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30 Days of Batis 2/40 CF
A Batis adventure and a personal photography scratch book with a creative touch.
Sharing a new post every day for the next 30 days.




Day #18 – dark currents

Toni Ahvenainen

Sony A7 & ZEISS Batis 2/40 CF – f/5.6, 1/100sec, ISO800, raw Photograph by Toni Ahvenainen

Sony A7 & ZEISS Batis 2/40 CF – f/5.6, 1/100sec, ISO800, raw
Photograph by Toni Ahvenainen

One particular idea that guides my photography is that a photographer should imprint his own way of seeing to the work he does. Ideas, interpretations and aesthetics are something he molds in his work so that the end result and the entire body of work should reflect his identity and the way of seeing. I know, definitely a tall order. Now, I don't aspire to be a professional photographer (might kill the fun of it) or an art photographer (not interested to show my work in the fields of art), but I do want to be a photographer that learns to distill his own way of seeing into his pictures and succeeds to create a larger body of work in that way. I don't seek out for glory, but creating my own interpretation of our family and life is something I would love to succeed.

They say 'photography is painting with light', which is an interesting saying because I've always been more intrigued by painting with the lack of light. I love dark images because they often give photographs a certain graphical nature and weight which seems much more dramatic than the natural daylight. Making dark images is one aspect of my photographic identity and something that try express in my photography. One should note that creating dark pictures is not about 'a low light photography', which is more of an technical question really. It is much more about using your exposure choices as a creative tool in your photography. The trick is to underexpose on a purpose and I'm not talking about compensating the recommended exposure for the dark scenes, but quite literally to underexpose the scene by over a one stop or more. It certainly requires one to detach from the idea of 'a correct exposure' and standard way of seeing. When you underexpose the image it usually alters the perception of dynamics as it pulls the highlights down a bit and gives more room for shadows. Often it also emphasizes certain colors as their tones get deeper when the lumination decreases. And on top of that you get to shoot at lower ISOs, which decreases noise and increases the dynamic range your camera can capture. It's a win-win situation for those who like their photography dark.

Of course not all scenes are fruitful for purposeful underexposing. Usually the scene needs to be lit enough so that it will still survive the underexpose. Best scenes are often those which are a bit dark in general, but have a some distinctive highlight point in them. For this scene I've underexposed it over two stops and in real life it wasn't as dark as the picture shows, in fact I wouldn't consider the original scene to be categorized into low light photography at all. What the scene also needs is enough dynamic range so that even after stop or two of underexposing there are still clear highlights in the picture. In this picture the yellow window is the highlight part which makes the brain accept the overall darkness as something 'natural'.

In correct circumstances creative underexposure shifts all the tones (including highlights) to a darker zone and creates, not an underexposed and flat image, but a darker interpretation of the scene. Because the scene has enough dynamic range, the underexposure will still leave highlights and whites relatively bright (because they are often mapped to white end), which will make it relatively natural looking.

Finally, underexposing on purpose is an example of aesthetic sensitivity. For some, who often have a somewhat technical approach to photography, it is an unthinkable idea. They might think that there exist 'a correct exposure' (something camera's auto-modes have cultured us to believe) or they want their photographs to reflect reality 'just like they saw it'. It's totally ok (photography has many roads) and I don't want to discredit other approaches, but as much I appreciate ETTR-techniques and such, I also feel they have tendency to limit our photographic imagination. Sensitivity for small enhancements and careful exploration of techniques can lead to one to find his own kind of style. Try it and find out that underexposing on purpose might just free up some dark currents within your aesthetic taste.

Ps. I need to add that dark tones are somewhat difficult to reproduce right with regular computer monitors and tables which are much better with bright tones. For best results one should work with a calibrated s-ips monitor, since uncalibrated monitors tend to show congested or crushed tones. Printed photographs are a beautiful thing because they look the same everywhere.