Do you remember this picture? I posted it a while back as a tribute to one of my best friends and college room mate. Well I have always like this image. It’s probably one of my best black and white images. I didn’t shoot a lot of B&W in college, only when I had too. I was just never very good at getting the contrast to look good. Yeh, I studied the Zone System and spent hours in the darkroom processing negatives and making my fiber based prints. But the images were typically flat and uniteresting. Maybe I just have a better eye for color.
Now I love Ansel Adams and have about twelve of his books and have read them all very well. He seems to always get his contrast just right. Usually. I started noticing a few years back that some of his images did in fact look flat. I thought maybe, he was trying to capture too much of the dynamic range. But no, that wasn’t quite it either, so what made his pictures pop? The same thing that makes the picture of my friend Luis pop. Side lighting! Look at the shadows in the picture above. It’s pretty east to tell that there was one light source coming from about a 45 degree angle and maybe there was a little bit of fill bouncing off the wall. I know I didn’t do any special processing because this shot was taken before I learned about the Zone System. It was a 4×5 Portrait assignment I had. But if you look closely you can see lots of detail similar to what is now called micro-contrast in HDR photos. But I think it’s just from the side lighting. Now look at this picture from Mr. Adams.
See all that texture in the side of Half Dome? Notice which way the light is coming from? The light is skimming across the rock creating lots of little shadows… kinda like micro-contrast. After I first noticed this in Adams’ photos I immediately starting looking at all my favorite images from him and you know what? They all had the same type of lighting. Now granted, he was the king of processing and dodging and burning but he also waited for or realized when the light was falling at it’s best.
I still can’t do B&W to save my life but a lot of my color images posses the same quality of light that Ansel used. So next time you are out shooting keep an eye out for this situation. And just maybe you will be capturing your own masterpiece of Half Dome.