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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Contrast in the rainforest

Hi there everybody, well I'm feeling all refreshed after 10 days holiday with my family. I pre-wrote a lot of the blog stuff for you all but have missed a couple of days due to sheer laziness (!) and doing my taxes yesterday. Oh what fun that is. :) So to make up for lost time here's 3 pics for the price of one.

I've spoken about this before - contrast in the rainforest and how it can kill your photographs. And when I've done that I've always shown the final result, a lovely picture taken in non-contrasty light. But I realised that this didn't exactly show you why a sunny day can be a killer.

So the other day when I was up in the rainforest I thought I would take some shots to show you what I mean. It was one of those days where it was sunny, but there were a lot of clouds about. To get the best photographs you had to wait until the sun had gone behind the clouds. Here's the first pic.

Now as you can see there are bright patches of sunlight all around the base of the tree. What I've done here is to expose the darker parts of the picture (the rainforest in shadow) properly, which then causes any really bright areas of sunligt to be really bright and burnt out.

Those areas where the sun is hitting have no information whatsoever. The histogram is all the way to the right. Your eye naturally tends to look at the brightest part of the picture first so the first thing that your audience will look at is those bright ugly spots beneath the tree.

So why don't you expose for the highlights you say? Well this is a photo doing just that. As you can see there's plenty of detail in those sunlit areas but the rest of the picture is a dark, muddy colour.

Yes you could bring it up in Photoshop but dark areas of a picture that you lighten are inherently noisier. Not only that but your eye still goes straight to the bright areas of the picture, ignoring the rest of the frame.

What to do? Sit, wait and enjoy your time in the peace and quiet. I sat and waited for about thirty minutes or so just enjoying the quiet. If I had been in a hurry I probably would have focused my camera on smaller things all in shadow but as it was I was in a relaxed kind of mood so I just sat and waited until the sun went behind a cloud.
And this is the result. Not necessarily the photo of the year but there are no big ugly spots of light hitting the ground and your eye goes straight to the gorgeous buttress roots of this rainforest tree.

So next time you head for a forest, rain or otherwise, aim to be there when it's overcast and you can avoid the contrast problems that can kill your pictures.

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