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Thursday, 20 October 2011


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Nice rant Mike, but as so much rants (including my own) a bit of a futile exercise.....but fun non the less. But I would like a compressor on my camera raws non the less either.

Greetings, Ed

I'm a part-time attorney working on various business cases and one thing you can always count on is that both sides in a lawsuit will have an expert who will say exactly what he/she needs to say to advance his party's interests. This is called a battle of the experts in our business. There are dozens of what I call "expert brokers" who will find you an "expert" to tout your side of the case.

David H. Freedman recently wrote a book about how experts are always "Wrong!" http://www.freedman.com/p/wrong-book.html . If you want or need more information on what I call "the tragedy of the experts" just search "experts are always wrong" and you'll have long hours of fascinating reading ahead of you.

Some things, perhaps most things, like exposure, are beyond the ability of any human to sum up and nail down. But you'll rarely find an expert that will admit this.

When I used slide film I found that setting the ASA speed a third of a stop higher than the speed on the box on my Minolta X700 gave best results with any transparency film. So Fuji Velvia would require 64 ASA instead of the stated 50. Other photographers wrote that they set the meter to 40 or even 32 ASA for Velvia. We were all different and we were all right, for our own view of the world and the equipment we used.

I was doing the ETTR thing, but after reading Ctein's column, well maybe not any more. What I will keep doing is leaving the exposure compensation on the ol' Pentax almost permanently on plus half a stop. Works for me.

I've always subscribed to the W. Eugene Smith exposure system: "F*ck it -- I'll fix it in the darkroom."

Dear Mike,

Very nice.

I'd go further and say that most of photography is, in reality, complex and arcane. Vis the arguments over that which dare not speak its name (whisper depth of field) which is rife with hemi-semi-demi-accurate rules of thumb that people assume are gospel. Even B&W film developing and printing practices has its share.

Any time someone says, "Hey, it's just as simple as this..." it's probably not.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

That Bayard looks at least a stop underexposed, and it's resulted in noisy shadows and no detail at all on the right side. He should have exposed to the right! (SA)

I realize exposure was important in the old days, but I doubt many photog's paid much attention to exposure and scene contrast. Here is my point -- why in the heck was there at least 7 grades of 100's of types of papers -thousands of developers and way to develop film & paper over 150 years. No system is really perfect and we all make mistakes. So we need stuff to correct our mistakes and keep companies in business that make all this stuff.
Rule #1. For better images don't over expose important hi lites.
Rule #2. Don't photograph things with a huge contrast range,
leave that to the experts with lots of fill lighting to control contrast.

I'v been shooting for over 55 years now and since digital I rarely think about exposure, the camera does a decent job when the contrast of the scene isn't off the wall. My main concern is subject matter and composition. I let the camera do the rest.

The British use the word 'boffin' to mean something like 'nerd', only I think 'boffin' conveys more respect, or at least allows one to picture a bespectacled chap in a white coat fiddling with something deeply complex and possibly hugely dangerous (but only in the wrong, irresponsible, hands, not the boffin's). So I want you to understand that, when I call you a boffin, this is much better than being called a nerd.

You often facilitate boffins -- I give in evidence the wonderful Ctein -- but it is not often enough that you let your own inner boffin come through. Thanks for this flash of boffinhood, a boffin pulsar. Could you let a little more radiation through? What were they arguing about? Did they argue about just what 'expose for the shadows' might mean? Just what was it all about?

Doesn't a good part of the difficulty stem from the erroneous belief that there is such a thing as the "correct" exposure?

"Here is my point -- why in the heck was there at least 7 grades of 100's of types of papers -thousands of developers and way to develop film & paper over 150 years."

That was an elegant and involved system worked out at great length and with much research by Mees and Jones and the Kodak Research Lab in the 1930s. They first researched what the majority of people thought "looked best" in terms of contrast and detail, and then devised a system to achieve it in the greatest majority of cases, which was to shoot for an average CI (a term they coined, referring to the slope of the straight-line section of a Hurter and Driffield curve) and then fine-tune contrast using paper grades. It was a deliberate system, not any sort of kludge to correct errors.


