Extending Dynamic Range, 1994
I had no intention of making a finished photograph when I made the basic exposure for Ascent. I was shooting transparency film and I knew I couldn’t adjust my exposure and development times to maintain information in both the highlights and the shadows as well as I could have with black-and-white film. If I exposed for the shadows, the sky would have lost a tremendous amount of information. Similarly, I’d lose important information if I exposed for the highlights. So I made an average exposure. The highlights were too light and the shadows too dark. But I had no intention of making a finished photograph. I was making reference for a drawing. It worked well for that.
What I didn’t know is that I would also make a finished photograph from it. I was able to do so by making two scans of the same original. The film had more information in it than was visible to the eye. A single scan would not have revealed all the available information. By scanning once for the shadows and once for the highlights and combining the best information from both, I was able to extend the printable range of a single piece of film and the range of capture of the scanner. Had the exposure been too contrasty for the film to capture the data scanning twice would not have worked.
I often say digital technique is no substitute for traditional technique. Why take the long and complicated way when the short and simple way will work? Yet on occasion the new freedom digital technology affords has saved an image or two, maybe three — or I should really say, it has made them possible. It has certainly changed the way I photograph. If I had known then what I know now, I would have made a very different exposure — actually I would have made two. Instead of exposing for the shadows and developing for the highlights, I would have exposed once for the shadows and once again for the highlights. Two pieces of film can, at times, do more than one. By combining the best information from both exposures, you extend the range of capture of film. You can do this for any type of capture, conventional or digital.
Now I use transparency film for all my needs. I expect one day soon I won’t be using film at all. Yet I make a variety of types of prints — silver, platinum, giclée. Now, more often than not, I make multiple exposures to create a single image, even in situations where I intend to make a “straight” photograph. When the range of my materials fails me I take two shots, one for the shadows and one for the highlights. You can use one medium to overcome the limitations of the other. It reminds me of the saying, “Compromise is where one and one makes one and a half. Synergy is where one and one make three."