Saturday, August 31, 2013

Into the light at Cley and Sheringham

click photo to enlarge
A camera never reproduces exactly what your eye sees but in some circumstances the results are way off. Shooting into the light often has unexpected outcomes. Sometimes the shot has high contrast and is very dramatic. At other times the light meter makes a wrong guess and either exposes the sky correctly but leaves the land unnaturally dark, or it exposes the land properly but the nicely figured sky and clouds are blown out to pure white. Cameras can't yet show the range of gradations between black and white that the eye can see though techniques such as multiple exposures and shadow boosting are making inroads into the deficit. Photographers are, by and large, able to work with this inaccuracy and sometimes welcome the camera's results because they "improve" on what the eye saw. At other times extensive digital manipulation is required to bring a better balance and greater verisimilitude to, say, a landscape where the photographer was forced to shoot against the light.

I found myself in that situation a couple of weeks ago. We were passing through Cley next the Sea in Norfolk, the location of one of the most photographed windmills in England, and I thought I'd try for a shot of it in its setting. However, it was half an hour past noon in mid-August, not the best time for landscape photography. Moreover, the view I wanted required me to shoot into the light. The result was a series of images with good sky but dark buildings, marsh and woodland. That's not what my eye saw; the scene was quite brightly lit. So, when I got home I sat down for half and hour or so with the image on the computer and tried to convert my badly exposed shot into something closer to what I saw.

Was I successful? How do you judge success? It's very hard to remember exactly how the scene looked and the relative brightness of all the elements. I suppose one measure of success is that the shot looks natural to someone who wasn't there with me. And yet, I fear that we are sufficiently far down the road in digital photography and manipulation that many people and even more photographers no longer have a secure grasp of  what looks "real" in photographs. I find myself questioning some of the shots that my newspaper presents as a record of an event, and some of the images I see on forums, in photography magazines and in competitions appear to have been taken on a planet other than earth, such is the level of saturation and the balance of tones. Another measure of success is that it looks right to me. This one isn't quite right. Nor is the smaller photograph of the beach huts at Sheringham. But they are both closer to what I saw than the images the camera recorded.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 67mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/800 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On