Funny, but I'd never thought of Ctein as being a rabble rouser. That is more your territory Mike. Of course, as he says, "Got your attention, didn't I?" But then, TOP's regular readers don't seem to conform much to the 'rabble' designation. Even the comments that disagreed seemed measured and polite. Still, the first image that popped into my mind when I read the title was the December 1963 cover of Mad magazine.(Look it up on Doug Gilford's Mad Cover Site.)

My guess (and it's uneducated at that) is that the main source of disagreement on proper metering/exposure is rooted in the materials we use. You address this in discussing your graveyard photo. To date, there has been no photographic medium/process (of which I'm aware) that can present the luminance/color range of the visual world as we perceive it. Film/sensors have wide DR/latitude, but they don't mimic our eye's non-linear response range from low light to sunlight, and output media are severely limited. Hence, everything exposure related will by necessity be a compromise intending to get some simulacrum of the natural world onto a medium it dwarfs. Different media (and I mean from capture to output as a system) will require different approaches to exposure.

But that's just me.


"Conceptual framework". I like that. Is good to remember from time to time that the systems we use to measure things are merely human constructions for the purpose of understanding things. Just as time doesn't move in one second jumps like an old time movie and temperature doesn't go up and down in one degree jumps (with the size of the jumps depending on whether you have a Fahrenheit or Celsius thermometer), light intensity does not have 4096 even steps with 2048 of them in the brightest f/stop. Those are all units of measure that we humans impose upon a continuum. The only really useful unit (IMO) is the 256 step scale from black to white that results from digitizing the light so that we can view it on our computers and print the resulting images. One can conceive of light in however many steps one wants, lumens, candles, 11 zones, Exposure Values, or even individual photons but in the end photography is about creating images that resonate with your audience. It isn't about how many conceptual levels of tone you managed to squeeze into the 256 step scale that constitutes a digital file.

I started out with an extinction meter(1948), went to a Seconic (selenium), then a Gossen or two, and now a Seconic again. Added to that, the built in meters on my Nikons, both film and digital. I learned the Zone System, read Minor White, learned BTZS, and ended up using my own version of shadow/highlight valuation. Often using spot metering of multiple parts of the scene - when things stood still. And now? i love my histograms, both camera and Photoshop. They tell me more, and I can make corrections as I shoot and/or in RAW. I still usually carry my meters, so I can do either reflected or incident readings, but I don't often need a separate meter. The ability to select the area of the in camera meter usually lets me have as much control as I need. Ain't technology great?? My take is that the experienced eyeball, backed with good histograms, and occasional metering of 'oddball' lighting, can make poor exposure a sometime thing.
I am also wondering how we will deal with the problem of presentation as sensors with 12 stop and greater range become available. We already see some issues re HDR, as paper ranges are exceeded, and screensare pushed. New technology paper? Or?? It will be fun to find out.

I stumbled across your JNMOASS recently, and would be really interested if you felt like adapting or adjusting this (if necessary) for a hybrid film-capture-for scanning workflow.

Hi Mike,

I think with the number of people on the planet it's virtually guaranteed that whenever sci/tech gets to a certain level several people are likely to get the same idea at the same time; each convinced that THEY were the first to have it, whereas in reality they are all building on the same knowledge-base and there are only so many ways you can go at any one time, so several people are likely to take the same path.

One of the things about right-and-wrong conversations is that most of us chip in with our views without considering what the other person is photographing, so someone tries a rule with the wrong subject and arguments immediately ensue, especially when we all use different cameras, software, printers, papers,.....
Learning digital I've recently tried to improve by avoiding diffraction and ETTRing: I've come to the conclusion that for MY type of photography they are overrated; I need DOF more than I need to reduce diffraction, and with ETTR I sometimes blow highlights that are unexpected and don't show on the camera histogram, a recent example was a yew tree where the red channel was blown just enough to give pink berries (I can make them dark pink but not red in PS, someone else probably can but that's not really my thing). I find noise is less visible on a print but a blown reflective leaf draws the eye immediately (as do distant sheep and seagulls - grr!) - but it's digital so I just bracket if I'm doubtful.

