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Thread: How do you photograph BLACK?

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    How do you photograph BLACK?

    I was looking through some of my daughter's formal pictures with the Canon DPP software, and my daughter's boyfriend's suit was a biatch to try and get to show up in the photos. The black suit was horrible to photograph. I didn't notice at first how little detail there was in it till I accidentally slid the "shadows" slider instead of one of the others, and then had to go back through all of them to see if I was having the same problem with all of them. And pretty much everyone of them has a big black blob as a suit until you play with some of the very limited adjustments that DPP has.
    I seriously have to get some better software, and really soon.

    This was the original out of camera shot just cropped:


    And this was after playing with shadows to try and get the suit to show up, but in DPP as far as I can tell, if you get the suit to work, you over brighten everything else.
    Apart from getting better software (already in Santa's bag I believe), what can you do when you have to photograph black things, and what settings can I try in DPP for the moment to try and make this one work a bit better. It's pretty much the same in every one of his photos.
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    Administrator ricktas's Avatar
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    It isn't so much that black is an issue, but black on an otherwise brightly lit scene. Your digital camera sensor is only capable of capturing a limited dynamic range. This range is much less than that which the human eye can resolve. So when you have a deep dark black element, against a much lighter surrounding, this issue arises as the camera sensor can not deal with that.

    As you have seen, recovering the dark parts of the suit is possible, cause although the sensor has an issue with dynamic range it is actually very good at keeping detail hidden in the blackness.

    To capture this at shutter press, you can either use flash to 'lighten' the suit, or seek a location where the entire scene is a bit darker, allowing a better exposure.
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    And another tip for you. Don't stand them so close to the wall. If you stand then further from the wall, those flash shadows won't be so noticeable because they'll be further away from their heads. You should be trying to bounce the flash anyway.

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    Thanks Camerasnoop.
    The flash shadows were from another couple of people taking a photo at the same time. Mine was bouncing off the roof and had the diffuser over it. Unfortunately we seemed to have about 3 family members all take a photo within a whisker of each other.

    The proximity to the wall was where the Mother of the boy told them to stand, and not being my house, and being strangers to them as we'd only met moments before, for the first time, I just kept my thoughts to myself as to where they should stand (in front of frames of reflective glass probably wouldn't have been my choice).

    For the final image I'm going to keep, I've gone a bit of a compromise, and toned the brightness down a touch so that it becomes a compromise between very visible suit, and an over brightened picture. The suit is still visible, but just a little less so than here.

    Now that the Missus has agreed to the software, I guess I have to decide on whether to go Lightroom, CS5, or Elements, or something else.

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    Well, I can see why they're not as dark as I'd expect from a full-on flash from the front. Multiply that by 100 and welcome to wedding photography. You'll have to develop a stare. Works for me.

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    In Training MarkChap's Avatar
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    Instead of standing back and letting the camera try to meter for the whole scene, you would be much better off metering off a single point, in this case I would have moved right in close, got a meter reading from a neutral point, probably the girls chest in this instance, and then stepped back and shot with that setting.
    In the scene where you are, there is a whole lot of bright, more than there is dark, and the camera is going to try and bring all that bright down to 18% grey, hence under exposing the black suit.
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    Arch-Σigmoid Ausphotography Regular ameerat42's Avatar
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    Restrict the amount of "shadow" that you're trying to brighten. I use Photoshop's Shadow/Highlight, and mucking around a bit I got this result. That's without masking off the suit itself, just on the whole picture. This will often happen with a large light-dark range. I used Shadow: 65, 35, and left all the other settings as standard. You DO NOT need much lightening to show up the pattern/detail in a dark suit. Here it is, and there may be other methods, but masking off can give unwanted edge artifacts.
    You might see that the other tonal levels are not very affected. (Also, the flash shadows are reduced.)
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    Last edited by ameerat42; 09-12-2011 at 8:18pm.
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    Member KeeFy's Avatar
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    Another little bit of tip. A lower iso has more dynamic range. Typically 100 - 400 ISO has the best dynamic range after which it goes downhill. 7D for example is 11.7 stops and starts going downhill after 400. @ 1600 it's 9.63 and 3200ISO 8.88. Those few stops does make a difference.
    Last edited by KeeFy; 09-12-2011 at 9:08pm.

