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Thursday, 15 March 2012


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I take it that you've seen Visions of Light - the Art of Cinematography from 1992. Its an AFI/NHK [Japanese TV] production well worth watching more than once.

No, I haven't, but I'll look for it. Sounds interesting.


I remember when Volkswagen GTIs were the only cars that hiked up their inside leg like that. Nice!

Another thing that makes it an interesting shot, and something that people who shoot car rallies always hope for, is to properly expose the occupants of the car as well as the exterior. Windshields, and especially tinted ones, often make that very difficult, and all you end up is the vague dark round shapes of helmets.

My favourite film of all time. A film with almost no action, but still thrilling. The light, the script, the actors all wonderful.
Joel Cairo: You always have a very smooth explanation...
Sam Spade: What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?
I might just watch it again now.

This is why I love this site.
You manage to show nice photos and through explanation make them excellent.
Very non randomly at that.


Back in the day.... Newspaper photo departments of the black and white era often had an airbrush out on the retouching table. With a little light grey in the airbrush you could add just a bit of tone to a black background (shooting flash on camera, remember? Lots of black backgrounds.) Put a bit of grey around a shoulder or along the dark hairline blending into the surrounding blackness and you could make them separate from the background. You could use the masking goo, but usually it was easier to just airbrush the area in question and then clean out the overflow with a wet Q-tip. This would get you the everlasting gratitude of the guys back in engraving. Remember that the tonal range on most newsprint was atrocious. Maximum black was middle grey and maximum white was... middle grey. Oh, those were the days.

Random excellence for sure! I can't believe how much excellent and insightful knowledge you've passed along with this brief post.

Thank you!

Thanks Mike. Now that you point this technique out, I can see how the photographer has used "colour contrast" to help delineate the car more cleanly from the background.

I've been sub-consciously aware of this technique in my framing (need to review some photos!) but I'll try to be more conscious about this going forward.

I have never heard of Black and White as "composing with contrast" before and yet it makes perfect sense. That goes a long way to explaining why some of mono work is so dull. A little light has just gone on in my head, thanks Mike!


Here's a link to a black and white alternative to the Mazda.
Agree that the sliver of light under the tyre is critical. Achieveing it in 1976 with a frame rate dictated by how fast you could wind on with your thumb (no motordrive) required an educated estimate of where the action would happen and was a bit and miss.

Pentax Spotmatic 1000, Tri-X ISO 800



Beating "tonal merger" was the key to launching the great cinematiographer James Wong Howe's career. It involved putting a dark background behind the camera to make Mary Minter's eyes pop in close ups.
Still photographers can learn a lot from classic black and white films.
The list of great B&W films is too long to touch here but I would like to recommend three to younger TOP readers for both their photography and content.
Billy Wilder's "Ace In The Hole" has wonderful photography and a prophetic and wonderfully caustic vision of a modern day media circus gone nuts.
James Wong Howe shot "The Sweet Smell Of Success" and it might be Tony Curtis' best movie. Howe also shot Hud which should be a must see for anyone who likes cameras.
My third pick is Akira Kurosawa's "High And Low". This is essentially three movies stacked together. It starts as a drama that is shot almost entirely inside a living room. The style is almost like a filmed stage play. It then breaks out into a fast paced police procedural that has an entirely different visual feel. Along the way it drops in a sequence in an ally full of drug addicts that is classic noir. I think every anime director in the world has studied that clip.

Just love these kind of blog posts! These little details on BW and contrast are a treasure trove so often overlooked.

"... how narrow the margin of success is..."

But isn't this just an image culled from a burst? If there was any real skill here, it seems to be in the selection of this image, not the photography itself.

Aside from this quibble, I get the point, and it's well said.

How do you do that? Do you remember all the photos and movies (frame by frame) that you've ever seen?

Perspective, and usually timing, is everything in such shots. Obviously Mr. Dewhurst had to have his camera low to catch that aspect, not to mention use a fast shutter. It's a fun challenge.

