shot is about. A ‘default’ version from Photoshop’s raw processor would open up the shadows in contrasty original. Thereby losing all the potential interest. Compare this with the published version above. They are two quite different images. Instead of a straightforward church interior detail, this version is about exclamation. The mere hint of shadow detail behind the hand gives it strength, while the position of shadow and the statue’s arm are linked powerfully along the same diagonal - an effect lost in the ordinary way of processing.
Mpixels (67.3 MB uncompressed) - 3960x5940 pixels (13.2x19.8 in / 33.5x50.3 cm at 300 ppi)
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