Black and White Photography – Shadow Detail

In black and white photography its important to create an image with as many tonal variations as possible while also making sure that some areas are pure white and pure black. In my last post I showed how Canon’s Highlight Tone Priority setting can help achieve this on the “high end” but what about the shadow areas? How do we retain some detail in the shadows without everything else becoming washed out?

This is where your camera’s evaluative metering system needs a bit of a jump start. Take this image for example. This great old oak tree is obviously well back lit and the camera’s meter is working its little heart out trying to make everything look like a neutral gray, which throws the entire tree into shadow.

To gain a little more control in a situation like this, your LCD and exposure compensation control become your best friend and you’ve got two ways to go at this. Let the camera meter off the entire scene like normal but dial in some positive exposure compensation, say +1 EV for starters. Take a few more shots and adjust your exposure compensation as needed. Or set your camera for spot metering, meter off the tree and dial in some negative exposure compensation to prevent the background “blinkies”. Play around with this for a few minutes until you zero in on a good exposure that shows some shadow detail without blown-out highlights. Remember, film is free so experiment to your hearts content!

BTW – If you find your image is still a little too light or a little too dark and you shoot in RAW, don’t sweat it. You can fine tune things in “post”. (Did I just say that out loud?)

Old Oak

Old Oak
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 40D set on aperture priority (Av) with highlight tone priority enabled, using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM hand-held. The exposure was taken at 17mm, f/11 for 1/100th of a second at ISO 200 on Sandisk digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 and Photoshop Elements using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro filters. Click on the image above for a larger version.

3 thoughts on “Black and White Photography – Shadow Detail

  1. Another option that would help this particular scene would be to use the Auto Lighting Optimizer setting in the 50D. It adds some nice boost to the shadow areas of the image without effecting the highlights.

    • Jeff,

      Thanks for reading. I’m anxiously awaiting your new book! I haven’t played around with the new Auto Lighting Optimizer feature yet since I shoot in RAW and don’t usually use DPP for post. I’ll have to see how this new feature works.


  2. Its that beautiful, white picket fence that makes the photo. A digital camera creates files that lend themselves to manipulating. I think the manipulation is the same as when an artist paints an image. We simply see the world through the artist’s imagination.

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