Today’s post examines photographic contrast, and whatever else came to my mind while picking out images to display.
Contrast, to tame or not to tame?
I know a lot of photographers who hate contrast within an image. They might accept just enough so the image isn’t flat, and no more. Still others like the extra pop that contrast gives an image, but there has to be detail in every part of the picture for it to be acceptable. I readily accept and use contrast including deep shadows, however I am admittedly picky as far as when it works and when it doesn’t
When is there too much contrast or when is uneven polarization too much?
All of the pictures below were made in late winter in west Texas at either Big Bend N. P. or Guadalupe Mountains N. P. Both were sunny, pretty, but high contrast days. These pictures all began on film. I also made digital images in both cases. These Velvia film photos were inherently more contrasty. I went with the flow. I didn’t even use graduated neutral density filters to hold back sky areas, nor have I done any form of exposure blending such as HDR imaging since. I should add, that of course I did not add contrast to these pictures in the editing process. I find the high contrast in these images “just barely” acceptable, but I like it.
Do understand, my favorite images from these locations were made at dawn or dusk. The question I asked myself was, what should I do in between.
The contrast you see on this old (1990s) film image from Arches N. P., Utah is quite a different animal. While the rock forms, and the Lasalle Mountains are always beautiful, I found the light to be rather flat and boring. A cloud came over and created a contrast by blocking the sun from parts of the scene, while allowing the sun to illuminate the rest. It made the image somewhat special and it has been published.
Contrast can occasionally work with wildlife as well. This beautiful Trumpeter Swan was dabbling and was creating living, active, art for my camera. Still, the contrasts that erupted when some clouds came over producing an effect similar to the above landscape photo, meant the art went up a few notches. All wildlife pictures do not have to be revealing shots in consistent light that show what an animal looks like.
Brilliant blue days, especially at high elevation, can produce wonderful images via contrast.
This image was made in the Holy Cross Wilderness in Colorado, in 1986. I was of course using film at the time. This pano is a wide angle image that was cropped into that format in the digital era, while I was editing. I was using a polarizer filter when I made the picture. That was meant to keep the sky and its reflection deep blue, and therefore create beautiful contrasts. The problem is, a wide angle lens was employed to take it all in so to speak, and my polarizer could only cover (arrange those scatter blue rays of light) a percentage of that very wide picture frame. That resulted in uneven polarization, or a sky and reflection that was dark at one end. Of course in 1986 with film, I was back at home when I picked up my film before I saw this, although I knew better and should have not used the filter with that lens.
This second image is the same copy, only I have removed almost all the light in the sky while editing. Any remaining color is so weak that it is almost unnoticeable, but the sky is also even now.
In this final picture I added blue back into the sky. Now the sky is even, so all’s well, right? No. Firstly, now the reflection in the lake is still polarized unevenly, and secondly the color blue in the sky and the lake, do not match. If I could have pulled this off in the editing process I probably wouldn’t have anyway. It would become too much of a “false image” for me.
I might make the argument that the artificial blue sky here is not even a true blue. I have found that to be the case often when I attempt to “blue up” a dead sky artificially with the version of PhotoShop that I use.
The truth is, contrast is often not about light. This Utah rock formation is heavy in contrast even thought the slight sidelight is pretty even throughout the scene. Color contrasts are my favorite form of this art and that is what we have here. As I have said many times on this blog, laying warm colors such as red, yellow, gold and so on, against cool colors such as blue, dark green, silver and so forth, creates a three dimensional affect of the warm colors advancing, and cool colors receding. Also, that little bit of sidelight did make some “macro” contrast by creating slight shadowed areas on the rock. That contrast is viewed as texture while the color contrast is viewed as color saturation.
Forgetting contrast now and turning to togetherness. All mammals need to touch.
Whitetail doe with her yearling baby.
A young Red Fox kit and his father have a moment, although I will admit that mom was better at these times than was dad.
For no good reason
Most macro photographers, even those who photograph insects, will rarely photograph wasps. The exception of course is stock photographers. I would photograph anything and critters like this wasp, become so consumed with what they are doing, that they generally pay no attentions to foolish photographers like me. The picture was made with my Nikon 105 macro.
This is not a black and white image. It is admittedly somewhat monochromatic in its nature, but it was created in full color. Every land/waterscape does not have to be flush in dripping color. I made this on one chilly autumn morning in the Chequamegon National Forest in Wisconsin. This picture captures the mood that was being displayed in front of me very well.
“Oh what a tangled web we weave”. This is what I would call a “busy” tree. Sometimes it’s all about the angle we take.
Pheasant fight. Just one more time an image from a great (for me) 2002 pheasant fight. These were my first digital images.
Wow! There are pheasants and then there are pheasants. I would say he is pregnant but that would mean I need to go back to school for some lessons in biology.
This is a mid 90s film image of a (courtship) dancing Greater Prairie Chicken. It was made while I was with photo buddy Ron Toel. This file is a scanned digital copy that was made by me for a page of “click and enlarge” bird photos for my website around 2003.
The annual southbound migration of arctic nesting, Snowy Owls is occurring across most of the northern portions of the U.S. right now. Don’t forget the same is happening with the arctic nesting Rough-legged Hawks.
Enjoy photography and watch your contrast.
I love good writing and I have shared with you many lyrics to songs on these pages. Joni Mitchell’s legendary words in Both Sides Now are among those I have neglected.
While there is admittedly an air of pessimism with a sadness of sorts to her words, who can deny their ring of truth? Who hasn’t felt that in the end, it’s the illusions in life that we remember? I think, the optimism in this song is in the lyrics you see in bold.
Thank you Joni for sharing your talent and your words with the world.
Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that wayBut now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my wayI’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at allMoons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that wayBut now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away
I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at allTears and fears and feeling proud,
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that wayBut now old friends they’re acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day.I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all