Here's one of a skater from 2006. Again the point of view was essential to convey the same levitation information. (I tracked this gal for quite some time one cold winter afternoon to get this!)

"Afternoon Skater"

You're right-on when it came to the b&w motion picture photographers knowing how to light. Film noir perhaps represents the pinnacle of the craft, followed very closely by films of the slightly later British and French "New Wave". Your recommendation to study stills from such films is a good one.

An automobile that lifts the inside rear wheel on a curve is not the stuff that dreams are made of.

While it may be a nice shot, I can't get past the homely subject.

Last year I rented Orson Wells' film, "Touch of Evil" and was absolutely amazed at the black and white imagery through the movie. There were hundreds of frames that would be excellent still photos. His mastery of lighting and composition is unsurpassed. I highly recommend watching the movie as a detailed study in lighting, exposure, and composition.

That Mazda corners like my old Triumph Spitfire....

- Tim

Ah yes, very nice control of shadow and light contrast (including the horizon-line above the top of the car).

Let's call it "car oscuro" technique.


"How do you do that? Do you remember all the photos and movies (frame by frame) that you've ever seen?"

I suspect I'm an outlier (on the good end) when it comes to visual memory. On the other hand, when it comes to remembering proper nouns I'm close to being mentally retarded. My brain seems to have no filing system for them. To give you a vivid example: in college, when writing papers, I would remember a reference that I needed--I mean a quote from a book. I could immediately picture in my mind how the page looked and where on the page the reference was...and, in some cases (I swear this is true) I could actually read the page number from the image in my head. (This ability has faded with age.) But I could remember neither the name of the book nor the name of the author. Even if I had just encountered the reference in my reading mere days or weeks before.

Another example: I tend to be a creature of habit when it comes to buying things in the supermarket. I find something I like and buy the same exact thing time after time. And I have actually lost favorite products just because the company redesigned the label. It's like it disappears. I knew what it looked like, but I don't know the name of it. The look changes and I can't find it any more.

I particularly like watching movies on Netflix or DVD, because when I come across a shot I like, I'll stop the film and just look at the frame as a still for a while.



But...but...you just CAN'T take sports action photos without faster-than-fast predictive tracking auto focus, 25fps and a zoom lens!

It's impossible! ;-)

Seriously though, awesome action shots. I miss rallying, not much of it to be found in the USA it would appear.

What a beautifully expressed article Mike. In a world awash with striking imagery, it becomes all too easy to look past nuances such as the back wheel "sliver" you highlighted.

In treating that screen grab as a photograph, at what point does the shimmer of light on the door detract from the focus of the image? (Bogart's face). Or does it work in this instance because it accentuates the direction of his gaze?

Kenneth - "Afternoon Skater" is a lovely image, so elegant.

@ Ryan Nielson. It work because it is a movie, not a still. To a movie viewer the shimmer is subliminal, because they are watching the actors advance the storyline, not critiquing the lighting.

Because movies move, everything is different than stills. The actors move, the camera can (and often does) move and that changes composition and lighting rules.

Interesting post. This is why I am a TOP reader. I seek cultural and educational content and here we have both in subdued "between the lines".

All this talk of black and white movies reminds me of another reason* why colorising films is Bad and Wrong. Black and white films were lit for black and white, in a completely different way from colour films.

*The main reason colourising films is Bad and Wrong is because it just is!

Don't forget to check the film "The Artist". It's not only beautifully shot in B&W but it's silent as well!

[There's a music score throughout the movie but only the occasional voice or sound effect.]

And furthermore, I looks a lot like there is a tonal merger on Bogarts shoulder as it sits in front of the curtains.
Just sayin...

Nice notes on the choice of lighting/tones, but I just can't get past this CX-5 looking like an uglier copy of a Hyundai Tucson. What does it say about the current world of car design when Mazda copies Hyundai exteriors line-for-line?

That tonal merger seems to disappear on my monitor at home. I suppose there's a lesson there somewhere.

Autocar. Motor. Car. Some of the best ever car pix were found in British motoring magazines in the sixties through the eighties.

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