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Old 10-30-2005, 09:43 PM
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Moosehead Moosehead is offline
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Values, landscape painting and photos.

I keep going over this in my head, so I have to ask others if there are any flaws in my thinking. This is particularly relevant to low horizon (sky dominant) landscape paintings, due to the light we are dealing with in daylight skies. (I'm talikung about realistic painting).

When using photo references, we are dealing with a device that can capture only a limited range of values (as compared to the human eye). So set on automatic exposure, a picture that is ¾ afternoon sky, will show darker values on the land, trees etc, because of how light the sky is (the land will be somewhat underexposed), and darker shadows will show as black or near black.

Now, we have the same limitations with our paints, in a sense, that the camera has. Our lightest pigment (white) is not illuminated. As I understand it, the key to getting correct values in a painting, is to ensure the values, relative to each other, are accurate.

Therefore if we want to show the luminosity of a sky, with the limitations our pigments have, we need to reduce the value or “underexpose” the land elements, to do this. This leads me to conclude that using the values as they appear in a photo, including those blacks/near blacks with their lack of detail, should be the correct way to proceed. Granted we might use a lesser # of values in a painting to strengthen the composition, but the range-would seem to be as we get in a photo

Plein air painter’s point out (correctly) that they see more in the shadows than a camera captures (which means they are seeing more light-since light is what we see).However, if we paints the details (aka light) we see in a shadow, it would seem impossible to get the sky value light enough, relative to the shadow details, with our pigment limitations.

This is not a plein air vs photo ref. thing, as I myself paint both ways, and I enjoy painting plein air. But I was told, on my first few plein airs to “push my darks” more, which sounds a lot like “make them darker than you see” which is exactly what a camera does, isn't it?.

We might choose to make the “near black” warm or cool (although at this value I think it’s pretty hard for the viewer to tell), but it still seems, by the above logic, that we would want to paint blacks, or near blacks, much as a photo show them, in order to get our lights to a correct relative value.

Is there a flaw in my logic?

I still think there is merit in seeing/experiencing a subject in person, for several other reasons, but my question here is specific to "values".
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Old 10-30-2005, 11:13 PM
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LarrySeiler LarrySeiler is offline
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Re: Values, landscape painting and photos.

thing is...don't discount, Jon human convention. Limitations in pigment do not necessarily make negligible what the artist can learn to pull off.

There is seeing...and painting what one sees, there is also experiencing and painting what one experiences.

It is true there are certain limitations to earth pigments like the camera...but the artist is a sensory receptor. To romance a photograph...(an imitation and abstraction of the genuine) ...is not the same as to romance the moment. One can read a letter and imagine an embrace of their lover...but it is not the same as embracing one's love.

In convention...the artist will learn how color in one area will influence an adjacent color and experience will teach you to transfer the feeling of what you experienced.

Another thing to consider...is that a camera does not have peripheral vision, but the human eye does.

For example...you may sense the tiniest star afar in the night sky and when you look directly at it it seems to disappear...but you look to the side and peripheral vision can pick it up.

Peripheral vision can sense hints of color where direct vision does not.

I pointed out a couple weekends ago to workshop students of mine painting plein air the shadows that followed beneath a grouping of pines. To look directly, it appear dark, greenish...but, to look up at the sky above the pines peripherally that shadow had very definite hints of cool blues and violets. Every student saw this when I pointed it out. This peripheral hint of color works with masses in light as well...not just shadows.

You would have no such peripheral experience looking at the photograph.

Painting on location in the moment draws upon many various things happening to the artist. It is not just values alone.

One factor...may be recognized as a spiritual connection where one's emotions are peaked and aesthetic impulses are sensitive and sharp.

You know...I have the Outdoor channel on my satelite reception, and see one show after another where the hunter encounters a huge whitetail buck. Its cool...but gotta tell ya, last night I was in my climbing stand high in a big maple tree along a small grass knoll and big cedar and tamarrack pine swamp.

