Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tulips, contrast and shadows

click photo to enlarge
My DSLR, a Canon 5DMk2, is set to record images in the RAW format. I do this to give me the greatest flexibility when it comes to processing my photographs and to allow me a better chance of recovering from a poor exposure. My compact camera, a Panasonic Lumix LX3, despite the fact that it can record in RAW, is always set to the best quality JPEG because I take more snapshots with it. Despite that, it has produced some images that bear comparison with any done by my more capable camera (see here, here, here and here for example, or see them all here). I know that if I shot exclusively in JPEG on both cameras my shots wouldn't be enormously poorer for it, but I would find that I couldn't achieve the quality that I required from some exposures because of the restricted ability to post process this format.

In my pre-digital days I never did any post processing of colour negative or colour reversal film, though I did develop slides. I did use a range of filters on my lenses which is processing of sorts. However, with black and white I certainly experimented with chemicals, developing times, and with dodging and burning under the enlarger. I was always fond of fairly contrasty black and white images, and slides tended to have that quality anyway, so deep blacks against strong whites featured in quite a few of my prints. Nowadays I tend to favour the greater dynamic range  and more natural contrast that is possible with digital, though every now and again I like to take a left turn and produce a very contrasty image with deepened shadows.

Today's offering is a case in point. These dark red tulips grow in the shade of a crab apple tree in my garden, and I caught them on a still, cloudy evening, just as the light was starting to tail off. The unprocessed shot is reasonably well exposed with quite a good range of tones. What prompted me to increase the contrast was the dark, shadowy background in the top half of the shot. The red petals were positively glowing against this, and I thought it was an effect that I'd like to enhance across the whole frame. So, with a tweak of the Tone Curve and a few other fiddles here and there I produced this contrasty shot. I quite like it, but it may be a step too far for some

The sale of Instagram for $1 billion brought to my attention something that hitherto I didn't know, namely that people who take photographs on cameras increasingly apply pre-determined effects to their pictures. This has happened for many years in the world of digital photography where the result has been to make photographs look increasingly similar. Apparently that is happening with camera phones too as the mass application of the most popular effects reduces the difference between individual images. I'm not against photographic manipulation, but I do think that doing it yourself by consciously adjusting the basic parameters is more likely to retain any individuality your shot had, whereas applying a ready-made effect inevitably puts it alongside all the others that have had the same done to them.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 100mm macro
F No: f2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/160 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On