|Photographs you make without considering and accommodating for this
limited range of film will often disappoint. Instead of
distinguishing flakes of snow, grains of sand, strands of hair, or
what lurks in the shadows of your images, you may find only blobs of black or featureless areas
Fortunately, both human sight and film are equally capable of
seeing the entire spectrum of color and perceiving the same gradations between
all white and all black. Film, however, just sees all the colors and their
gradations in a more condensed manner.
A comparison of the film tonality scale above with the human
eye tonality scale at right is a good visual representation of this limited
Mentally positioning the table above alongside the table at
right so the bottom (darkest) row in both tables are side by side should help
demonstrate the problem presented to photographers.
In order to capture on film all the detail in the shadows
visible to the human eye, one is simply required to sacrifice all the gradations
in the highlights. Therefore, the multitude of gradations visible to
the human eye at - 1.0 f-stop and above would appear on film as
Your challenge here would be to capture the shadow detail in
the image, but prevent blown-out highlights from distracting the viewer.
Conversely, if the left and right tables were positioned so
the top (lightest) rows were side by side, you would be challenged to prevent
the shadows from becoming merely a black blob in your film image.
To overcome film's limitation of range and obtain photos with
rich shadow detail and nicely textured highlights you need only observe a few
rather simple steps. And the only tools you will need by the way are your eyes and your
(1) Set Camera To Manual. Set your camera
to its manual setting so you may have complete control over both shutter speed and
(2) Assign Tonality. Identify the most
important part of the image and determine the tonality you wish it to have.
Regardless of how it appears to your eyes, you may capture the subject on film
at the same tone as you perceive it, a darker tone, or even a lighter one.
For example. If the most important part of the image is currently a medium
tone and you wish to render it as light, you would simply adjust your exposure
by adding 1 f-stop (i.e., open up 1 f-stop). Use the film
tonality table above for determining the proper adjustment for you.
(3) Set Exposure. Spot meter the most important
part of the image and adjust the shutter speed and/or aperture until your meter
indicator or needle is set to zero or in the middle. However, if your
tonality assignment required adding or subtracting stops, then you would adjust
shutter speed and/or aperture until the meter needle rests at the value
determined above. For example. While spot metering a medium toned
subject you wish to render as light on film, you would the adjust shutter speed
and/or aperture so the meter needle rests on +1.0.
(4) Can Film Hold The Scene? Spot meter
both the lightest and darkest portions of the scene you wish to capture. If
either is more than 2 stops away from where you positioned the meter indicator
or needle when you set exposure, you will need to decide if the film can hold
the scene. Highlights more than 2 stops over will clearly have no texture
and may be too distracting in the finished photo. And the same goes for
shadows; areas more than 2 stops under will lack shadow detail.
(5) Recompose, If Necessary. If you believe
highlights or lack of shadow detail may distract the eventual viewer of your
image, the film obviously cannot hold the scene and you should recompose from
another angle or vantage point taking care to avoid these light or dark areas.
If recomposing is not necessary or once you're satisfied the results will be
pleasing, then shoot away.
Follow these five simple steps and you'll never find yourself
over the edge.