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Pittwater Mist, New South Wales, Australia 2006
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, 19mm Leica lens, 1/160 second @ f8, ISO 100, hand-held

The New Tradition has allowed us to capture and interpret scenes that were probably never possible with film, or if possible, we didn’t know they existed!

One of the least understood tools in The New Tradition is the use of contrast. Low contrast scenes captured on colour film remained just that, although we could use different contrast papers or settings in the darkroom to control black and white contrast to some degree. In the digital workflow, contrast is much easier to accomplish – and also much easier to set incorrectly.

In attempting to create an image with lots of impact, I find many photographers are ramping up the contrast too far and, in doing so, losing detail and creating a ‘digital’ look. However, the fine control is there and by using layers and masks, you can selectively enhance the contrast in different parts of the image as well. This photograph of early morning mist on Pittwater is a classic case of using contrast to enhance a scene. 

There are two money-pits in life: horses and boats. I’d rather not talk about the first one, but in terms of boats, the best solution is to have a friend who owns one. My nautical friend was fellow photographer David Oliver and we spent many wonderful days out on Sydney’s Pittwater in his Bayliner Sierra.

Early one morning before sunrise, David was struggling to navigate one of the narrow arms in dim light and heavy fog. I was supposed to be up on the bow as lookout, but there was very little to see: the deep green of the channel and the impenetrable grey of the mist. However, gradually we could perceive some light above the eastern shore and, realising the fog was thinning, we grabbed our cameras.

The raw file doesn’t show a lot of detail or colour and to be fair, it was a reasonably lacklustre sunrise. However, I can remember being surprised at just how much detail I could extract from the scene by using a curves adjustment. There are many situations where an increase in contrast can bring up detail that is otherwise invisible to the naked eye, such as aerials, underwater and in very flat light. The challenge technically is to reveal this detail without blocking up the blacks or bleaching the whites and this is why selective adjustments work so well.

Working selectively with layers and masks allows the photographer to adjust discrete areas of the image without adversely affecting others. Digital provides unprecedented control over the ‘tonal mapping’ (the tonality) of our photographs.

Need a good read? Like to learn something more about photography? Interested in new ideas? Why not purchase a copy of my book, The New Tradition, which is full of great tales and ideas. It has 100 photographs and accompanying stories guaranteed to enthrall you - and you can save $30 on the purchase price right now - use coupon code TNT30. Check out more on the website.