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Dash of Inspiration – October 24, 2011

October 24, 2011

A Dash of Inspiration, A Cup of Creativity by Doreen

Highlights & Shadows

As a photographer, light has always fascinated me.  It can be the difference between an award-winning photograph and a snap-shot.  Shadows and highlights are just as intriguing and critical when a painter creates them as they are to the photographer who tries to capture them.  They create depth and mood, without a nice balance the photograph feels flat, muddy, and in general is unprofessional and unappealing.  Why?  Because the world of light and shadows is the world we live in, so why would we consider a photograph eye-catching if it is dull in comparison to what we see every day?

Have you ever heard of ‘The Zone System’?  This was a very complicated process created by Ansel Adams which started at the point of choosing the right exposure through to film and print development.  I had the pleasure of studying this system for a semester in college and it’s something that I have held on to all these years and have learned to apply in to digital photography.

The idea behind the Zone System is to capture the details in the darkest shadows through to the brightest highlights with every level of gray (or tone value) in between. I share this with you so you will begin your own personal journey to understand the gray-scale and its importance in photography (and no it’s does not just apply to black and white photography).  In today’s digital world, many poor captures can be corrected using the digital darkroom, BUT keep in mind that if the exposure was so poor at the time it was taken that a complete loss of detail in over-exposed and under-exposed areas was the result . . . no digital tool in the world will magically make them reappear.

Image by Ansel Adams -

This is going to be a three-part ‘mini-series’.  This week we chat and learn about highlights and shadows – next week we’ll discuss the Color of Light and How to Use it.  The final ‘chapter’ will focus on Creative Tinting.

This week I want to inspire the photographers out there to really inspect your photographs.  Are there details in those shadows or are they distracting black blobs?  Are there details in those highlights, or are they washed out hot spots that blind the viewer from seeing the subject?  Either will result in images that will be considered unappealing and unmarketable, they will not win awards or gain gallery exhibitions.  This is a critical aspect of photography and one you must master before considering yourself a professional.

For the Photographers out there:

About the Zone System

Be Inspired: Ansel Adams Gallery

Exposure Bracketing is what the Pros Do

Understanding Photoshop: Shadows, Midtones and Highlights

Preserve all the highlight and shadow detail in a shot

SIMPLE: Photoshop Shadow/Highlights Photography Adjustment

I like to include something for everyone, so…

Drawing Light and Shadows

Watercolor Painting Basics : Painting Shadows

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 24, 2011 9:26 am

    Wow Doreen, it is only 5:23 AM and my brain is full with the information you have given us. I don’t consider myself a photographer in the real sense of the word due to the fact that I only have a little digital camera (which I try to make due to the fullest with) and long for a nicer setup. It is great to have your information on hand for that magic day that I can have the camera I want and will need to know what in heaven’s name I can do with it! Thank you for all your time and effort to help us all.

  2. October 24, 2011 2:07 pm

    You’re welcome Betsy! Well those simple tutorials in Photoshop work on little digital camera images too if you ever need it 🙂

  3. Cathy Gangwer permalink
    October 24, 2011 2:24 pm

    Thank You, always good to review and learn something new!

  4. October 24, 2011 2:31 pm

    Can’t wait to read the rest of this series. I remember one of the first books I read after getting my dSLR was on the Zone System. Thank you for all your helpful advice and resources. 🙂

    • October 24, 2011 2:38 pm

      The fact you read and are applying the Zone System shows in your work Tracie! Bravo!

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