Hiding in the Shadows

There is usually a lot of detail lost in the darkest parts of an image. This happens simply because your camera can’t see in the dark. There is simply more dynamic light range in the scene than the camera can capture and display in one shot. This does not mean that the camera cannot capture the detail, because it almost always does. The problem is that unless we dig the detail out of the shadows, it remains hidden. Here’s an example.

Skye LR-OThis photo was captured by a good professional photographer and submitted to a city magazine for which I prepare the pictures for print. The dark bricks on the wall actually absorbed most of the studio lighting set up in the room. When a subject is much darker than the other objects in the room, it naturally shows up darker. Normally, the photographer dials up more light to compensate for the dark object, but in doing so the lighter objects in the room can receive too much light.

In this example, the photographer increased the overall lighting and it affected the color saturation in the middle tones. Amplifying an overall light to illuminate a problem area can create problems elsewhere. This is a typical problem with location lighting.

Skye LRThe solution? Edit the image in post-production to even out the lighting. The trick is to boost the lighting in only the three-quarter tones, that part of the tone structure between the very darkest color and the middle tones. At the same time, the saturation in the middle tones needed to be increased and the highlight detail out the window needed to be brought back. All the detail was there in the original photo, it just needed fine tuning.

This is best accomplished by 1) capturing the image in RAW format, and 2) editing the individual tonal areas and boosting the saturation in the warm middle tones.

Skye DR-OThis is another shot from the same photo assignment that created a similar problem. The darker wall, along with the black dining room furniture, soaked up all the light in the room. Any additional light would have completely bleached out the light tile on the floor.

Skye DR-A copyOnce again, the solution was in post-processing. Editing shadow detail is a delicate operation because detail and definition need to be brought out in the shadow tones without making the near-black furniture appear too light.

Images intended for publication must walk a tight balance between definition and lighting range. The dot-based half toning process requires more separation in the shadow tones to reproduce well. When this is accomplished, the publication house has a much easier chore in printing the full range of tones.

That’s the way I sees it. Let me know what you think.

If you really want to understand what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to push light around to make your images look better, I can help. I’ve created a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you these fundamentals and help you to capture and produce amazing color. Go online and get this video series at http://gottaknowvideos.com. Get Bright About Light!

About Herb Paynter

Herb is a published author, photographer, retoucher, color reproduction specialist and a regular writer for Digital Photography School. Download his iBook "Digital Color Photography: A Deeper Look" from the iTunes store and view his Light and Color Fundamentals video series at GottaKnowVideos.com.
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