I rattled my rattling antlers...made some grunt calls...and within about thirty seconds this doe pops out into the edge. She disappears...but then after a few more grunt calls reappears. Then...suddenly like a gray ghost out steps this awesome basket racked buck. A handsome guy with a nice set of antlers...and he was very cautious. He was looking for where this rattling might have come from.

I gotta tell ya...I've seen one Outdoor show after another; I've watched the whole Drury Brothers bowhunting series of dvd videos. Yet...for all I experienced watching images on the screen...not once did I feel what I felt when that big ole boy stepped out into the back corner of this grassy knoll. My heart....the lump in my throat, the dry lips and shaking in my hands. The tingling running down thru my whole body, and a moment sense of feeling numb and paralyzed. Never once watching the videos did I have to console myself to be careful, patient...to breathe, to not rush anything, to remain silent.

Not once when the buck walked off and out of sight with the Drury brothers did I find myself thankful to have at least experienced it...but I could barely utter complete sentences when I was on my way home and called and my 24 year old son answered. I was so excited, still shaking...so filled with thankfulness for having experienced and encountered the joy of rattling in a trophy class deer.

See...I believe Jon, there are things unspeakable that the artist may experience in the moment of genuine authentic encounter that finds its way into the paint and the interpretation; things not experienced in encountering a photograph. Things experienced that patrons sense and feel that makes one artist's work stand out from those works of others in the same room. Its a thing felt that validates my not having to put 200 hours of work anymore in hyper realistic detail as in days of old.

To compare it to one last thing...its like modern supplement makers thinking they could possibly make a pill that would substitute the eating of real food. There are what scientists/nutritionists call the "X" factors...that is, those hidden things in genuine real foods that can't be found under an electron microscope and imitated that deprived would be ill-fated for the body's health.

I believe there are "X" factors in experiencing genuine encounter where REACTION finds its way into the paint that does not from a photo instudio.

That is not to say a study done on location encompassing genuine encounter along with a photo reference can't make a decent instudio painting....but even then the artist has to remind himself to not overwork or lose hint of the spontaneity of the moment. It is an elusive thing these "X" factors...

and ...that's just my opinion...
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Old 10-31-2005, 07:53 AM
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Re: Values, landscape painting and photos.

Having said all this, now let me play a different role. My post above is as an artist, like any other...compelled by years of growth, seeking, questioning and facing convictions in my own practices coming to certain conclusions. Those conclusions as stated above are why I paint plein air now...but, having said that, the art teacher in me and simply being a fellow human being readily admits there is much fine art produced in many genres and styles.

Adhering to rules of painting that lead to sound composition, harmony/cohesiveness and so forth...paintings work for many reasons.

You know...I long had this authenticity hang up. Painting from photographs and outdoor experiences had its limitations in commissions where the asker asked for certain species I did not encounter. If they wanted a pack of wolves in snow...I would politely decline, because I never personally experienced a pack of wolves. I would have been borrowing from a photographer's encounter or those living where such encounters might have been more likely.

I was asked for years and years to paint a moose...but it wasn't until in the late 80's traveling mule deer hunt with my brother-in-law in Wyoming that I encountered roughly 30 different moose on my treks in the mountains. From that experience I felt legitimized to paint moose, using photographs...but now enabled to say I had some particular expertise. A first hand account.

Having said that...you are right, Jon...in that the photograph has particular deficits in its regard, and pigment also had deficits to its possibilities.

One deficit to both is the enabling and potential of the artist to use them to their best capabilities. Even if pigment could perfectly imitate natural light and natural color, that in and of itself is no guarantee that the artist might not yet mess it all up regardless, limited to lacking of understanding and painter's knowledge, and subject to whim.

Plein air is only a potential to see and experience the subject the way it is...it is not a guarantee that the beginner can produce a good successful work. An experienced instudio painter using a photograph without question can produce the most excellent painting, and I'll take that artist's work time and time again over the poor work of inexperience no matter where it is executed.

But..what the experienced excellent instudio painter has is a sense of the photograph's deficit, and must plot to account for it and overcome it.

