Shadow Density

With the painting I’m doing right now, it occurs to me that much of the reality illusion is due to shadows. The shadows definitely impart a 3D illusion to the image. I’ve been trying to make the shadows less dense and I think this is more like the mental image of reality that we have. In a photograph I can expose for the highlights or the shadows but not both. The dynamic range of film can be compressed using over and underexposure, so the shadows appear less dense.

Digital cameras and monitors have a higher dynamic range than film. I bet the dynamic range is actually greater than our eyes can see but our eyes are highly variable. Our irises expand and contract depending on what we want to see. I often use multiple photos when I paint. If I’m taking the photo I expose for the highlights, then expose for the shadows and take another. I could put these together in Photoshop but generally I can’t be bothered. It’s easy for me to paint from one image then switch to the other and paint details into the shadows. Photoshop supports high definition photos. That is a photo with a higher dynamic range. Actually I think Photoshop just compresses the dynamic range so that the shadows and highlights are exposed correctly. This is exactly what is happening with film if it’s over or under exposed. If I don’t have shadow details in an image I often make them up.

As I said I don’t make high definition images in Photoshop, but doing what I do while painting is likely exactly the same thing. I like to think that by using my own senses to do this something more is being added. I may be deluding myself because the more I think about it the more it sounds like the same process.

I think that shadow detail is a requirement for the reality illusion. Since we are capable of seeing shadow detail then we expect it when we are looking at a photo or painting. I’ve seen high definition photos that look wonderful and very real. Maybe that is because of the shadow detail. When we look at a scene on a nice sunny day, our eyes move from one area to another to take in the scene. Our irises open or close depending on the area our attention is focussed on. With a painting our irises don’t need to change. Paint has a much lower dynamic range than reality. Maybe the reality illusion is the shock of being able to see both shadows and highlights in the painting without having to change our irises.

This is getting too technical. I’m going to continue painting details in the shadows.