January 11, 2024

I’m on a mission to change that and I want my first video of the year to do that. Most photographers don’t realize that photographic tone is the secret skill that makes them understand every shot. Today we learn it…

But videos like this did not exist when I was starting out. These are the 3 keys of tone in photography so you can master them fast regardless of your experience level. And they will change how you create photos.

MORE TIPS: Get free ticket to my next Shadow Hackers LIVE workshop to take this further. Also in the video, I mentioned Filmist film presets, Silver 5, Natural HDR, and Lumist Actions.

The unabashed flaring of the sun gives a natural haze to this morning street that can’t be done with a single slider. It was processed gold using GoldChrome

The photographic tone is the foundation of great photos. But the tone is a wide-ranging one that comes from the painters and the way they learned to understand shadow and contrast long before cameras.

This is the lost skill in Photography that I go on deeper in my workshops and today I’m sharing the keys to unlock this door in the simplest way I know how. IN consists of 3 elements that lead us to what tone does for us and why it is important.

  1. Shadows create contrast
  2. Contrast reveals tone
  3. Tone creates atmosphere

These 1,2,3 lists mean little to your photographic tone without context. So in the video, we’re comparing different photos to see how not only edits but how shadow contrast and ambiance in each will define our result.

IN another Xpan style crop we see light creating bloom and reducing contrast. The net result is that tone is more subtle and more contrast is created in the overall image. Edited with Street’ist.

In my Exposed Master class, we learn everything about exposure and zones. Those are the technical aspects. But if you’ve been to Shadow Hackers or seen the Photo Perfect workshop you know that combining those with the artist’s aesthetic is what makes a great photo.

In the end, the tone is pretty simple and yet subjective. But if you constantly remind yourself of the three factors. Shadow, contrast, and tone, which is the combination of all the light and dark and mist and color. All of them combined create a tone in your own style.

We see the contrast between the burned tree and the tone of the model. Then edited with a David Hamilton-inspired process to create softness with contrast and balanced photographic tone.
We see the contrast between the burned tree and the tone of the model. Then edited with a David Hamilton-inspired process to create softness with contrast and a balanced photographic tone.

As much as I use sliders and settings and layers inside and out in my tool packs. Tone-like shadow is not created by the slider it’s just moved around.

When we use contrast to just create hard lines we lose tonal nuance and atmosphere. In the end, the contrast of the overall scenes is less, and viewers don’t see the nuance you wanted to show.

If you missed my video on why you should STOP using contrast sliders go check it out and also read my post about how to use the Zone system in digital to hack shadows. You’ll find more on my channel.

As I keep building these free resources and simplifying the process of understanding tone I help myself learn more and hopefully, you as I realize a dream that’s spanned 20 years to make a simple process for those of us who want to truly master our style in photography.

We compare two of these in the video. Note how the tone of this one is softened but less distracting than what might be called the contrast image.
We compare two of these in the video. Note how the tone of this one is softened but less distracting than what might be called the contrast image. Edited with Filmist.
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September 9, 2023

And what no one told you about HDR photography?

Working on some refinements for my Natural HDR preset pack, I started thinking about the reality of HDR and that it should be explained better. I will say that everything I show you today will be amplified if you come to my Shadow Hackers class.

If you want easier edits do check out my Natural HDR presets, Lumist, and Filmist tools that I used in the video. But NONE of them are needed to implement these tricks.

The HDR Photo lie that tricked us all?

High dynamic range photography as a term became popular in the early 2000s when the digital camera did not have much dynamic range so we took to stacking and bracketing exposures to get sometimes magical and mostly strange-looking photos.

As sensors grew into monsters of image quality, HDR was being taught wrong. Like that heavily edited Dave Hill, crushed tones look was HDR. But it was not. That continued and I started pushing back with more balanced edits like in my popular Natural HDR presets, my photo courses, and workshops.

Midnight Seattle. My first INTL award-winning bracketed HDR did well because it was edited well.

What’s wrong with that HDR Photography “Look”?

Who am I to say you can’t edit intensely, gritty, or crush your tones? It’s not that we can’t each decide how our photo should look. It’s that HDR is not really what they sold it as and if you know what HDR photography is, we shoot better.