If you wish to make an interesting comparison then...it might well be looking not at the photograph or the landscape on location, but the artist himself. How is it that the instudio painter overcomes the deficit of the photograph, and the plein airist overcomes the deficit of the pigment? Then again, it seems to me the instudio painter referring to a photograph has to overcome the potential of two deficits...one the photograph AND the pigment, and its possible seeing the scene live gives the artist other strategies to use which are from clues that nature itself gives on the fly.

I guess what I'm saying is that this question you ask is not as simplified as though values alone were the only concern of painting. I'm glad you asked it though, because its got my gray matter stirring and thinking!

We have some very fine landscape painters here that no doubt work from photographs only...but I'd be inclined to speak more about what makes them different from so many other painters that do not paint well from photographs. There are things that separate one plein air painter from another as well, visible by their work showing one better than another.

Its all about keen observation, developing a good painter's sense, and staying on top of the game when and where it counts.

I read recently that Clyde Aspevig has developed so much talent and understanding of nature that he can actually create from imagination a painting that is so convincing of an actual genuine place that it defies belief. He has painted hundreds, hundreds and hundreds of outdoor plein air studies over his lifetime...and from these created larger instudio pieces. He has developed an understanding, a knowing of his subject intimately and really...THAT is the marked difference.

Byron has studied waves crashing upon waves, and no doubt for many many years of his lifetime. With all respect to the other artists of this forum, I think Byron is a master of the sea...its crests, its undertow, its spray....you name it. Photographs do not provide that intimacy alone. Photographs do not wholly completely reveal.

Marty is another that has had some very nice convincing work here in this forum, worth looking over.

Having gained insight and intimacy, artists can take a photograph and do what perhaps no other can.

And yet...while I can't paint jot and tittle detail of it all standing there on location...I'll get a feel for something a little different painting it live. I'll call it a spark.

For some reason...I can tell when a painting is painted from a photograph. Perhaps Clyde Aspevig is the only painter I cannot fully say that about, I'm sure there are a good number of others. What is it then? What gives that tell tale sign? Next question, is it a sign that limits or expands what one's growing definition of realism is?

For example...for near 20 years I had built a reputation painting wildlife art, and my style instudio was averaging about 200 paintstaking hours in hyper realism competing against other wildlife artists in major competitions knowing judges counted the rows of scales on fish, the number of feathers and feather groups on waterfowl...and so forth.

I used photographs to capture anatomy and mood/pose, and a good camera to freeze every detail was essential...but, again the question of "realism"...for many we are attempting to portray what inspiration, what influence nature has upon us and we feel portraying it with a particular realism helps us express that best.

So...one might benefit from and paint as accurate as possible from this photo of a hen mallard-


From this we can see her attitude, the primary and secondary feather groups, the tertials...and the covert feathers yada yada yada...and if we paint it for competition we might earn a coveted title yielding to reputation. But...is it realistic? What is realistic? I think in essence that is what your question is asking, and its good for all of us to consider. Is it less realistic where values are concerned to use a photograph than a plein airist's limitations of just how far pigment can simulate nature's light?

Realism...

Well...to demonstrate that "X-factor" thing I spoke of before...let me throw this at you because it hit me like a ton of bricks about 12 years ago. It was from certain artist's work like Manfred Schatz that brought sneers and ridicule out of the mouth of some, but had me re-investigating for myself what realism is. Here are two of his mallards, and how do they differ from the photograph above?





What Schatz has done is reported that a duck in flight does not freeze and hold still in the air. He has challenged our notion of the frozen moment which a camera provides and has so enculturated us in modern times to believe and accept as real.

A duck goes from this point...to that one in genuine authentic encounter. We may try as hard as we may to count feathers while in flight...but we get only a sense of shape and blur.

Schatz is suggesting that not only must feathers and anatomy be treated as an element of realism, but TIME also. Time is a detail, and time does not exist in a frozen state. It exists from here....to there.

This is the spark I see in a plein air. So busy are we to capture VISUAL detail that we miss EXPERIENTIAL detail of what exists from here to there or in time. The subject we are trying to paint exists in a window of TIME.

