Saturday, November 27, 2010

Analyzing Highlights and Shadows (Part II)

I realized that I've been having sometruly inspiring and insightful conversations about some technical aspects behind lighting that I wanted to share with you guys. I'll just start mid-conversation with my response:

The next time we get together I have a simple exercise that will help you see light differently. I think it was the first breakthrough in my understanding of light. The thing with lighting is that the human brain is very easily fooled into believing whatever it sees. The average human brain doesn't analyze light. It just sees that there is light or that there isn't light. Photographers have to manipulate light and it's not natural for the average human brain. But it's obviously doable, just requires training.

Retouching is another animal. I once wrote, "The retoucher is the backbone behind every great picture. He/she is a magician of sorts, transforming and altering what is real (at capture) and turning it into the "illusion" that is the art/creative director's vision. As consumers we are so trained to see perfection that we forget that real people actually have flaws. The retoucher finishes what the photographer starts."

Photoshop is a tool. Nothing more, nothing less. But a tool can be very intimidating if you don't know how to use it or if you don't have a direction. I remember feeling that way in the beginning. But just hunker down and focus on 1 thing. Just 1. I focused on the blemishes in the skin. That led me exactly where I needed to start. The rest is history.

Ernie's response:

charles: it's really interesting that you bring up this idea of analyzing light, because it's something that i have thought about more and more. i have realized that a lot of the technical aspects of photography really boil down to learning how to make a camera see more like the human brain sees.

this is much easier said than done; you know of the five senses sight is the sense which receives the greatest amount of neural processing. its astounding how many centers in the brain are used to process vision. it just eats up a ton of our valuable neural circuits. the end result is that what we think we are seeing, really is a product of our brains and not our eyes. vision as we perceive it is not a product of the eyes, which are pretty similar to CCD's, but rather a synthetic neural construct. i think the process of becoming a technically good photographer is largely about understanding how to help the CCD approximate what we see not with our eyes, but with our brains. the artistic part, that's another story altogether and i have no idea how one goes about learning or developing that. that's something i would love to spend more time working on as the years go by.

My response:

I know where you are coming from as far as sight really being a function a product of a neural construct. For example, we have "blind spots" in our vision where there are no nerves that our brain just "fills in". It's not obvious unless you do little experiments to test those blind spots like we did in honors/AP bio.

Another example is that our eyeballs don't give a shit about exposure discrepancies unless they're really really egregious in contrast. That's why you need a lightmeter to really see if there's an exposure discrepancy from head-to-toe. Otherwise you go into Photoshop/Lightroom later and you're like, "What... the... f*ck... is going on with the dropoff in light??? LOL!"

Another example is that our eyes have a greater dynamic range and as a result of that, our brains don't register discrepancies from highlights-to-shadows as bad. For example, when you look at at a subject against a bright backlight like the sun, our eyes don't see the background as a single blown out source of light. Unfortunately the camera can't do shit about not blowing out the background so until the cameras can do HDR naturally, we have compress the tonal range manually e.g. add exposure to the subject and/or decrease the exposure in the background... enough so that we don't blow out the background and/or lose the details in the subject.

But all those things are technical. Our brains really aren't trained to discern light angles, soft vs. hard light, exposure discrepancies, etc. Those are things that we just have to train our brain to recognize so that we can replicate those things on a still image.

Our eyes are also limited too. There are so many more sensors for movement than there are for colors (rods vs. cones). It's a function of survival and evolution. Historically our ancestors that sensed movement better passed their genes on better i.e. they didn't get eaten or crushed by a falling tree/boulder... or that they just hunted better and didn't die of starvation. Our eyes aren't made to discern between the 16.7 million colors in a 8-bit display. Although there's a test for that to see how well you discern between colors... lol :)

I can't help you with the art aspect because I'm not really sure how that really works either. I do feel like I'm ready to push my own artistic envelope though because I'm finally at the point where I have a good foundation to manipulate photography with. And I guess that's why it's so important to get all the "basics" out of the way. Honestly, I feel that in the last 2 year all I've done are my "general education requirements" for this "degree" (if I were doing a photography degree). I'm finally done with the prerequisites and can look into taking "electives" or doing a "concentration/specialization". But it took me a hell of a long time to really build this solid foundation. I mean, I guess that's why art schools are so intensive about giving you a solid backbone of basics. The course curriculum can be super tedious and fundamental stuff, but without a solid foundation you can't build out. At least that's the complaint I hear most about places like Parson's etc.

Anyway, it's great to think about this stuff technically though because there are reasons to why/how we function and why learning certain things might be difficult.

End transcript :)

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