It must be difficult for new photographers to pick the correct knowledge for their own use as there is so much contrary info on the 'net, When I wanted to learn pre-internet I bought a general photography book, then a book on photographing what I was interested in, now it's easy to get swamped.
As you say a lot of people ping off each other and I find that useful as I've now got my own knowledge to add or subtract from (also why I enjoyed Sunday's OT post!).

"....same as it ever was" - Talking Heads! I found that kinda apt ;-)

best wishes phil

"It consists of three separate camera exposures ..." I love this. I had to capitulate and get the waterproof Sony Cybershot for my work on the water. It has a setting called 'Superior Auto' which apparently overlays several exposures to come up with the 'correct' one and less noise.....

Exposure is a complex system in which not a few levers are subjective. The stuff the internet is made for, to discuss and argue and never solve :) I myself mostly avoid the issue by following a way of working with one camera, one type of film and one kind of developer that is ill defined and sloppy but quite adequate and usually succesful nevertheless. I totally dread the idea of having to spend the amount of brain-energy useable exposure seems to require with digital cameras.

Ted Grant, the "father of Canadian photojournalism" has this rule: light, eye, and action. His typical exposure method? Aperture auto on his Leica M or Leica R.

Of course he knows about expose for the highlight in contrasty scenes dominated by specular lights and other techno-mumble jumble, but his prime method is KISS.

For myself, it's this quest to tame the exposure issues when I shoot film on the Hasselblad XPan system that I have settled on using a 2-bath Pyrocat for developing to scan workflow: http://www.richardmanphoto.com/blog/?p=2460. The gist is that it works as advertised as long as you have a digital workflow in the back end.

I like your series of Not A System System articles. In particular, it really explains why landscape shots on high elevation with the XPan tend to be underexposed. Many people on the web assume it's due to the meter inaccuracy on high altitude, but it could just because the scene is too high contrast.

Strange how the further back in history you go, the deeper the wisdom you find. Good Ol' Plato already knew we would be eternally bickering over shadows. And Lo, a good two millennia later we're fighting over how to get them on film, or sensor, or paper. Oh well. I guess we'll never learn their true nature anyway - now that we shamefully found out that even 400% enlargements on a 24" monitor don't reveal anything useful - let alone something we can agree about. Luckily, as our not so ancient brethren found out: the proof of the pudding will forever be in the eating. Which leads me to happily apply Woody Allen's bit of contemporary wisdom: Whatever Works…

This discussion made me remember the most difficult of exposure problems, which used to drive newspaper photographers crazy, especially in the racially fraught times of the early 1970s. And that was, shooting black basketball players in relatively low-lit gymnasiums, when ASA 400 was "fast.".

The problem was that with the old letter-press printing plants, a "properly" exposed shot would have the black players' faces very dark. When those prints were transferred to the relatively crude printing plates, the plates would clog up with ink and the players' faces, on the highly absorptive newsprint, would come out as undifferentiated black blobs, almost as if you'd dripped black ink out of a fountain pen. The faces of the white players would look somewhat acceptable -- a variety of middle-grey tones.

If you increased exposure to get good definition of the black faces, the white faces would sometimes be so blown that you couldn't see who was who; and then you also had the problem of losing lots of shots to motion blur (either of the subject or the camera) because you had to slow to slow your shutter speed to get the extra exposure.

Strobes? (Remember the giant hammer-shaped strobes that used to be bolted to Nikon f2s?) Strobes had the potential to make the problem better, both for the photographer and the team -- ever see the eyes of an opposing player after he's been hit in the face with a powerful strobe in a dimly-lit gym? He couldn't see the ball or anything else for fifteen seconds. The coaches were disturbed by strobes. Especially the visiting coaches.

I saw a story someplace about a Sports Illustrated strobe setup for an NCAA Final Four that involved several dozen strobes that would be fired simultaneously, and for an instant -- too short an interval to affect sight -- would make the inside of the entire gym as bright as outdoor light.