Now...I'm sure Schatz didn't paint his moving ducks in flight standing there on location. So...the good news is, that such observation can be taken instudio and incorporated. The use of a photograph...and then convention (which I mentioned earlier)...or genuis.

It is not values alone that speak life to us...but various all together "X-factors"

Developing a sense of the "X-factors" from years of observations contributes to a convincing inspiring work of art. That might come from plein air encounters, it might come from taking frequent trips and shooting photographs; perhaps doodling and sketching in a sketch book and writing subnotes.

I don't think it has to be either or...that is plein air or photographs instudio. It can and IMHO should be a combination perhaps of both where the work warrants it. I'll challenge you though to consider that there are many deficits that go beyond what a photograph might not reveal or a pigment might not imitate. Like I said, I'll take a great instudio painter's work over a poor plein air painter's work...or a great plein air painter's work over a poor instudio painter's.

What is real? What leads to realism? What is the spark that speaks life, and why?

peace....sorry for the book, but not really. I enjoyed your question.

Larry
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Old 10-31-2005, 08:53 AM
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Re: Values, landscape painting and photos.

Larry - WOW!

Jon - this is how I work with photos and plein air. Yes, I DO push the darks, but only the DARKS. Not the middle values too. Middle values stay in the middle value range - I don't let them become darks.

When you take a photo and expose for the sky, ALL of the middle and dark values get made darker because the camera's meter "wants" to darken the whole scene. The resulting photo has dark and middle values munged together into an amorphous black blob.

So what I do is to then take a photo metering on the middle values. This will have the effect of giving me the correct exposure of the middle values so I can see what's going on in there. I can then do the same with the darks. Of course, metering on the middle and dark values will cause the sky to wash out...but then you use all 3 reference photos when putting together your final painting. I am doing this right now with the painting on my easel...I'll make sure I post it when it's done, along with all 3 reference photos.

When creating the painting, luminosity in the sky (if that's what you're after) can be accomplished by SLIGHTLY darkening the middle and dark values in the land. Do not make them black as they appeared in your first (sky-exposed) photo because that will make your painting look like a photo rendition - it's NOT how the eye sees.

You can also use somewhat complementary colors between the sky and the land to make the sky pop. For example, if the sky is orange (morning light), push the colors on the land a little toward the blue/purple side. Don't go all of the way blue though, because the orange light bouncing around reduces the amount of true blue that you'd see. I'd do the land in grayed tones of a purpley-blue. richard Schmid had a good explanation of these color/light effects in his "Alla Prima" book.

There is another technique to bring luminosity to the sky...one that Edgar Payne used, and Matt Smith routinely employs. Broken Color. Example: if the sky has a vreenish cast, paint it in with viridian. Then take little bits of a muted-down Alizarin and dab them all over the sky area. Then blend this into the rest of the sky with a brusk. Take a look at some of Payne's mountain or harbour scenes on the web (or in his book) and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Nancy
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Old 10-31-2005, 10:30 AM
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Re: Values, landscape painting and photos.

its a brave and gutsy thing too Nancy putting such color in the sky if one doesn't sense it first. I often admired the old Peters and Remington posters with their pinkish or greenish skies. Such skies FEEL aesthetically right...but seem to fight against reason.

That is...until driving down a late fall forested road about two years ago I caught a glimpse of the greenish sky in my eyes. I slowed down and looked directly and lost it, thought I was imagining it until I looked down the road again. This is where peripherally I began to really learn you can see the color whereas direct looking not.

I read too that Kevin MacPherson uses peripheral judgment of color often and that more or less confirmed where my conclusions were going.

I admire such skies of painters and our own Bill Wray is quite good at it. He too is one who's landscapes with photo references could pass for his plein airs. Such a mood is evoked. In time...I hope to incorporate more of that. That is, transfer a sense of mood in my skies...but in a way that isn't fake or contrived. It seems such a bold color would be contrived, but done as well as Bill Wray does and painters such as Payne, Gruppe and so forth it strikes me as inspiring.

Your description of Payne's method is interesting.

Larry
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Old 10-31-2005, 10:44 AM
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Re: Values, landscape painting and photos.

