Dramatic Cool

The standard photo-editing software  bundled with Windows® includes something called “filters.” These are pre-set changes to photos that affect how they look: the only creative control I have is how intensely to apply the change.

When I’m editing photos this way (as opposed to selecting a set of individual changes) I don’t have a default setting, but if I did it would be “warm contrast” applied with a light hand. “Warm” because I don’t like being, or even looking at, cold. “Contrast” because adding just a smidge improves most of my photos to my eye in ways that I find hard to articulate. Thank goodness not everyone has the same problem.

Contrast in photography is the visual ratio of different tones
in an image. This difference is what creates the textures, highlights, shadows, colors and clarity in a photograph.

Yeah, yeah – visual ratio: I was just about to say that. Anyway, and finally, a “light hand” because too much warmth and/or too much contrast changes “better” to “stagey.” Artificial. Unnatural.

There are photos, though, where adding warm contrast is Plain Wrong: harsh and unhelpful in some way that I find hard to articulate. They just don’t look good, much less better.

So it is with photos of snow, I think, of which we have our first heavy wet abundance today. Every surface with any claim to horizontality, and many with clear vertical leanings, is laden with grey snow. I know it must be white but the overwhelming impression is grey, from featureless sky to falsely flat ground. In this landscape bereft of any warmth, visual or otherwise, the filter that works is “dramatic cool,” adding contrast and blue light.

Would that I had the option of applying a filter to my days: some selection that would allow them all to be warm and inviting. But as with photography, it seems that the best I can do is to try to improve the sunny ones and to get the best out of the grey ones. Maybe the trick lies in seeing not one day but my entire life as a photo with both warmth and drama, and with just enough contrast, just enough difference to make the whole better, in some way that I find hard to articulate.


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16 Responses to Dramatic Cool

  1. Alison Uhrbach says:

    I’m surprised to hear you are still IN the snow! thought you would have migrated South by now?? Snow photos are tricky – and yours look lovely – although as a gardener, I’d be out there brushing the snow off those poor branches!

  2. Ken from Kenora says:

    I learned a new word reading the excellent biography of Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson; ‘sfumo’. All or most of his work seems to be what I used to call ‘gauzy’, as if looking through a single layer of that material. It always is more appealing to my eye than a stark, defined line work of art. I’m thinking that this effect is similar to what you have in mind for photography. Lovely bit of snow by the way.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Ken – Interesting. I’ll check it out. As I think I might have mentioned, I lack the art vocabulary that might, now and then, be useful. 🙂

  3. Judith Umbach says:

    I agree that applying contrast is a matter of eye. Looks better, or doesn’t. Oddly, removing contrast a little sometimes makes the scene more visible. Endless delights of art!

  4. barbara carlson says:

    Yesterday at 6:30 AM, John drove to Greely for the Metcalfe Farmers’ Market Christmas show. He said all the trees were so delicately dusted with snowflakes, their branches looked like feathers. He was gobsmacked! (And he has seen many, many winters — it is his 14th one sitting out in it to paint it.)

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Lovely. I remember seeing hoar frost for the first time as a child – it was quite rare in Edmonton, due to the generally low humidity I’m guessing. It was spectacular. It still is.

  5. Tom Watson says:

    Beautiful winter scene, Isabel.

  6. Jim Taylor says:

    This was the sentence that caught me: “Would that I had the option of applying a filter to my days…” I must remember it. I’ve spent most of December with a blue filter on my mind –a blue funk about decorating the house for Christmas the way Joan would have wanted it. It’s my choice of filter that’s the problem, not the decorations. (also a cat who keeps climbing the Christmas tree and tipping it over!)
    I have a pair of sunglasses that make even a cloudy day look bathed in sunshine. I used to have a filter for my camera that turned every highlight into a starburst. Why can’t I simply say, “Today, I’m wearing a green filter… or a blue filter… or a red filter… and let that filter colour my day”?

    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – In theory, of course, we can control our filters. I mean, who else controls them? In practice, it’s in the category that Kenny Stabler used to describe as “Easy to call; hard to run.” May a new filter be yours this season.

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