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    and it will be your flash causing shadows , the chances of it not are i think 1/5000 or similar based on flash duration of 3rd party flash
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    Not that it really matters in this instance, but four people all taking photos has to greatly increase the chance of someone else's flash being visible. And unless I have double vision I'm definitely see two shadows, looking above his right shoulder (his shoulder on the left in the photo) there are two quite distinct shadows. The darker lower shadow would more likely be mine from the bounce off the roof, and the shadow coming from the right of the photo was where his Uncle was taking pictures from.
    But that's all besides the point really.
    Ameerat, that's quite a huge improvement. DPP has only -5 to +5 as options for Shadow (same for Contrast, and for Highlights). Hence the need for a serious upgrade of software, that is massively better than I was even close to getting with DPP. Thanks heaps for showing what can be done. Roll on Christmas day when I get my software (once I decide which to go with and help the family buy it for me *rolls eyes*).

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    A royal pain in the bum! arthurking83's Avatar
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    I definitely think that the flash shadows are caused mainly from someone coming from the OP's right. The angleof the shadows on the wall are technically impossible coming from the direction of the camera unless separate lighting was used

    I'd say OP's camera/flash caused the flare spot in the picture behind the boy and to the right of him tho... watch that.

    I'm also thinking why is it so important to reveal all this detail in the black suit anyhow.

    I would find a better black point to the one revealed by the OP in the edited image .. somewhere between the original and the edited version.

    eg. if the original had zero shadow recovery and the edited version had 25% .. I would go with about 10% max.

    To my eyes(and on my calibrated monitor) the edited version looks washed out.

    As an exercise (possibly of futility) you could try this for now .. seeing as you are stuck with DPP.

    If you shot raw, can you try to another picture style on the image?
    That is, I'm assuming that you shot raw and that DPP allows you the option to overwrite the camera set picture style.
    Try one of the Portrait type styles, with a less aggressive contrast curve.
    It's smooths out the contrast difference between light and dark to begin with which then balances out dynamic range.
    This then bring out more detail in the shadows.
    You may have to add a bit of contrast to bring it back from a washed out look.

    Anyhow... I wouldn't fuss too much over the detail .. it's not like it's a high fashion clothing shoot. Sure try to get the best you can, but don't fuss over it either.
    In photography as in real life sometimes black needs to be rendered black for it to look black.

    In the edited image the suit looks less like black and more like a gun metal grey
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    Ausphotography irregular Mark L's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by arthurking83 View Post
    P.

    If you shot raw, can you try to another picture style on the image?
    That is, I'm assuming that you shot raw and that DPP allows you the option to overwrite the camera set picture style.
    Yes it does.
    Ezookiel, try the RGB area of the Tool Palette. Play with the 3 boxes in Tone curve assist. See how they look then go back to RAW area to readjust brightness, contrast etc.
    Just a thought.
    Last edited by Mark L; 10-12-2011 at 12:56am.
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    A royal pain in the bum! arthurking83's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark L View Post
    Yes it does.
    .....
    Sounds good(just the way I like it).

    I tend to use ViewNX more and more nowadays for simple preprocessing and it works the same way, which speeds up workflow considerably.

    Once you get used to a system, you end up recognising what an image requires quite quickly.

    Even tho the 'standard' picture style may have a very contrasty tone curve, if the OP has adjusted the tone curve with any added contrast of any kind then then either the shadows or the highlights will lose detail much more easily than say a portrait or neutral tone curved picture style.
    Note I use Nikon and terminology is different and actual processes may also be different too.

    When I want mode shadow detail, I usually try to change to one of the more neutral tone curves, using a more neutral Picture Control setting, of which there are numerous.. and then slowly increase contrast to help the image with some 'punch' to boot.

    If I can't the the details or look I want, I then turn to the more elaborate processing ability of CaptureNX(substitued for LR in this instance for the OP) .. but there should be nothing wrong with using the Canon supplied software to begin with.

    What I actually don't particularly like is that LR can't read Nikon specific camera data, such as Picture Control settings and basically gives you a flat washed out image by default, unless you set it up to load all images up with a specific Picture Control type of it's own.
    Problem with this is that if you're out doing landscapes and then you add a few portrait type images into the mix and actually use the in camera settings as the maker intended you too, doing this becomes even more tedious.