Just popping in to say thanks for an obviously well thought out response. I'm at work now so I'll read through this later.
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Old 10-31-2005, 12:56 PM
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Re: Values, landscape painting and photos.

Thanks Jon for asking the question, and Larry and Nancy for your responses. WC has been a great source of instruction and inspiration for my painting in the last year. Thanks again!
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Old 10-31-2005, 02:17 PM
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Re: Values, landscape painting and photos.

Payne talked about not staring at a color for too long...take your first impression of it and jot it down. I think that's where he arrived at some of his incredible sky colors...first impressions, or maybe even peripheral impressions

I'll have to see if I can find some of Payne's work to post here ...

Actually, Clyde Aspevig appears to use the same technique as Payne...check out these skies:

http://clydeaspevig.com/scandia_lutheran_1916.html
http://clydeaspevig.com/big_horn_basin.html
http://clydeaspevig.com/desert_in_winter.html
http://clydeaspevig.com/shields_valley_sunset.html

Aspevig appears to use a similar broken color technique as Payne in those skies of his...

Nancy
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Old 10-31-2005, 06:46 PM
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Re: Values, landscape painting and photos.

Jon, here's another way you might like to look at your question. Suppose you have a black and white picture - photo, painting, it doesn't matter, as long as it has a full range of greys in it. Now you want to make a version of this using a smaller range of values, say pale grey to dark grey. How are you going to do it? This is essentially the problem you face when a real landscape has high contrast.

You can preserve the darks at the expense of the light areas or vice versa, or compress the range of values equally, but nothing is true to the original. You have to make a decision, and there is no correct answer. I don't think it matters whether you make the decision intuitively, on the spur of the moment while painting en plein air, or after much consideration in the studio. The important thing is that you make the decision, and don't let a camera make an arbitrary decision for you.

... in July I camped on the ridge of Suilven, a dramatic mountain in Scotland, in amazing weather. We saw the sun set into the sea but before it did, some cloud came over and obscured everything but the sun and its reflection in the sea and a small loch. I attach the photo I took - I think we can safely say the camera lied here. Also a (digital) painting done from memory, which is not a patch on the real thing, but truer.
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Old 10-31-2005, 09:11 PM
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Re: Values, landscape painting and photos.

Thank's Larry Nancy, and Graham.

Just to reinforce what I mentioned, I was only wondering about values specifically, and the correlation, if any, between the limitations we face with non luminous photos, and non-luminous pigments. I'm most certainly not suggesting that painting plein air is without merit. I plan on continuing to paint plein air when I can. I do realize that in person, we can see the colours in those dark areas, that show just as black on a photo. In fact, I never use black in my darks, I still mix a warm or cool dark, and sometimes have two or 3 very dark colours in a very dark area. To be honest-I have trouble seeing the different colours at that low value, but I believe they may have a subtle, almost subliminal effect on the viewer, so I try to do them right.

I also agree fully, Larry, that there is a lot to be said for capturing the experience or feeling of being in a place. Plus, I love the outdoors, and I like the opportunity to get out.

So my question was not about the merits of working from photos, vs the merits of working plein air. I happen to be working on a sky dominant landscscape right now, where I didn't have a chance to paint plein air (I was on a boat fishing), but I did take a couple of notes and in addition to the 3/4 sky shot, I took a couple of land dominant shots (as Nancy has suggested) because of the camera exposure issue. But as I was planning my painting it occurred to me that I wont get the luminosity in the sky, that I want, by painting the land as it was properly exposed in the land dominant shot, because the "relative" values between the land and sky will then be too close. It was this, specifically, then, that made it occur to me that value "problems" we hear about cameras are similar to the value problems we face with pigments and in some sense are solved the same way, by making the darks "relatively" darker to show the luminosity in the lights.

Unfortunately, with working about 50 hours a week, and having 2 young kids, I can't get out plein air as much as I'd like, although I'm trying to get out for one a week, and I was also starting to almost feel "guilty" about working from photos. My free time is often limited to 2-3 hours in the evening, after my kids go to bed-so I'd rather paint from photos, then not at all (I know I can also paint from life-doing still life).

