Exposure Problems: Digital Darkroom Can Save the Day

by Lewis Kemper

lesson 3 image 15
lesson 3 image 15
© Lewis Kemper
All Rights Reserved
This article is excerpted from Lewis Kemper's BetterPhoto.com course: Photographer's Toolbox for Photoshop: Toolbox #1 - Exposure and Color Corrections

The most critical part of making any photograph is controlling the exposure. Today�s modern cameras - with matrix metering, through-the-lens metering, plus a half a dozen auto-exposure modes � make it easier than ever to get correct exposures. But there is always the lighting condition that fools the meter, or the operator error that creates a poor exposure. In the past, that meant a lot of images in the trash. Today, with the digital darkroom, many of those past failures can be saved.

In the traditional darkroom, the negative was put in an enlarger and a print was produced. The photographer could then burn and dodge areas to control exposure problems, and particular care was spent on not only shooting the original image but on processing the film. This was most critical in the black and white darkroom. The great nature photographer Ansel Adams wrote volumes on how to expose, develop, and print black and white images. He developed the Zone System to calculate exposure and development times. Many times, I heard Ansel say, �The negative is the score and the print is the performance�.

If you are shooting digitally, you will have greater latitude in your exposures than if you are shooting with film. This is especially true if you are shooting RAW files. Since you can process RAW files individually and can control the exposure up to 2 stops in each direction, you really have a lot of latitude.

In color photography, you could alter development times to control exposure to a point, but you do not have the latitude that black and white film possesses. If you were working with negatives, you could control some more exposure problems in the enlarger, but again with color, the latitude is not as great as with black and white. If you were shooting slides or transparencies, which is what I do, your control was even less. The film often becomes your final statement, so exposure in the camera is critical. And when you do print from slides, there is even a smaller tolerance in latitude when translating the slide to a final print.

The digital darkroom has given photographers more control over exposure and contrast then they ever had in the past. While you still need to be careful when making your image, you now have more ways to control the final output. In the computer world, there has always been the old adage �Garbage In � Garbage Out�. That still holds true in the digital darkroom. If there is no detail in a shadow or highlight, there will never be any detail in that shadow or highlight. But there are ways to work around that issue too!

This article is excerpted from Lewis Kemper's BetterPhoto.com course:
Photographer's Toolbox for Photoshop: Toolbox #1 - Exposure and Color Corrections

About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Lewis Kemper
Photography Instructor: Lewis KemperLewis Kemper specializes in nature and wildlife photography, and has taught over 100 workshops and classes on landscape photography and/or the digital darkroom.

He is a contributing editor to Outdoor Photographer and PC Photo magazines.

His work is represented worldwide by Getty Images, Index Stock Imagery, Stock Connection, AFLO Japan and DRK Photo. Lewis's computer-enhanced images have been used in advertisements, cards, bookmarks and calendars. He is the photographer of Ancient Ancestors of the Southwest, published in 1996.

He also runs a custom digital printing service to create fine art prints for photographers.

Lewis has been honored to be included into Canons Explorers of Light program, which recognizes 78 of the countrys most influential photographers.