Research notes – exposing for the highlights

Looking at the idea of what the camera sees versus what we see, I came up with the idea of doing a series of pictures well underexposed to only show highlight values. Sometimes our vision is too centered in what we have ahead and we forget that there are things on the side that are often overlooked, but the camera will always see that. The expectation is that by underexposing, those extraneous highlights will be made more apparent, showing us something abstract, which sometimes would be harmonious and other times would be disturbing. Here are some examples of this that I have taken:

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Barbican Centre, London. 1/60s f5.6 ISO 500 18.5mm (equiv to 28mm in full frame)

The shot above, which was approximately 3 stops underexposed, is one of what I would call “disturbing” shots, as it has quite a lot of bright extraneous lights, some of which are close to the border of the frame, and the lights themselves show very little sympathy in shape or colour. But is perhaps the fact that there is still details in the shadows and dark areas that make this picture even less harmonious. In post-processing I underexposed the picture even more while boosting the white point. The resulting picture is shown below:

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Barbican Centre, London. -5 exposure adjustment +60 white point adjustment in Lightroom

The picture still looks all over the place, but it is easier to see, more harmonious, now that the colour and shadow details have been greatly reduced to black.

Following from the experiment above, and equipped with a camera with electronic view finder, I then took a series of pictures from normal exposure and then progressively underexposed until shadow details were rendered mostly in black. All the pictures were taken with a 23mm lens (equivalent to 35mm in full frame) set at an aperture of f5.6 and base ISO of 200, with the only difference between them being the shutter speed. The series is shown below:

As the shutter becomes faster, the shadows growth deeper and only scattered highlight remains, until those start to become subdued as well, almost disappearing by shot 6. The scene is transformed from an ordinary indoors shot into something more abstract, something else which is about form and colour. In these shots, like in the previous Barbican Centre one, the light has different colour characteristics, but the latter effort combines both natural light (from the light wells to the upper left) and artificial light, and this is something I would like to experiment with next.

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