Details in Photography – 2 Activities to Master The Knowledge.
If you have browsed through photographs on Google, you probably have wondered why certain photographs are sharper than the others. When I was thirteen, I used to be curious about how most stock photographs are so sharp, so full of details. After I started doing photography, I noticed some photographs I clicked were sharper than the rest – especially the ones clicked in direct sunlight. After researching I realized that the sharpness of an image is greatly affected by light, contrast, and shadow.
There are two types of details: Actual details (that which is originally present in the image) and Perceived details (that which the mind perceives).
Details present in an image is closely related to the image quality. The actual image quality depends on the equipment used and the exposure of the image. Photography exposure is what controls the information (or details) that are recorded by your camera’s sensor or film and is measured in “stops”. A photograph with high exposure tends to lose more information, especially in the areas of highlight. Choosing the correct exposure in photography is thus non-negotiable.
You also tend to lose actual details if your photographs are not properly focused. This helps to guide the eyes of your viewer to notice certain details in your image and dismiss the others – also known as selective focus photography. There is one more thing that keeps your photos from actual details even if they are properly focused – the depth of field. When your lens is wide open ( most shallow depth of field ), the photograph tends to lose actual details even in the in-focus areas of your photograph.
This is a tricky one. It is hugely influenced by how the brain perceives color and contrast. In different post-processing software, different knobs and sliders promise contrast, sharpness, clarity, structure, or brilliance – these all aim at altering the perception of details, they don’t add extra information (or details) in your photograph. Ironically, the perception of increased details comes at the cost of loss of actual detail from the image. The obvious place to look at to understand this is in the areas of highlights.
Light is the single-most-important element to understand if you want to capture really sharp images. As I mentioned earlier, images taken in direct sunlight tend to be much sharper than those taken during low light photography. The idea can be easily understood by recalling how you see objects with your own eyes during the day versus during the night. This is the same principle your camera is dealing with at a very micro level, all the time – the lesser is the light, the lesser detail it can see. Even very small changes can have drastic effects on your image.
While capturing your subject, you are likely to capture more details if your subject faces the source of light, instead of facing away from it, even when you focus exactly at the same point while taking both the shot.
Light is the biggest differentiator in determining the quality of images. This is the reason why so many advanced level cameras provide you with settings to capture sharp images even in low light conditions.
Contrast eliminates the middle tones in the image, such that light and dark pixels stand out against each other in more pronounced ways. Tools like ‘structure’ and ‘brilliance’ essentially provide the same contrast but are restricted to small areas, finding edges and getting them to stand out.
You can understand the concept better by looking at the black and white checkerboard versus a checkerboard of gray tones. Contrast, whether applied generally or locally, makes certain elements stand out from the distance.
Contrast adds details by further darkening the dark areas in your image. Although it increases the overall experience of details in the image, much of the information from the dark areas are lost. The amount of information lost depends on whether you increase the shadows drastically or in a subtle way.
- In order to have more actual details in your images, use advanced gear, and flood your subject with light.
- General contrast (contrast sliders, levels, and curves), localized contrast (structure, brilliance, and detail sliders), and increasing the shadows will increase the perceived details of the image.
In order to truly experience how light, contrast and shadows affect the sharpness of your images, try doing the following assignment.
- Go out on a sunny day with a friend and capture a photo by making your friend face in the direction of the sun. While taking the photo, focus on the right eye. Next, stand in the shade of a tree and repeat the process. Compare the results.
- Upload both the photographs in photo-editing software and increase the contrast by the same amount, Compare the results. Next, alter the same settings by the exact same amount in both the images and compare the results.