Capturing the nuances of detail, light and shadow, in a photograph is important and can sometimes be challenging. Never more so than when photographing a mono-tonal subject, especially one that is very light or very dark, or one without much detail to begin with.
Have you ever photographed something that lost its detail in the photograph? Maybe it became too bright or too dark or the color got so saturated it was just a blob? This can happen for different reasons, but one of them is failure to control lighting and exposure. I guess that’s really two reasons. So, let me ramble on a bit about each.
One thing I’d like you to notice is something you’ve undoubtedly noticed already–the flower is white. Ah..but look again. Yes, it’s a white flower, but in the photo it’s really white and shades of gray where parts of the flower cast shadows. This is what provides the sense of detail in the photo. I’ve written about chiaroscuro before, the interplay of light and shadow. Often, light coming from the side of the subject, at right angles or thereabouts to the axis of the camera lens, raking across the subject is what will create the most detail in the subject. So there’s my blurb about light for this post.
Now, as to exposure, in the world of digital photography, every pixel exists along a continuum of brightness from 0 to 255 where 0 is the darkest it can be and 255 is lightest. It’s a little more complicated than that but that’s the general idea. Knowing this helps us when we are crafting a photograph. We need to make sure that the brightness values of the pixels is correct, that they aren’t too bright or to dark. Here, a little bit of knowledge goes a long way.
In the photo above I made sure that very few of the brightest pixels were up near 255. (How this is accomplished is beyond the scope of this post.) As you push the brightness of a photo higher and higher more and more of the pixels are pushed as bright as they can go and then you have a whole bunch of pixels that are at 255. When too many pixels in one area are pushed to the brightness threshold and are all as bright as they can be you will have no shadow, no interplay between light and shadow and consequently no detail. I intentionally pushed the brightness values too high in the photo below so you can see what I mean.
Here–oh boy, oh boy–I get to climb on my photographic-knowledge-soapbox yet again and say that, no, there’s no setting on a camera that will assure proper exposure or brightness every time. They do the best they can, but the best Nikon is no substitute for photographic knowledge.
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