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Subject: Re: Exposure to the right and tone placement



Since this thread starts with some comments about my Tones N Zones article, I would like to comment on the latest turn in these discussions.

First, I am glad to see that others have vindicated my discussion points. For the past year and a half Bruce Fraser has been telling the world that I have no idea what I am talking about. Long ago others replicated my experiments and came to the same conclusions as I did. Enough said.

I will be the first to admit that when it comes to artistic and aesthetic photography, I have a way to go. That should be my new yearís goal for 2006. But I do think that I understand technology better than the average bear.

Back on point, there is a difference between the right exposure and exposing to the right. Photography and human vision are based on mid tones. But there are times when it is correct to focus on the highlight or shadow tones. This is not a new concept, it was introduced by Ansel Adams with his zone system.

One example posted here is in a mine shaft with no flash. Before shooting at ISO 1600 and pushing the shutter by watching the histogram I would have suggest either adding some light or shooting with film. Film does much better at long exposures than any digital camera I have seen to-date.

On Luminous Landscape Bernard Languillier points out that the digital sensor is not linear at high values. Iíve been saying that for a year and a half. Iíve also been saying that digital bits have nothing to do with the compression or expansion of tonal values. That is simply based on the properties of light and vision. The high order digital bit does not contain half of the available tones. The available tones are determined by the dynamic range of the sensor and the dynamic range of the scene. And exposure f/stops do not correlate to digital bits in any way, shape, or form.

So ETTR does have practical value in some scenes. These are the ones always demonstrated with the ETTR dogma. Usually a lot of clouds and no shadows at all. But this does not mean that we should ignore proper lighting ratios and exposures and just rely on the histogram as our light meter. And when the light meter suggests a different exposure it doesnít mean that we should throw away the light meter. Professional competition judges look for both shadow and highlight detail. That is only achievable with attention to lighting ratios. Oh yes, the real difference maker is always the emotion the image evokes. Some pretty poor images, technically and aesthetically, have won Pulitzer prizes.

Photoshop (and other editors) provide us with some exciting digital darkroom tools. HDR and ACR highlight recovery are only two. But there are times when HDR is unusable, such as scenes with motion. And I have seen lots of examples where highlight recovery has created chroma artifacts in the highlights and reduced the shadows to mud. ACR is not the only tool addressing highlight recovery. Some of the others (Kodak, Leaf, and Nikon) do an admirable job without the chroma artifacts and muddy mid tones.

Maybe thatís simply because I lack an artistic eye.

If you are interested in seeing some examples of digital sensor response at different spectral wavelengths, have a look here: Digital Sensor Processing Pipeline

Cheers, Rags :-)

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