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  • William Hunton

Sometimes I Sits and Thinks

I probably think too much.

I was playing around in Lightroom. It is fun just to play with toys. I enjoy learning about this excellent photo editing and workflow tool. I had some older images to bring into the current times. In fact, they began as film images. I had them scanned years ago, and I wanted to see what I could do with them in Lightroom.

The wonderful thing and the aggravating problem with tools today are the almost infinite ways you can edit a photo. I can’t turn a lily into a cloud but I can sure manipulate what attracts the eye.

The study of Sensitometry and its related scientific laws were well established in the early 1900’s. Almost 100 years ago, Ansel Adams made the leap from science to soul in his groundbreaking discovery expressed in Monolith, The Face of Half Dome. His epiphany was how he could control the nature of silver halide film through exposure and chemistry to create a work of art. Photography has never been the same.

The responsiveness of silver film to light is directly related to the size of the grains; the larger the grain, up to a point, the higher the speed, and conversely the smaller the grain, the slower the film and the greater the detail you can capture with it, within the limitations of the lens.

The exposure density formula is expressed as an S shaped curve. The sharper the incline or slope the greater the overall contrast and micro-contrast at the boundaries of tones and colors.

Capturing detail in the shadows requires a minimum exposure. That is the left side of the curve, or the “toe”. Capturing detail in the highlights requires control, and there is a maximum exposure beyond which no amount of manipulation will render any detail at all. That is called the “shoulder”.

The film “speed” or ISO is directly related to the grain size of the silver salt. It determines the minimum exposure. The manipulation part occurs during film development in chemicals. Adams and others spent large amounts of time working with film and developer combinations, including development time and temperatures to be able to obtain consistent results. Before Adams and the Zone System, photographers worked intuitively or they were just lucky.

Adams could obtain fine adjustments in the middle of the curve (adjusting the differentials) to control micro contrasts. He did it mostly by varying the chemical factors. However, once the film was developed he could not go back and change things. We have much more flexibility with digitally captured images.

Now a greater degree of control is available in Lightroom and Photoshop (and others) simply by adjusting a slider or setting a point on a curve and pulling it up or down. As long as I have information available in the digital image I can adjust it. We can change it, archive it, reverse the changes, start over and make something new.

The laws of physics and sensitometry still apply. The digital sensor has a base ISO rating, maybe 50 or 100. That value establishes our minimum exposure. I can adjust ISO in the camera by increasing the gain – you add a bit of electricity, increase sensitivity to ISO 400, 800 and so on, and with it signal noise, or static, and image degradation. It’s not the same as film grain at all, but it looks similar.

The range of tones contained in a digital image allow us to fine tune the final image with a greater degree of control than we have in film, at least natively. If I scan film and covert it to digital I can get some control back. If I want to lift the shadow detail of the roots in the black and white image of the water lily (below), as long as I have at least the minimum exposure required, then I can do it.

If I want less detail in the green leaves, I can reduce clarity. I can change the tint to warm it up, and make it more earthy, or cool it down by adding a bit of blue. Indecision is the key to flexibility as a friend of mine says.

I am also no longer bound to a darkroom. I can do it on my desktop PC, in the light of day, or a thousand miles away on my smartphone. Adams would probably be amazed and perplexed at his options if he were alive today.

But I ramble.

It is not so tedious as it sounds. In the case of the photograph of the water lily, I took it in color first, then I had it scanned, and years later I now play around with it in Lightroom. Because it is in TIFF and not RAW, I can only tune contrast, vibrance, and saturation to a limited degree. I can work with specific color channels to enhance certain colors. I can compress the curve. I can also desaturate the image and turn it into monochrome.

If I were to take this photograph today, I would most likely capture it in RAW (Nikon NEF, Sony ARW, or Canon CR2, etc.), and I would go from there to create whatever I want and however I want it to look. I can also photograph it classically on film. I am not limited. Really and truly, only one grabs me.

Guess which one I like better.

I think too much.

#AnselAdams #zonesystem #ZoneSystemPhotography

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