Anyway, I re-examined my ref photos and my painting so far, and I think the answer, to get the light I want, is in between. The land is too dark and unde-exposed in the sky diominant shot, but too light (compared to the sky) in the land dominant photos-so I've got to use my license a bit.

But please don't think I was criticising Plein Air painting, just trying to work out some logic on a specific technical issue.

PS-Clyde Aspevig is one of my all time favourites!
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Old 10-31-2005, 10:40 PM
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Re: Values, landscape painting and photos.

Jon seems to be more action over here on your question than in PA. I understand what you're asking, it's a problem we all deal with when photos are our only choice as a reference.
Here's what I do when I know I may want to use a photo reference that isn't going to get to be painted from life.
It's pretty uncomplicated, maybe too much so. Take 2 exposures, one exposing for the sky, and one exposing for the land mass. About all there is to it. Print or set the monitor to view both and away you go.
I am able to meter an average of the sky and land with my camera, depending on where I place the viewfinder, and that seems to work also. May not be the entire effect that's present, but gives me enough information to go with.
I've been doing some indoor landscapes for an upcoming show and after all of the plein air I'd be surprised if most people would know which are which. Some are evident in that they have been pushed past the range of what outside presents us. The rest are painted in studio as if painting outside with the same time constraints and look like they're from life.
If forgers can replicate a Monet, or Pissaro and fool the museums, then I'm confident we can paint inside what looks to have been painted outside....if that's the goal.
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Old 11-01-2005, 12:28 AM
Mark Diederichsen Mark Diederichsen is offline
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Re: Values, landscape painting and photos.

Hey Moose,

One way to help you adjust the "luminosity" difference in the two photos is, when you go to paint it, make sure the darkest value in the sunny area is not darker than the lightest value in the shadow areas. The purpose of the two different exposures is to capture detail lost in the other exposure. The values need to be adjusted.

It also helps to boost the chroma along the edges of shadows. Shadows tend to have higher chroma than sun drenched areas anyway, but it depends on the situation.

Payne's skies literally vibrate.

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Old 11-01-2005, 04:44 AM
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Re: Values, landscape painting and photos.

Hi everybody!

All your thoughts on painting from photoes put some insights on my own paintings.

I have only done a couple of paintings so far, all from photoes. As you can see the result isn´t good. Maybe I have painted the values too much according to the photographs.

I would prefer to paint from real life but , I only get a couple of hours efter my son has gotten to sleep. Maybe after some practise I will be better at seeing the shortcomings at the photo and be able to make adjustments in the painting


/Keya






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Old 11-01-2005, 04:58 AM
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Re: Values, landscape painting and photos.

Moose, your point about camera exposure isn't exactly true. On a normal camera you can only capture 1 level of exposure but there are things called High Range Dynamic Cameras which will capture the same scene at all exposure levels and combine them into one image.

I use these images all the time for creating 3d graphics. Also most people don;t realise that their eye only has one exposure level, because your eye is constantly adjusting to different light levels you don't notice it so much. Most pictures though are a combination of a few light levels. I also find if I am working from photos that I generally play around with contrast brightness and saturation to get an image which is what I remember seeing rather than what the camera captured.

This is a very interesting topic and some great replies.
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Old 11-01-2005, 06:00 PM
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Moosehead Moosehead is offline
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Re: Values, landscape painting and photos.

Quote:
High Range Dynamic Cameras which will capture the same scene at all exposure levels and combine them into one image
.

That's interesting. I didn't know that. I'm guessing they're pricey. I'm also guessing their digital. If you have more info, or a link, I'd be interested as my current camera is dying on me. Too many photos of me have killed it.

As I say, that I can take a # of photos of an area, to help compensate for exposure issues, as well as adjust up or down 2 F stops, and I can also adjust the camera for centre weighted, or average weighted light metering. However I think a variety of photos is good anyway, lessens the tendancy to just copy a photo. If I can't paint plein air, I like to at least take a few photos and do a rough sketch with notes on colour and values.
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