Thursday, September 18, 2008

When right is wrong

One of my course mates on the Antonin Kratochvil course, Herman, asked me why he could not get a good histogram when he had a Kratochvil style dramatic image. And the truth is a good histogram is for a typical, general image. An image shot in sunlight with a good range of brightness values. Take this example of a holiday photograph of a man in Marrakesh.

This is the histogram for the above portrait. It shows a 'good' histogram. One that shows a right exposure and a nice range of brightness values. And this image is pleasant.

Now in this portrait of Masimo, another student at TPW, I have a relatively nice histogram at capture as well. And the image is in colour.

The colour portrait of Masimo is ok but I want a dramatic image! I turn the image into black and white and darken everything considerably.

And now look at the histogram of the black and white image, it does not have a 'right' histogram. In fact the histogram is heavy in the dark areas, but the image provides the mood that I want.

So right is not right. For the drama that I envision, the histogram is 'wrong'. I remember last year in Andreas Bitesnich's class, he said that the histograms for his images were wrong, but if the image looks great, he does not care.

However, I would not recommend shooting a dramatic vision in camera. There will be very little detail and a lot of noise in the shadow area. I would recommend shooting an image to get a decent histogram and then create the look in raw processing. If you want to know why I recommend getting the 'right' exposure at capture, refer to this article on the luminous landscape web site.

While on the topic of when 'right' is wrong, should an image be sharp? In this series of captures for a portrait, in the first two images I have an eye that is sharp and of a tattoo that is sharp. But in the end it is the blurred image at the bottom that is my favorite. It gives me a dreamy quality that conveys my emotions much better than the sharp images.

So in my mind, what is 'right' for general images, can be wrong for evocative images, images that go beyond the literal representation of what we see.

I have been meaning to blog about this since Herman asked me the question in Italy, but I have been so swamped since I returned to Singapore, that this has been my first chance.

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