All that is gold does not glitter
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
The first line from this excerpt form J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Fellowship of the Ring, says it all.
One of the first lessons I learned when I went to photo school back in the seventies was that the human eye will naturally be drawn into the brightest areas of a photograph. That doesn’t just apply to photographs but to everything that we see. I saw a television show on the evolution of mankind a few months ago and the explanation for that was our eyes would notice bodies of water in the distance and be drawn to them. Maybe many millenia ago on the African plain when water might have been scarce those who noticed and were attracted to the brighter areas of the landscape survived and that is indeed a remnant of our evolution.
We are drawn to shiny things, gold, diamonds, etc. That also applies to photographs. Browsing the section of the website 500px and viewing the popular landscapes one thing is certain. Bright landscapes seem to be the most popular. People naturally are drawn to them. They can’t help themselves.
Just because our eyes are caught by all things bright doesn’t mean that we should ignore the darker landscape. Although this scene is low key guess what? Our eyes are still pulled into the darkest areas first. We can lead the viewer around the photograph by consciously lightening or darkening areas of the photo. Somewhere there is a long essay written on this explaining what to do and how to do it.
When I go into a photograph like this lightening and darkening it, changing it to the way I wish to present it, I don’t think of those rules. Instead all of the manipulation is done by feel. Does the balance “feel” right if this area is dark? Is it too lopsided? Do I want it off balance? I don’t consider those things while doing it but on a level I am aware of them. I liken it to sweetening a cup of coffee. You know how much sugar to add by taste.
Photography for some is a very deliberate act where everything is thought out and measured. If that works for you, great! My mind works the opposite. From composing a scene in camera to editing and then finally processing, everything is done by feel. Whichever way works for you is the right way. Now go out and seek your darkness.