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What is Value in Photography

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Value in photography describes the range of light in your image. Altering the light in a photo is how you create contrast. Let’s explore the tonal value and how we can use it to change the feel and look of our photos.

How to Define Value in Photography

In photography, we group tones into blacks, shadows, mid-tones, highlights, and whites. Black and pure white are the darkest and lightest parts of your photo with no detail or texture. Shadow areas are the dark parts of your photograph that contain detail and texture. Highlights are bright areas with detail and texture. Midtones are the tones in the middle.

A histogram maps the tonal values with darker tones on the left and lighter tones on the right. The higher the peaks, the more of that tone is found in the scene. It shows you full black and pure white as clipping masks. These are warnings that you may have gone too far in tonal extremes. Most photographers avoid extreme tones. But you decide if you want to include pure black and white.

What is the Zone System?

Ansel Adams developed a value scale called the Zone System. The Zone System is a way of labeling the range of light and dark tones in a photo. It was developed for film, but it is also one of the most important elements in digital photography. He divided the range of light from pure black to true white into 11 zones. Adams advocated using a wide range of light. This maximizes the contrast in your photograph.

Colour Value

All light has value, whether the light has a hue or not. But it is often easier to see tones without the added dimension of colour. It shows you the range of tones for red, green, and blue. In many photographs, the colours follow a similar pattern. But sometimes, one colour has a very different tonal value than the others.

High and Low Contrast

Contrast describes how the light is spaced in your image. High contrast images use a wide range of tonal values. Low contrast photographs use a small range of tones. The type of contrast you use influences how the image feels. High contrast images are bold and dynamic. Low contrast images are calmer and more mysterious.

Photographers create contrast in their images by altering the values of lights and darks. Many avoid the extremes because there is no visual information other than the total value. Others try to represent all tonal values in their images. Understanding value in photography will help create a response to your image.

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