    At least the OP has decided to go with a more capable software now, but my point is that even tho they may think the manufacturer software looks too basic to be any good, the reality may be quite the opposite.

    Not too long ago, my only use for Nikon's ViewNX2 was to rate my images for sorting, and then I'd go through the motions of loading them up in a more capable software(CaptureNX for me) and do more processing.
    Now I do as much as I can in View, recover highlights or shadows if needed, alter the WB and Picture Control style as needed, maybe a crop, maybe some exposure compensation..
    ie.. get as close to how I want it to look, and then if it's not good, I then use other software.

    If ViewNX had the full gamut of camera setting ability(it doesn't have vignette control) and if it had just a few more abilities(such as a clone tool, or a dodge/burn brush), I'd almost exclusively use this software.

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    Ausphotography irregular Mark L's Avatar
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    ^ Sounds about the same as DPP from what I'm slowly learning.

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    Even more tweaking in DPP and I actually came up with a semi reasonable version, saved it as a recipe, and applied it to all the shots of his suit, and it helped heaps.
    I still want something that does everything in one program, and all in RAW though. I am very much OVER the whole doing stuff in DPP and finding the tiniest little dot on the nose, or some minor distraction that could be cloned out in a second, and yet having to save to jpeg and then edit the final result there to remove things. Otherwise one day of taking photos ends up one week trying to process them all before I can get back out and take some more.

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    Ausphotography irregular Mark L's Avatar
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    DPP's got the Stamp tool to help with "....finding the tiniest little dot on the nose, or some minor distraction that could be cloned out in a second,....".
    No jpeg (or anything else involved). It takes more than a second, though I suspect most software does.
    Recipes are good.

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    Was the young man's suit black or grey? Exposure on the first image looks pretty close to me, I can see detail in the suit (creases in the leg for example) but maybe just a slight bump needed to bring out the lapels a bit more. If you are seeing a "big black blob" I wonder if your monitor is set a bit dark? My monitor is only "manually" calibrated but I believe it's reasonably accurate, but the histogram and Arthur's "washed out" comment seem to support what I'm seeing.

    Scr_0016.jpg

    Did the shadows appear in all your shots at this location? Were you shooting in portrait orientation with the flash to the right of the camera? If so I think the shadows are from your flash. Your diffuser will likely throw some light in all directions including forward. I think the "second shadow" you are seeing might be something in the picture behind the subjects as there is no second shadow anywhere else (behind your daughter for example).

    Hope this helps (for next time ). Good job under the conditions...


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    If the calibration bar on the bottom of the screen is anything to go by, then I can see every graduation clearly except the last two WHITE ones, so it shouldn't have been the monitor.
    I still have no idea how to read a histogram. I keep meaning to go see if it's in any of the Tutorials. I guess I'd better make it sooner rather than later.

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    A royal pain in the bum! arthurking83's Avatar
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    There's some good info on how to read a histogram all over the net.
    But the point you are after is that in fillum's histogram viewer eg, the stats say min 1(which is your lowest backpoint level) and max 255(which is your highlight max value)

    Highlights are blown a bit, but this seems to be insignificant as they are due to flash reflection in the pictures, but the black point of 1 means that you have detail in the black areas.

    If you had a crowded up shadow are of the histogram where there was lots of data in the lower (0-10) range, then you would safely say that you've lost a lot of black detail in the image.

    As you min value is 1, then there is obviously a bit of detail still in the image.
    For most people with standard non pro sRGB monitors, the difference between 1-6 is not really noticable. you may start to notice a difference in black tones once the values increase from 6 and above.

    A high quality (aRGB) print of the image will reveal detail you may not be able to see in the suit.

    If you don't have a screen calibrator you woudl print out the original version of the image(make sure it's a high quality print from a professional printer, not a Kodak kiosk) and compare that print to the screen image.
    Any differences in the images, you would then adjust the screen to imitate the print.

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    Arch-Σigmoid Ausphotography Regular ameerat42's Avatar
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    About reading a histogram, well starting off, it's just a graph showing you how much (vertical height) of what tone (horizontal scale) there is in an image.

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