1943 Kodachrome can still be edited as HDR

The problem is that HDR is about tone, not style and that does matter because understanding it wrong leads us to more misunderstand tone.

Today’s video will show you what HDR Photography really is and what it’s not. Not a style, but a way we plan a photo just like a high-key portrait is not a style in itself.

This does not mean the HDR software is bad or that you should not experiment. Only a lot of fake information has been put out about HDR and if you know what really makes a photo HDR you will make everyone better.

Two kinds of HDR Photography – Input, and Output.

After the video, this should make more sense. HDR Photos are about tonal range of light and shadow. You can capture a photo loaded with Dynamic range and edit it for that.

Or you can compress the tones, taking an HDR scene and making more LoFi. Like the portrait below edited with Portrait Crush from Silver 5 presets. Taking a lot of dynamic range in the capture, but toning it down in output.

On the other side, you can take a scene that’s flat and not very HDR feeling and expand its contrast and range in output as we talk about in the video. This is easy to overdue so a good knowledge of shadows helps.

Both are ways to manage HDR Photography and neither is wrong.

A very wide HDR photography scene but still from a single file. LR with Natural HDR and masks.
The capture was HDR. But this edit is not. It’s a LoFi BW process from Silver 5

HDR without Shadows. What are we?

Believe it or not, for years this is how most “HDR” was done in most online courses and demos. This is the result of forgetting what we learned in the darkroom and killing the shadows. That’s why it looks so strange.

It’s probably the biggest mistake in HDR Photography. To be HDR you need High Tonal Range. As I teach in Shadow Hackers, photos need shadow, but especially HDR Photos. Without it, you lack the HDR component.

Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

Gavin Seim

This Mexico scene was fleeting. So knowing my Zones and pushing the limits of the X100 helped.
Even this 2009 file from a Canon G9 has amazing dynamic range and we don’t need to fight the shadow.
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January 16, 2023

Curves are how most pros and quality presets control the detailed tones in a photo. But in today’s short video, I’ll show you a better way to use your curves. We’ve been using S Curve in photography since the dawn of digital. But this is the F Curve!

Why did I stop using the S Curve in my Photography?

Because after years of editing, and studying dynamic range. Creating popular editing packs like Natural HDR and Silver black and white. I realized the S curve was often overdriving on our edits.

So I started creating the F curve in my recipes. It gives contrast control, without giving you a crunchy, overly processed look. It does this because it’s based on chemical film processing and is more flexible.

In this video, I’ll show you how to use the F Curve!

If you want Lightroom presets or Capture One Styles you’ll find great examples of the F curve in the free sampler packs of Filmist Film presets and Silver 5 presets.

Also sub my channel for more videos like this one.

How to use the S curve in Photography today!

It’s easier to add fine control to an F curve because we’re not always looking for that S shape. A film-like curve is useful not only for recipes that require a film-like feel. It simply works on nearly everything.

It might feel like an S curve when you start. But don’t stop there. Pull down the highlights and then lift a little in the middle, pull the shadow area a bit down and the black a bit up. You can vatu this any way you want. Just keep the curve smooth and maintain that highlight drop as needed.

I didn’t have a name for this, I just knew this simple course was giving me results that felt better in most situations, and I started using it a lot. It was only after years of applying this that I realized how simple it was and started calling it the Filmic Curve, or the “F” curve.

Gradually, I started using the normal photography S Curve less and applying variants that merged it into F curve. I watched as my own presets and edits got smoother, with better highlights and even better shadows and contrast.

It’s a simple tweak that transforms your edits.

Notice how the Filmic presets curve rolls off far more than a photography S Curve
An F curve can start like an S curve. But the way it drops on top is the key factor in the result. You can then mix shadow lift and drop.

But without Shadow, your curves mean nothing!

When I started developing Filmist film presets years ago, I realized that Film has a softer highlight roll-off than digital has a hard sensor. Contrasting lenses and easy-to-move editing soldiers were getting over-curved. especially with the traditional digital photography s curve.

A curve can add or remove your shadow. The S-curve in photography can quickly pop highlights or put some punch into shadows, and often it works well. The problem is that it tends to do the same thing to every photo, and while it boosts contrast in the edit, you lose fidelity in the roll-off details.

