This is the age of HDR, High Dynamic Range photography. Whether it’s specialized, automated HDR software or various exposure blending techniques in Photoshop, the current photographic trend is to extract every bit of detail from every last pixel from every scene. And although this can lead to some pretty alarming results, such as here and here and here, it’s not necessarily always a bad thing. I admit to rarely using automated HDR software, particularly with landscape and nature images, but I do use Photoshop for exposure blending when the narrow dynamic range of the camera’s sensor is inadequate for the scene I’m trying to capture.
Still, many new photographers don’t realize – or haven’t been told – that black is an acceptable color for digital photography. There’s no need to always pull details from shadows especially when those details don’t add anything to the message of the image. In many cases, such as the image of Lake Tahoe used in this post, those very details can detract from its effectiveness.
When I look at this image, I can’t help but reminisce on my days of Fuji Velvia 50 film transparencies – for better or worse. If I didn’t know any better, in fact, I would assume it was a scan from one of those old slides. It was Velvia’s deep, rich blacks that were missing from many of my first digital captures and crude processing efforts back in the day. Simply increasing the black threshold with a quick Levels adjustment was often the only thing required in transforming flat and muddy to sharp and vibrant.
The true black in this image also draws greater attention to the simple, geometric shape of the lake and its relationship to the shoreline. Allowing details to creep into the shadows would only take away from that compositional concept. Do we really need to see all the details in the foreground trees? Of course not, which is why I allowed those details to fade to black.
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