Lightroom's New Look For Photography?

February 27, 2023

Buildings, MoroccoBuildings, Morocco

Buildings, Morocco
Fujifilm X-H2, 10-24mm lens, f11 @ 1/300 second, ISO 125

Years ago, in the days of film, I would use flash and exposure to highlight my subject. For a human subject it was relatively easy, assuming you were only a metre or so distance. Set the flash to correctly expose your subject and set the ambient exposure to underexpose everything else. It wasn't always possible in bright sunlight, unless you used an ND filter and a powerful flash. And it wasn't possible with larger subjects that were further away because the flash wasn't powerful enough - at least not during full daylight.

I liked the result, the way the subject stood out against the background. I also remember a number of professional friends using the technique brilliantly for annual reports and advertising campaigns. It wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but it was certainly effective.

Now take a look at Lightroom and the way it can quickly mask either the subject or the background. Lighten the subject, darken the background - it produces the same result. The technique is simple, as long as you accept Lightroom's masking limitations. In the photograph here, the subject is very simple and so Lightroom has done a very good job of creating a mask, but in some other subjects with slightly more complex outlines, Lightroom can struggle. No trouble if you're just outputting a 1000 pixel file as the 'errors' are practically invisible, but create a full size file for printing and you'll find you have some extra retouching ahead of you.

But now everyone has this technique at their fingertips, assuming 'everyone' has access to Lightroom or Photoshop. Will this mean we see a resurgence in this style? Sure, I've played with contrast and colour as well, but the basic technique involves lighting up the subject and leaving the background in the dark.

I remember an exhibition several decades ago where the curator focused on how technology had changed the look of photography over the years - when photography moved from black and white to colour, to automatic exposure, to more sensitive emulsions and so on. As technology made something easier (or possible), photographers adopted it and a new way of photographing followed.

Has Adobe started (or restarted) something?

 


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