Tone roll-off is a big deal. And what most don’t realize is that you don’t always need to push up highlights because they are actually very perception based.

That highlight will seem BRIGHT depending on the tone of the shadows that surround them. To learn more about shadows watch this video on my channel. In short, combining smooth highlight roll-off with organic feeling shadow gives you a rich result.

A subtle Ektar based F curve is a lot like the S Curve in Photography but distinct
In this Ektar recipe from Filmsit the F curve is already part of the process giving a subtle highlight rolloff like film.

The F Curve will replace your S curve crutch!

So instead of the S Curve in your photography, us the F curve because you better control the shadow dimension and how that relates to your highlights as they roll off perfectly, just as they did with Film!

You also won’t always feel like you have to create that S shape will open up how you use the tones in each photo.

I hope you found this useful and will spread it around because the F curve really is better than the S Curve. Please spread this around and let me know what you think in the comments.

Gavin Seim

The s curve in photography works fine, but my changing to a filmic curve you improve everything like in this P\ortra look
A strong double drop at the top of this F curve softens the specular highlights that were a problem in the portrait processed with a Portra look.
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October 25, 2022

Expose to the right (ETTR) has been preached relentlessly for years in digital photography. But does it actually help?

I think now. In my recent shadow hackers workshops (join the next class here) this has come up and it made me think about how prolific this dated technique still is. Tell me what you think in the comments.

In the video, I’ll show you why ETTR is not usually right. It’s not always wrong to be Expose To The Right to achieve something. But using this as a general exposure tool in photography will lead to worse images.

How did ETTR happen and should you actually use it?

You can watch this on my channel, subscribe and comment there also.

When I made the Exposed workshop covering nearly possible approaches to exposure, we didn’t focus on ETTR because when you know what exposure or that light meter is telling you, you rarely need to expose to the right.

Like every idea or rule, it’s not really a rule. So in the end, if you get great exposures you win. But I think if you start hunting the shadows and exposing “right”, rather than TO the right you’ll see a transformation in how well you expose and edit.

It does not matter what you are shooting!

If you know the principles of exposure, your histogram, zones, and settings. They will soon become automatic. You’ll see yourself start to create naturally, knowing the light and the shadow like an old friend.

Let me know what you think – Gav

You can also

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September 29, 2022

Should stop buying Canon cameras, or is this fine?

Canon just pissed a lot of customers off. I don’t think it will make them more money in the end. We have a lot of Canon uses here and I was a huge Canon guy for years. But we have a problem and I want you to tell me what you think.

Companies may be able to make products that “prevent” customers. Like by killing lenses such as the Viltrox 85mm. But ignoring your customer can be a fatal mistake.

That’s what Kodak learned before they went bankrupt in 2012!

A lot of you know me for Lightroom presets, Photoshop actions, and Capture One styles. But you may not know that long before that I had the photo podcast and even now I do a lot of non LR/PS videos on my YouTube channel.

Kodak is perhaps one of the greatest marketing lessons in modern history. They were KING of moments for a century. They invented the digital Camera. Then tried to snuff it. By being out of touch with their market, Kodak fell from nearly 150,000 employees in the 80s and 16 BILLION in sales in 1996, to Bankrupcyin 2012..So how does that relate to Canon?

I’m going to talk about that AND show you why the expensive lens is not always the one you need in today’s video.

Imagine how the course Photoshop would have been different if they has locked of us creators, plugin developers, and third-party partners in the name of the intellectual property. You would not even be coming here for my Lightroom presets.

Since I’ve commented on Canon for many years and seen this arc. The truth is Canon is no longer king and they are lashing out! So I thought I would make a video and share of a few of those stories and what has led us to this Canon fiasco. I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments here or on my channel.

Respecting customers is first.

I don’t have a Viltrox lens myself as of writing this. But if you use my products you know that despite being a one-man band, I work hard to make sure customers are happy. Because without customers your intellectual property, your marketing. your tech is pretty much useless.

There’s nothing wrong with Canon cameras. or third-party lenses What’s wrong is Canon! Now Canon is about to find out if their customers will allow themselves to be treated this way.

Gavin Seim

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