The eventual solution to the black player exposure problem was the offset press, which for reasons I don't understand, allowed a much more sensitive adjustment of values so that you could see both black and white players faces simultaneously.


Mastering exposure is another aspect of photography that is now more difficult than ever. The fact that each shot can have a different ISO means that it can be much more difficult to get a real gestalt for the amount of light provided by a particular shutter speed and aperture combination. It is now like trying to visualize a 3-dimensional graph.

Arguments regarding exposure definitely go back at least to the time of Hurter and Driffield, who in the late 1800s first defined the characteristic curve for film, which is still sometimes called the H-D curve. They were amateur photographers, but one was a professional chemist and the other a chemical engineer. They described a system (and used the word, I think) to expose and develop "ideal" negatives. They also got into a nasty fight with someone else, whose name I do not remember. I think that the fight concerned the densitometer that H&D invented, and the other guy was right on that point. The details can be found in this great compilation of their papers:


With respect to the Zone System, not only is Fred Archer largely forgotten, but Adams and Archer based the system on a pair of 1940 papers in US Camera by John Davenport, another amateur photographer and professional chemical engineer. They described a system for exposing and developing negatives based on the measured contrast of a scene. They even made special scales to paste onto a Weston exposure meter. The major thing that was missing was the "Zones". Adams acknowledged Davenport in the later versions of his books, but rather cryptically.

David (An amateur photographer and biochemist)

Mike: If you have never seen the Davenport papers, I have pdf copies, tracked down with no small effort!

I'm more of a fan of Bill Brandt than Ansel Adams anyway. So I don't mind pure blacks and whites, sometimes (gasp) even in the same picture.

Shoot RAW + bracket if you're not sure. Same advice as small format shooters have been able to follow since film was put onto rolls.

This question of exposure is sometimes quite academic and a bit too reductionist. The underlying assumption seems to be that the final photogram have to be a faithful translation of reality.

“Don’t be afraid of pure white and pure black on your prints” the late Jean-Loup Sieff said to my friend Frederic who then was the shy young assistant of the great Jean-Philippe Charbonnier :


Matter of style?

Watch this series of haystacks by Claude Monet (Near Giverny, between summer 1890 and winter 1891):


One can notice that Jean-François Millet was much more “accurate”:


... but the great art of the painter is on the side of Monet isn’t it?

The ultimate reality for us observers, is the painting, not the haystack.

No confusion, I'm not doing the apology of sloppy work, du “n’importe quoi”. But a photographer must also assume his margin of liberty vis-à-vis his subject.

If anyone is interested in book mentioned by Peter ("A memorial volume containing an account of the photographic researches of Ferdinand Hurter & Vero C. Driffield") they can find a color scan of a UCLA copy at archive.org.

It's in the public domain and available in multiple formats including PDF. All free.


There are a quite a few out of copyright books at archive.org and Google Books that can be a gold mine to those interested in Victorian/Edwardian era photography.

Something I see comes up in Mike's next post about old photo journals at Google Books.

Tom Noddy, the Conifer Photographer.


Peter: Please post those PDFs of the Davenport article. Curious minds and all that.

Kevin (aka Tom Noddy),
I've just uploaded the Davenport articles to archive.org:


I have been thinking about doing this for some time, but was not sure of the copyright issues. The original copyright would have expired in 1968, and I can find no indication that it was renewed. So, I think it is reasonable to conclude that the articles are now in the public domain, until someone says otherwise. I also didn't realize how easy it is to contribute documents to archive.org!

If you read the articles, I think you will be impressed. The major differences between Davenport's system and the Zone System are that Davenport relied on manufacturers' development information, rather than individual testing, and he did not try to divide up the luminance range into zones, but rather just identifies the darkest and lightest areas. It could be said, though, that this is the key element that Adams and Archer added; "previsualization" of the full range of light and how it will appear in the print.

Another noteworthy point is that Davenport acknowledges W.N. Goodwin of Weston Electric for some of the ideas. The instructions for the Weston meters of this period include many of the basic ideas.

The advertisements in the magazine are also a lot of fun to read!


If in doubt, take 3 different exposures, then look at them. Works for me.

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