April 10, 2024

I talk a lot here about Shadow Hacking, exposing better in camera zones and beyond. But today I was to show you something that almost no one is using in Lightroom, Raw, and Capture One. Recently I made a video about the least-known secret in Photography.

Learn more about exposure and shadow in my Shadow Hackers Live class and grab some free presets From Natural HDR and Filmist.

#1 Don’t think of Exposure as a slider.

Thinking more like you’re in the darkroom gives you a more complex view of how exposure works and relates to contrast, shadows, and lights.

The exposure slider in any app is just one way, one mix of volume and tone for those pixels. When you use curves, levels, and other methods you’re just adjusting the volume of those pixels in different ways like using EQ on your stereo.

Thinking this way keeps you from always doing the same thing and will let you easily adjust for higher or lower contrast situations like we did by pushing or pulling the film.

You don’t have to buy anything, you don’t have to use my presets. Or you may use mine but then make your own variants. That’s the beauty is saving things. It lets us repeat, then refine more with time. In doing so your entire process will improve.

Make these as presets, styles, and actions like I do in my mods and packs and you nyou will be glad you did.

They are simple recipes really and not like making a Film or advanced combo. Just a simple push and pull of tone and then you can turn them up and down with amount sliders or opacity layers. It’s magic.

In the video, I showed you different photos and how the same photo can work in more than one way. Exposure is not an absolute. Once you understand shadow hacking you know that with every photo you take.

Sometimes you want light, sometimes you want dark but those shadows are hard or soft and how they create contrast matters and the way you mix your exposure and tone boost makes a big difference.

On your stereo you have volume. But you also have EQ which is just volume targeted to specific frequencies or tones. Editing photos is the same and once you really get that there are no limits.

Go have some fun – Gavin Seim

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January 26, 2024

But when I did the recent Natural HDR 4.1 update I wanted a video not about how to use the presets so much as how to create beautiful HDR Photography. Not your Grandpas HDR!

Tone is not what people think and neither is HDR so I’m finally making a video to put an end to the confusion. This is how HDR will change how you see tone and shadow practically in 2024.

Download my free HDR presets here and the free Filmist sampler pack here to use these ideas right now. Also don’t miss my next free Shadow Hackers LIVE workshop.

In another video I showed you why Expose to the Right is Wrong. Today you see me going left and right on on shots I want dynamic range from. That’s because you need to expose RIGHT to what you are creating. Not to the right or left.

When you know Zones and exposure and how those relate you your histrogram like we talk about in Exposed. But you will soon learn when you understand exposure that meters don’t tell you the correct settings for your photo.

When I posted to my channel a few weeks ago, the least understood thing in photography I knew it was important. But the method of how to use it in the real world is what we see in today’s video.

Shadows are the easiest thing to recover with today’s sensors, software noise reduction etc. It’s mostly because shadows usually need to stay dark but clipped highlights ruin a photo fast.

I use Zones to expose. But I base the main exposure on how I will handle my highlights and ensure I retain shadows. Exposure for your photo, but often this means exposing dark.

Single file High Dynamic Range photography
As we saw in the video the single file produced a better result faster with today’s RAw tools like LR

There’s no rule here. You can crush your histogram, push your clarity, and drive sliders hard. But unless you know how and why you are doing it, you will probably just look like an amateur, using decade-old techniques that feel fake and overused.

A great photo normally does not reveal its method to the average viewer. That is it makes an impact, but that impact is not in the effect itself. When viewers have seen an ugly HDR process used and your photo seems similar, the reactions will usually be predictable.

Know the effect you intend to create. Then do it in a balanced way. That’s the secret to using HDR today and getting magical results. Editing with good presets whether you make your own use a tool like Natural HDR 4 or use single RAW files will get you there fast.

HDR Photography in portraits using Ai masks
IN this High Dynamic Range edit from the bright image I’ve finished with a bit more blue in the sky using Natural HDR’s Ai sky mask.

I sound like a broken record but it’s because the tone is the least understood skill in photography. The shadows save you. Don’t think. It’s too much shadow and therefore, not HDR. That’s not how this works, as I explain in the video.

HDR photography is the art of balancing shadows and highlights that are widely separated. It’s a method, not a filter. Once you learn that shadows are your friend in creating that balance, your HDR photos will be amazing and your LOFI photos will be improved by the same techniques.

High Dynamic Range photography grand Tetons single RAW file
It’s OK to have shadows like in this single file HDR from Grand Tetons. Note the detail in deep shadow.
HDR photography in portraits
Once you understand HDR you will us it subtley and even film-edited projects like this portrait.
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September 22, 2023

We’re always talking about high dynamic range. But today’s videos are a keystone much like our = STOP using contrast from the last Masters Made Easy video. LoFi photography is actually fundamental to understanding your photos.

No LoFi Photography is not just a lomo camera or a filter on Instagram. It’s just as important to shadow hunting as the High Dynamic Range techniques as I explained in my recent video.

Many photographers no longer edit Low Dynamic Range.

You’ll find some free presets to make this easier inside my Film presets sampler and the Silver Black and White preset Sampler. Also there are some powerful LoFi tools in my Emulsion Photoshop Actions.

LoFi Photography goes way deeper than people think.

LoFi Photography is often played as low quality, pinhole camera, etc. While those can be included, it’s a really low dynamic range technique and it’s important when you plan a shoot.

I know I say it all the time but this LoFi photography fits in with Shadow Hacking 101 so make sure you come to a Shadow Hackers online photo workshop.

LoFi photos take what everyone else throwing out and it often creates better photos. You don’t need to do all LoFi or all HDR. A lot of photos fall in between. But don’t be afraid to push the methods I show in the video to refine your style.

Reverse the things they teach you in LoFi photography

We’re almost universally taught to push sliders right in the digital world. A more is more kind of approach. That’s why most photos look so bad and even good photographers are ediuting to death. We went deeper into this in my post about how to ground your edits by using filmic presets.

I’ve been doing this since the start of digital. I’ve watched the influencers and experts nearly always selling the same ideas and repeating ourselves because they came from film and all the digital stuff was new and like candy. Candy sometimes lacks perspective.

Slowly that’s changing as digital matures and photographers realize that we still have a lot to learn from the past.

Stop speaking in just digitally.

We live in an analog world. The advent of Ai photography is reminding us just how fake everything has become and that the real world is often more magical. LoFi photography is not every part of the puzzle. But you nee to know it.

You can still do amazing complex edits. But by knowing all the tools in your box you have control. Yes, your capture can be HDR and your final LDR, or vice versa. When you know to hunt shadows and look for the atmosphere and life in photos everything starts to change. There’s not just one way and you need to know them all to master this. The good news is, it’s not that complex.

Stay tuned for more in the Masters Made Easy series.

Gavin Seim

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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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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

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