Shadow Enemies

It seems that many photographers these days have declared war on deep shadows.  Many techniques such as HDR open up the shadows, and try to reveal every ounce of detail from the darkness.  Sure, it is nice to be able to see some of this detail, but I’m not convinced that it provides for the best prints. I have had discussions with other photographers in the past who argue that the human eye has an amazing amount of exposure latitude, and techniques such as HDR deliver that level of tonality.  I don’t buy that.  Sure, the eye has more latitude than slide film or many digital cameras.  However, I believe that these claims are overstated.  If the eye can actually render that much tonality, then why do HDR shots look so unnatural? If you stare at the sky during a sunrise, your eyes will adjust to that level of brightness.  Take a quick glance at the foreground, and it will take a moment for your eyes to adjust. I wonder if some of this dynamic range is in our mind…   As we look at one part of the scene, our mind fills in the blank. When presented with a HDR image in print, we are not tricked.

When facing the direction of a sunrise or sunset, the eye can definitely pick up a lot of foreground tonality.   Photographically, the foreground still needs to be rendered quite dark for the image to be believable.

I enjoy the richness of dark tone.  Images that reveal every ounce of shadow detail typically are often low in contrast, and appear weak in print.

Don’t be afraid of dark shadow tone.  It can make for some stunning prints.

2 Responses to “Shadow Enemies”

  1. Sharon Van Lieu Says:

    I agree, Ben. I think HDR is the black velvet painting school of photography – garish colors and a sandblasted look!


    • Ben Horne Says:

      Maybe there will be some advances in sensor technology later down the line that will produce more natural results. However, that might take some time. I find that I’m most happy with prints that clip the black tones a fair amount. I enjoy the richness of the resulting print, especially when it is viewed in bright light. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who believes this. 🙂

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