Monday, November 10, 2014

Holding Detail At Both Ends Of The Histogram Using Adobe Lightroom

Click image to enlarge
We came upon the site of today's image (Coos Canyon) while wandering around the back roads of Maine heading to the Rangeley Lakes area.  It always intrigues me that people think white water is white.  That and black rocks are black.  I see too many images with blown out white and blocked up blacks. There's a fellow in the village we live in who always has his prints up for sale in any "art space" available.  I have to say they are some very nice images except for the fact that his shadow detail is nonexistent.  In each print, there's nothing in the shadows.  Just blackness.  I guess he doesn't see this as a flaw.  The typical tonal range of an eight bit image goes from zero to two fifty five.  To find out how much of that range I use, hit the "Read More" . 

The "techie" answer would be that I typically use from zero to two forty five.  So I have no problem going to fully black, but stop short of getting to stark white.  I just got finished complaining about I fellow I ran across having blocked up blacks, but I say I go to fully black myself.  What's up?  He has large areas of black, I have small details that go black.  The difference is quantity.  In what I consider a properly developed image black is reserved for grounding the image.  Lightly done it gives a richness to a scene (portrait, still life, etc.).  It doesn't attract the eye, but provides a basis for the tone to build.
White, on the other hand, draws the eye.  The brightest part of an image, however small, is like a beacon calling the viewer to look in that direction.  If there's no detail there (unless it's a shot of the sun) there's no interest. 
Using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (LR) there are several ways to determine a "white point".  Using the Histogram and "eyeballing it" is one method.  Keep an eye on the right side of the Histogram and when you see the right side spike, you've touched a White Point.  You'd then back it off until the spike disappears.  The only problem I have with this method is that it's a vague approximation of where I want to end up.
Another method is to hold down the ALT key while moving the Whites Slider to the right.  At neutral the screen area will be black.  As you drag the Slider to the right small spots will start to light up.  What I do is back off until the last lit up pixel goes black.  I then check the number value for the whites and back off another ten points.  So, if the last pixel went black at a value of fifty I'd back it down to forty.  That will insure detail in the whites.
Ansel Adams came up with something he called "The Zone System".  He broke up the tonal range into eleven "zones".  Zone eleven was pure white.  Zone ten had the slightest amount of detail.  If you are a Zone System advocate (I'm not) you can think of my stopping the brightness of an image somewhere in Zone ten.  It's just short of pure white.
So, when making an image I look for small areas of black and bright areas that fall just short of blown out white.
Look at today's image.  There are details throughout the "whiteness" of the water.  The range goes from zero to two forty five (or so).