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Day 177/365: Pyjama Day

It was poor Roo's day to wake up ill today. We were all feeling run down and in need of a quiet day. So, it pretty much turned into a pyjama day for us. The TV was on non-stop. I managed to get some time to myself which meant that I was able to do some reading up on exposure and the zone system. I found this great article by Jackie Rankin, which has cleared up some of my muddled thinking on the subject. I still don't fully understand it all, but I am two steps closer. Some of my favourite points in the article were:

To be able to pre-visualise a photograph it’s important to know the difference between how our eyes ˜see’ and how a camera ˜sees’.

Unfortunately, there are no rods or cones in your dSLR (unlike the human eye), just light-sensitive receptors that become more sensitive to light as we dial up our ISO. But like rod receptors (which detect low light and are situated on the outer parts of the retina), as we dial up our ISO, we lose detail and colour.The higher ISOs (above ISO800) lose detail, particularly in the highlights and dark tones.

The light meter in your dSLR camera calculates the combination of aperture + time + ISO and is calibrated to a tonal value called ˜middle grey’, or 18 per cent grey. That’s why most photographs you make on auto settings are reasonably well exposed, as most of the world is a mixture of midtones (with some whites and some blacks).On average, people’s skin is a midtone, a blue sky is midtone, the grass is midtone. To be able to shoot high-key (bright) or low-key (dark) images you will need to know how to control exposure. 

A successful high-key image is one where the tones represented in the histogram are predominantly in the right-hand side of the horizontal scale. Aesthetically, these tones also express a feeling ” words like ˜ethereal’, ˜happy’, ˜angelic’ and ˜clean’ come to mind. Generally, the main subject matter should retain detail where other parts of the scene may completely ˜blow out’ or be white (as long as they don’t distract from the subject). The peak in the vertical axis of the histogram will be high, because the image is full of light tones. An example of a high-key subject in nature could be a snow scene or cloudscape.

Low-key images are emotively at the other end of the scale. I would use words like ˜sombre’, ˜brooding’ and ˜mysterious’. There should be detail in the dark tones. It’s this detail that captures our eye and stimulates our subconscious memories. We reflect on past experience and relive it, if only for a moment. The level of lighting and the tonal range you select as a photographer are your emotional communication tools; use them at the time of capture and explore how you ˜feel’.

A successful photograph should communicate something, be it a simple record of a moment in time or a whole story. One thing is for sure: we visually read the emotion of the image by its tone. Photographic images that exist in the high keys or the low keys are meant to convey a feeling first and an object second.

I love her use of language. She got me all excited about picking up the camera again. I can feel some high-key/low-key photo projects coming on.

I really like the idea of using spot metering but I struggle to use it successfully. One of the key things I have a tough time with is the zone system. Today I began to understand that this is largely due to my difficulty in separating good points to meter off from colour. This is because I have read that dark skin tones, grass, blue skies all correspond to 18% grey and therefore give a reading of "0" on the meter. I  know that I am looking for tones, which have more to do with light than colour. It was reading about high and low tone images that helped it to click for me. In theory if I meter off the highest bright spot that I want to retain detail in and make sure to pull it down a few stops from +2, then I should get the exposure I need. The same goes for the low tones. If I find the darkest point I want to retain detail in and bring it up a couple of notches from -2 then I keep the details I need. I have also come to understand that the camera is not capable of capturing the full range of tones that our eye does, and therefore it has to be accepted that detail will fall off one end or the other in high contrast pictures such as a black dog in snow or a white dress against a black background. It is my job as the photographer to choose what details I want to retain and to let the rest go.

Here are some of the photos that I learned from today. I tweaked them a little for white balance and contrast in Lightroom, but not much. The exposure was good in all of them.

Here I metered off a bright spot on Bear's top and pulled it down a little from +2. The window behind was "blown", but that's OK.

Same deal here, I metered off the white top and pulled it just back from being blown. 

These next shots represent my summer bug bear, big blown out skies in the background. I now know that I have to choose sky or subject. I can merge the two pictures in Photoshop, but I don't know how to do that yet. A project for next year for sure.

The view from our living room window. I metered "0" off of that beautiful blue sky. My camera "sees" that blue as 18% middle grey!

I can't have both the sky and subject. This is what happens when I choose sky. 

And this is what happens when I choose subject. Windows blown with no details of the outside retained. I metered "0" off of the sleeve of his PJs.

Poor poorly Roo. I metered off of his blue shirt. If I metered off of his pale skin then I would have chosen +1.

And to finish, some random shots from the day. 

This is our tree fairy. The Lego elf on top belongs to Rexy and he asked for him to be put there. I can't remember what I metered off of here, but the green elf would have been "0". 

 Metered off of the top again. There isn't much I can do about the blue ipad tint she has here.

It is day 4 of potty training and so Bear's outfit was pretty random by the end of the day. This scene was very difficult to spot meter because she was marching up and down the hallway which had very variable light. The challenge continues. 

I still need to read more to fully grasp the concept of colour tones. I am trying to open my eyes and notice more in my surroundings. I am practising seeing the world as my camera does. It is so interesting.