Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Hidden Details in the Shadows

I checked out the Santa Clarita Valley Photographers Association annual photo show at a local hotel recently. Santa Clarita, if you don't know, is a suburban community located about 25 miles North of downtown Los Angeles and it's where I live.

The show was designed to showcase the work of local photographers, pros and hobbyists alike, and hundreds of them were represented, albeit I didn't see any examples of glamour photography. I wasn't surprised by this. I've lived here for quite a few years and Santa Clarita is a fairly conservative town.

I attended with my daughter, her husband, and their two children. My daughter, who also lives in the SCV, is a serious hobbyist who wants to begin building a business focusing on children's photography. She's been interested in photography since high school and keeps getting better and better wielding her Canon Digital Rebel, 300D. The SCV Photographers Association is an organization I'm encouraging her to join if she really wants to pursue her photography goals.

As I walked up and down the aisles, pausing to admire the many prints on display, I couldn't help but notice a common problem amongst the many images I viewed: A lack of detail in the shadows. When I came across images that had plenty of detail in the shadows, it turned out these images were, for the most part, captured with film.

What's with that?

It turns out, after speaking with more than a few local shooters--some of them pros--that post processing was something many of them seemed to know "not enough" about. In fact, for many of these photograhers, the extent of their post-processing skills seemed limited to an ability to FTP their images to an online print house and that's pretty much it.

I'm not saying that quality print houses don't do a good job processing and printing images. Many of them do. But I wonder how much time that print house technician is going to spend on individual images. It seems to me many of these photographers are leaving critical technical and artistic decisions to complete strangers. Sure, these strangers are probably, for the most part, competent. But they might not see the image the way the shooter envisioned it. Giving the post-processing over to some annonymous individual to process might work for many assignments but when you're going to showcase an image or two at a photography show, you'd think the shooter would want complete control over those images.

Anyway, back to my "lack of detail in the shadows" observations.

When I spoke with a shooters who processed their own images, I found that most of them were using earlier versions of Photoshop. And when I tactfully pointed out the lack of detail in the shadows and casually mentioned Photoshop's Shadow/Highlight Tool, I was surprised to learn most of them knew nothing about it, much less how to use it.

I'll admit, it hasn't been all that long since I became acquainted with PS's powerful Shadow/Highlight Tool, but now that I know about it there isn't an image I don't manipulate using that tool. And since I've been doing so, I've been very surprised to discover how much shadow detail exists in digital images. Detail I wasn't sure existed in my pre-Shadow/Highlight Tool days.

If you're not using Photoshop's Shadow/Highlight Tool when processing your images, I recommend you begin doing so. If you don't know how, learn to do so. Here's a nature photography site that talks about the tool and includes some impressive examples of its use. You can Google for more info and how-to tutorials.

I'm still not as proficient using this tool as I hope to be but I'm working on it. Here's a tip for pretty girl shooters: Don't overlook one of the coolest capabilities of this tool for processing skin: Adjusting (increasing) the mid-tone contrast. It can produce some very dynamic results.

The gratuitous pretty girl featured with this post is Ice. Ice has an interesting, multi-ethnic look. I captured her with a Canon 5D w/85mm f/1.8 prime, ISO 100, f/5.6 @ 125th.


James said...

The biggest problem with leaving the post processing to a printing tech is that the tech's supervisors judge his/her performance as a function of volume versus complaints. This means that essentially a tech's goal is to get your image to a point at which you won't be dissatisfied enough to do anything in as little time as possible. The printing houses make more money by printing more pictures, not by printing better looking pictures.

scott said...

There's always film and good pro labs for that... :) Digital's wonderful, but sometimes film is just more fun.