It’s Okay to be Quiet

Fence in a Snowy Landscape Near Carr, Colorado, 2016

Fence in a Snowy Landscape
Near Carr, Colorado, 2016

If you work on photographs using image editing software, maybe you’ve heard that you should set a true white point and a true black point.  In Photoshop, this would be accomplished, for example, by using the Levels tool to move the black point slider to where it just about touches the left side of the histogram and the white point slider to where it just about touches the right side of the histogram.  The idea is that having a true black and a true white ensures that the full range of tones from black to white will be present in the image, and that images without the full range of tones will tend to look flat and lifeless.

Well, it’s a good idea and most of my images in fact do have a true black point and a true white point.  But not this one.  From memory, I believe the blackest point is about RGB = 15, 15, 15 and the whitest point is about RGB = 240, 240, 240.  Given that the RGB range for a black and white image is from 0, 0, 0 to 256, 256, 256, this means there’s a non-trivial gap at each end of the image’s histogram, and instead of having the full range of tones from black to white, the image tones here are somewhat compressed into a band from dark grey to light grey.

But I like it this way.  If I had used a true black and a true white, the image would have been more crisp, vibrant, and dynamic.  It also would have been louder, punchier, and more in-your-face.  That’s not what this scene is about.  It’s about the peacefulness and calmness that was present in the (very cold) air that day and what I was feeling about it when I tripped the shutter.

I think the more compressed tonal range is an effective tool with which to communicate that calm and quiet feeling.  I also should note that I think you can get away without using a true black and a true white in this image because it is an image of snow – the presence of so many white tones means you can still get sufficient contrast between the snow and the fence to keep interest, even without having the full range of tones present.

Perhaps more importantly, I think it’s okay for the image to be calm and quiet.  Computers and software make it so easy to pump up the contrast and (for color images) saturation that a good number of photographs these days tend to make me feel like I’m being shouted at.

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