Getting Value V right

In this sequence of pages, I have frequently mentioned “getting Value V right”. It’s now time to talk about that just a bit more. I am talking about exposure, of course, but I am also talking about post processing as well.

By “getting Value V right” I mean making a conscious decision to either place it on a specific Zone, or, by placing some other Value on some other Zone, making a conscious decision to let it fall on some Zone. There are really two parts to this choice. There is the component of the choice you make at the time you make the capture. There is another component of the choice during post processing when you either leave Value V alone, or move it somewhere else. Of course, there’s more to it than just Value V: place one Value on one Zone and all the others follow. Then you have the matter of tonal compression or expansion. But if you are treating Value V with intent, then you are probably making conscious decisions about the rest of the Value-Zone map.

When you make a capture, scene Values are mapped to exposure Zones. As you process your image file, original Values are mapped to new Values. When you make a print, file Values are mapped to print Values. When you are standing in front of the original scene, you should form an intent as to what the print will look like. [Note that that last sentence is a value judgement. That last sentence is a pun. Sorry. Could not help myself.] Adams called this process “visualization”, but I prefer to call it intent. I consider the process more than just having an image in your mind’s eye; it is recognizing the full range of light in the image and having a strategy to deal with it through the entire chain of capturing-processing-printing.

The choice about how to set up the Value-Zone map is yours to make. If you are letting your camera and your post processing software make both aspects of the choice for you, then you get what you get. And they will, if you let them. Something must because Value V in the scene is a real physical observable datum and Value V on a print or on a screen is also a real physical observable datum; they will have some relationship to one another. You will choose this relationship with intent or your equipment will do it for you.

This is not to find fault with the good folks who put the code into Nikons and Canons and Phase Ones and Hasselblads and Pentaxes and Leafs and Mamiyas and …., nor with those who code up Photoshop and Lightroom and Capture One and Capture NX2 and DxO and …., nor with those who built code for the image management elements of OS X or Windows or Linux or …., nor with those who embed code in Epsons and Canons and HPs and their drivers for each variant of each OS, nor with those who designed the image rendering s/w in every flavor of every browser in every imaginable combination of hardware platform, OS, and browser version. I am certain that they have all done excellent work given the constraints imposed upon them by their coding tools, available resources, and the business interests of their employers.

However, I’ll just about guarantee that they made decisions that suited themselves and not you. They backed ProPhotoRGB because of its color gamut and not its tone curve. They backed sRGB as a universal standard so that untagged JPGs could be smaller and still render in a browser. They picked 6500K as the color temperature for monitors in spite of the fact that almost no one mounts prints in open shade for viewing on sunny days. The folks who engineered my Nikon dropped its exposure reference by 1 stop or more from 18.4% so that people wouldn’t complain about blown highlights so much. Whether Nikon’s exposure reference comes back to 50% after RAW conversion depends very much on the color space into which the NEF is imported. Apparently, the onus is on photographers to find out for themselves.

Generally speaking, the fellow who does the code for your camera does not have a close personal relationship with the lady who does the code for your printer, and they rarely spend week-ends with the characters who built the screen rendering engine for your editing software that runs on the OS version you currently use on the hardware in your desktop and your laptop and your tablet. If you could get all these people into a room and ask them if they thought it was part of their job descriptions to help you get Value V right in your prints, they’d probably look at you rather oddly. Perhaps if you asked the question couched in slightly different terms, like, “why are my prints too dark?” they’d give you some explanation about inks and drivers and screens and paper.

Why are your prints too dark (if they are)? Let me answer your question with another question. Did you get Value V right on the print? Or did Value V from your scene wind up on Zone III in your print?

I’m not trying to suggest that any of the people who make your camera, computer, printers, software, or whatever, are out to get you. It’s also not my claim that it is impossible to do good digital photography, not by any stretch. I am simply saying that if you don’t master your equipment, then it will master you.

That mastery is not really about the equipment at all. It is about an idea, or more properly, it is about an intent. The photographer’s intent is to place Value V from the scene at some Value in the print. That intent can be anything that the photographer decides. If you do not place it with intent, then it will just wind up where the gear and the code make it go. IMHO, that is not photography: that’s pushing buttons and watching accidents happen. If you don’t know what to intend, then make some bracketed exposures and play around after the fact until you learn what works for you. Experiment. Play. Learn. Intending to play is the first step.

Previous Page … ••• Next Page …