Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Eyes versus photographs

I rely on photographs for reference while in my studio painting but I often have to remind myself what the camera sees and what the eye sees in the outdoors are very different. The camera averages the exposure of a landscape and in so doing, the sky may be washed out in order to keep the trees from looking too dark. Another problem with photos is that it looks at the entire picture at once. The eye look and focus on small areas and will adjust itself to see into that area. For instance, I might look at the shadow under a tree and my eye will dialate to see the detail there. A photograph won't do that because it sees and exposes for the entire scene. Our eyes move around and quickly expose themselves to small areas giving us a clearer picture and more information that a photograph can produce.
One photographic solution is to shoot multiple exposures of the same scene or use photoshop to create several different exposures of the same photo in order to see more clearly into those areas which are too dark or too light. That of course will also leave some parts of the photo overexposed and others underexposed leaving the artist to put it all back together with it's appropriate real life values.


D.Wienand said...

Its true that the eye sees more than the camera and can adjust and focus on specific spots in a landscape.
But on the other side the eye works simular to the
camer. For example if one watch the light shining through the foliage and leafs of a tree, one can discover that the glare of the sun burns out any visible thinks with a bright white. This fact is quite interesting because it comes from the intensity of energie from the light striking our eyes. So on this bright spot with intense energie, anything visible gets
burned away and there is no visible "reality" anymore. I always found this fact interesting because the mind is playing tricks on you. You "know" that there is something behind the glare but you cant see it anymore.
As with Goethe: "The eye is an living organ"


Edward Lynn said...


What you said about the eye and the camera is true and then again it isn't. What you've left out of the equation are the level of advanced technology at use in the camera, and more importantly the skill of the photographer using the camera. I strongly suggest you look into the Zone System, developed by Ansel Adams - within it lies the solution to your problem. Remember that while a point and shoot camera such as the one I see you use in a video of yours I watched will not have quite as advanced a metering system as a more professional camera, which likely uses multiple zones of light readings to evaluate the scene, compared to a point and shoot models which is likely just using center weighted metering. The point is that with the right camera, and the right skills, you can make a reference photo that is far more true to the scene than you are used to.

Use the zone System, or a camera with an advanced metering system.

And one more thing, you mentioned using photoshop to accomplish this, and you certainly can, in fact I've done it. What you do is take multiple photographs, each deliberately metered for a certain area, and then put them together in photoshop. One way to make an absolutely color true, tone accurate image which is true to life is to apply Ansel Adams zone system to today's digital tools.

Zone System + Photoshop = Amazing results!

First shoot one image metered for the highlight areas, one for the shadow areas, and one for the general overall area. Then repeat this process metering for each of the predominant red, green, and blue areas. Make sure to set the white balance for the light temperature first. Then, import all six images into photoshop as layers, and use the "add layer mask -> reveal all" option on all the layers, with the general exposure being the background. draw in the highlight areas from the image exposed for the highlights, the shadows from the shadow metered exposure, and so on. The results can be magnificent! And it would be an excellent way to make a reference. But remember, if you just use the zone system, or a camera with a more advanced metering system, or better yet both, you'll get very good results quite easily.

Thanks and good luck!

Graham said...

If you use a zoom lense you can get closer to what the eye will see by taking a number of pictures to make up a mosaic of the whole scene. This results in a picture made up of a mosaic of say 36 images. The exposure in each image will be balanced for a small area, similar to what the eye sees. I find this easy, inexpensive and an effective painting reference.
(I use a cheap digital camera with a 10 X zoom.)
Graham A