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PHOTOGRAPHY ZONESAnsel Adams, in his book "The Negative", published by Little Brown and Company, 1996, states that, "It is impossible for a photographic print to duplicate the range of brightnesses (luminances) of most subjects...".
In this photograph of a window display of Japanese swords, the range of brightnesses, from bright to black, is satisfactory. In other words, no part of this particular photograph is too bright or too black -- you can see everything in this photographic print.
One of the biggest misunderstandings about photography is that film records everything. It does not. In particular, photography can not show all ranges of bright white to dark black -- in a single picture. This is the most important thing to understand and is the foundation of the photography zones concept.
Think about looking at a car on a bright summer day. A sun glare shines on the hood of the car. You look at the tire, your eye adjusts, now you can see the tread of the black tire. Your eye ignores the bright glare and focuses on the tire.
A camera can do the same thing, but only if you tell it to by setting the appropriate exposure. If you take a photograph of the same day, you will see a black tire (no tread visible). Or you can set the camera to the lighting conditions of the black tire, then the rest of the scene will 'wash out'. This can be artistically effective or not. It depends on the photographer getting the intended results, rather than accidental results.
The human eye can see the white cat, the bright candle, and the chair in the dark room in the background. But there is a huge range between bright to black in the actual scene. The photograph can not show it all. The artist decided to expose for the candle flame -- to make it 'white' in the photograph. The other things are less than white. The white cat is now 'gray', the chair is too dark to show -- is black -- and the effect is perfect in the artist's mind.
Photography zones basically say "you have to decide, you can't have it all." As an artist, your decision is to focus on what is important in the spectrum of light to dark in the scene you want to photograph.
This photograph of the same white cat in the sun, this time on a white ledge, is exposed so that the cat and ledge are both white. Notice how the room background is, thus, black. The artist, in this case, decides that the important thing is that the cat should be bright white. If you were standing in the same situation, your human eye would see a refrigerator in the shaded background. The cat is so bright, the photograph can not capture the darker background on the limited media.
Since the human eye sees more than the camera, in white to black ranges, you must decide where to expose your camera in extreme light - black situations. If you are using digital photography (which in my personal opinion is more limited) these concepts are more important than ever.
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