Understanding Shadows and Highlights

More exposure basics

Light has three major qualities: quality, quantity, and direction. As photographers seeking to master the art of exposure, seeing that light is the key to mastering the art of exposure.

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If there’s any secret about obtaining the proper exposure, it starts with learning how to see the light falling on your subject, especially the range of shadows and highlights within the scene. Chiaroscuro, as Italian Renaissance painters called it, is the use of effects representing contrasts of light to achieve a sense of three-dimensionality within a two dimensional frame.

Learning to see light is not difficult but does take some practice. That practice should take the form of not only constantly making new images but also taking the time to analyze those photographs after you’ve created them.

Building blocks of exposure: There was no need to add any contrast of the scene on this side street in Baltimore that is filled with both shadows and highlights. To emphasize the dramatic lighting, I used a minus one-half stop exposure compensation setting. ©2000 Joe Farace

Joe Farace is co-author of “Better Digital Available Light Photography” along with Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Barry Staver. It is published by Focal Press and is available in all the best bookstores, including Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.


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