Author uncredited – COS PRIMAVERA/ESTATE (2017)

When you start learning photography, you’ll have a lot of maxims thrown your way:

  • 400 speed film stock should always be shot @ 320 ISO
  • Expose for shadows; develop for highlights.

The premise behind both of this isn’t nefarious. I mean the 400/320 thing actually was a huge benefit for certain Kodak B&W stocks–all of which are no extinct (to my knowledge).

But you’ll have someone like me who rates a a half dozen rolls of 400 speed stock at 320 ISO and is subsequently displeased with the result so then goes on to shoot another half dozen rolls at the 400 box speed and is equally dissatisfied and only then realizes that maybe it’s the film stock that’s not working for me.

The expose for shadows; develop for highlights is useful. But I’d rather teach someone how to actually use the Sunny 16 rule to shoot without a light meter and then teach the expose for shadows and develop for highlights after the student has spent a year or so honing their dark room chops saving overexposed prints.

There is one thing I heard Mark Steinmetz suggest in a lecture that is actually indi-fucking-spensable. He talks about how in the afternoon, you’re walking down the street with your camera loaded with B&W film and you find that walking on the side of the street in shade, everything looks flat and muddy but if you cross to the sunny side of the street, shit just pops off your negs.

The reverse is true of color. Too much light is a bad thing but if you cross over to the shady side of the street.. bingo, your colors look better. (And, in truth, your colors are never going to look better than golden hour or for like three hours after its rained in the spring but the clouds are still hanging around and the grey against the green just super saturates everything. Swoon.)

But the point is well taken here. There’s entirely too much light for this image to have worked in color. This is likely digital–but it’s smartly executed–the gray scale grade of the background means that you can actually let the white of the suit blow out completely at points but the lost detail in the highlight tone just conveys a brighter white. (With only a few exceptions the only folks doing anything interesting in digital cinematography are actually exploiting this same trick.)

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