playing around with contrast: inside a fine art photographic technique

contrast adjustments…

This short journal post is from a presentation I gave in spring 2019 where I discussed how adjusting your contrast can be an interesting way of shooting different subjects and landscapes. This process helps to darken (underexpose) or lighten (overexpose) a scene that I have found can help to add new conceptual meaning to whatever is being photographed.

Ultimately, this is something that can easily be done in camera. Just play around with increasing or decreasing your shutter speed or aperture (f-stop) to create photographs that are purposely under or over exposed. Alternatively, you can shoot a perfectly exposed photo in camera and then fiddle with the contrast in Photoshop, as I did with this photo, titled wal-art 3, of an aisle in Walmart I took in August 2012 and then overexposed it (to make it look brighter than it should) using Photoshop…

wal-art 3

To be completely honest, I had not originally planned to overexpose the images. I only did it after finding out that for some reason, the focus was soft across my images. By overexposing them, you didn’t notice that and it also added a whole other depth to how the content of the photo was presented.

Artist & photographer Paul Graham has also overexposed some of his photographs, as he did with his American Night series of photographs, like this one, American Night #16, from 2000…

wal-art 3

Graham overexposes his photos so much that they at times almost appear ghostly white, with very little of the photo’s original colour left behind. Graham’s American Night photographs formed part of a series of photographs he shot using this technique (as was my wal-art shot, it too is part of a on-going series).

Doing it in camera can be a bit risky as you are ultimately stuck with what you get. If you are at a location you might not be able to return to, it might be better to shoot a perfectly exposed image and then play with it later in Photoshop. Or, if you have time, take a perfectly exposed shot and then take a few shots where you experiment in camera.

making contrast adjustment in photoshop…

If you really want to over or underexpose in Photoshop, here’s where to look:

IMAGE > ADJUSTMENTS > BRIGHTNESS / CONTRAST

This provides a good start, but sometimes it’s not enough so go to the next option…

IMAGE > ADJUSTMENTS > EXPOSURE

Then adjust ‘exposure,’ and possibly adjust ‘gamma correction’ if needed.

Finally, you can also adjust your LEVELS or CURVES (also found in the IMAGE > ADJUSTMENTS drop-down menu). In LEVELS, you can play with the INPUT and OUTPUT LEVELS; and in curves you can adjust, well the curves (Cross Process can be fun too).

More Inspiration…

Unlike other alternative photographic process topics I’ve been exploring, there aren’t many YouTube videos on this specific topic, but I did find one…

This next video gives some solid tips for creating soft and airy photographs by experimenting with some of the ideas talked about here, but also by exploring other elements from lens choice to other camera settings which allow the backgrounds to appear under or over exposed while keeping the main subjects nicely exposed and in focus…

shooting 'through': the art of the found filter...

In photography, a fun challenge can be to look for things you can “shoot through,” things that are a kind of found filter, one that already exists in nature. This journal entry, which is based on a presentation I first did in February 2019, will explore a number of different filters you can use as a starting point for thinking about this idea.

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the alienation of oppression...

The Alienation of Oppression is a 27” x 41” digital colour photograph shot in Richmond, British Columbia in January 2019 at the intersection of Gilbert and Lansdowne Roads. Far in the distance, the large Olympic Rings of the Richmond Olympic Oval can be seen at the far end of Lansdowne. This is an area that has seen a lot of change over the last ten years. Previously, the area consisted of light industrial and commercial buildings, as well as small chunks of forested areas that lined some of the banks of the Fraser River. Today, the Richmond Curling Centre is all that is left of that former period, and the building it occupies certainly stands out as being a relic in need of restoration. The old curling building is being swallowed up and surrounded by much newer and taller buildings, some completed and some still under construction. The large construction cranes loom in the distance, representative of the ubiquitous change that is occurring and a breakneck speed. A quieter and more rural time replaced by a fast-paced concrete jungle.

The Alienation of Oppression

The photograph was taken at dusk, during the golden hour just after the sun had set. The sky was dark and cloudy, and it began to rain heavily not long after this photograph was taken. The lights of the cars illuminated different things, especially the long shadows of some of the people crossing the street. I found it interesting that these people were each walking alone, and although they were all grouped together none of them were talking to each other, none of them seemed to know each other. The lights of the oncoming car that was waiting to turn caused the figures to be in a silhouette that further blurred elements of their individuality. The light of the golden hour also helped make the artificial street lighting stand out. The green and red traffic lights serve as a reminder of society’s control over the movement of individuals. The individuals are also walking towards the businesses that line the street, highlighted by the TD Canada Trust sign to their left. This, combined with the time of day, could suggest that humanity is at a turning point in its own hero’s journey, as they leave the light of the day for the darkness of the cave they are about to enter.