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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Left or Right?
Old 10-01-2018   #1
Bill Pierce
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Left or Right?

Underexposing digital - not so bad. Overexposing digital - very bad. Once the highlight detail is truly beyond the sensor’s limit, it’s gone forever.

To a certain extent there is very little difference in image quality with many sensors and their processors between controlling brightness with the camera exposure or with the post exposure processing programs like Lightroom, Photoshop, Capture One, e.t.c.. Obviously, this is an oversimplification, but what it means is that in situations where you don’t have the opportunity to meter carefully, you can get away with intentional underexposure. One or two stops of intentional underexposure with a camera’s auto exposure program will guarantee highlight detail when you are shooting quickly or in a situation that can’t be metered appropriately.

Truth is, most of the time I’m shooting digital, I’m underexposing a little with the full intention of correcting in post. My highlights are happy, and I recommend it as a general practice far more that the adage of “expose to the right.” I expose to the left.

Any thoughts?
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Old 10-01-2018   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Truth is, most of the time I’m shooting digital, I’m underexposing a little with the full intention of correcting in post. My highlights are happy, and I recommend it as a general practice far more that the adage of “expose to the right.” I expose to the left.

Any thoughts?
I completely agree with today´s modern sensors. I`d rather see a little more noise than blown highlights. I never look at a histogram.
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Old 10-01-2018   #3
dmr
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It looks like a good practice to start using.
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Old 10-01-2018   #4
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On my Leica SL I routinely underexpose 2/3 to 1 1/3 stops sometimes more then that.
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Old 10-01-2018   #5
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I keep an eye on the histogram and try to keep it manageable with the compensation dial. And I agree, backing off the exposure is more desirable than punching it up when the lighting is tricky. In that way, it's like shooting Kodachrome and Ektachrome in the 1970's.
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Old 10-01-2018   #6
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I was dissatisfied with the images I was getting from my Fuji X100F until I started shooting 1/3 stop underexposed. Made all the difference to me. Likewise on my X-Pro2.

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Old 10-01-2018   #7
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I was taught ETTR with an elaborate technical explanation, but, having shot a lot of slides back in the day, never believed it. I ETTL. You cannot use the highlight slider to recover what isn't there, and printing paper white is undesirable. You don't get ink on the paper above 242.
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Old 10-01-2018   #8
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If light is normal I might set M-E to underexpose.
If light is low I might still underexpose, but not so much.
If light is bad (next to none) underexposing leads to comments of photoforums how bad this or that camera high ISO is. In reality they just underexposing.
I'm not. I'm exposing normally or sometimes to the right. If light is bad (next to none) here is no high_lights. Right?
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Old 10-01-2018   #9
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If the scene has potential for blowing highlights, I just dial in any negative EV I feel might be suitable between -1 to -3 EV and pull everything up in post. With Sony ISO invariant sensors it doesn't really make much difference to the image but at least you keep your highlights.
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Old 10-01-2018   #10
Bill Clark
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Digital exposure the same as when I used color transparency film.

A wee bit under.

Histogram is a nice tool.

Smiles and fun!
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Old 10-01-2018   #11
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Except if one is shooting an old Fuji S5 Pro. Highlight recovery and roll off unlike any digital camera ever. Begs the question what happened with that sensor tech?
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Old 10-01-2018   #12
Godfrey
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I expose neither to the Left or the Right. I expose properly for any scene in such a way that I can render it the way I perceive it.
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Old 10-01-2018   #13
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I understand that the marketing boys call it "ISO-less", which I always understood to mean that there was a wider range of adjustment available in the gamma correction. With the Fuji x100f that is certainly the case. In addition I tend to prefer a bit of minus correction when shooting the newer digital cameras.
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Old 10-02-2018   #14
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I generally set all my digital cameras to minus 1/3 stop but in the harsh Australian outdoors I often go to minus 1 stop or more, I don't think I've ever deliberately overexposed. All to preserve highlights, when they burn out it's my pet peeve with digital. With my black and white film I never worry about burnt out highlights, I'm much more likely to slightly overexpose to give me meaty shadows.


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Old 10-02-2018   #15
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I do a lot of shooting indoors, in natural light. The light sources (windows) are often behind my subjects and an incident reading at the subject is often the way to go. But when I must use autoexposure, I tend to dial in a bit of overexposure, because I don't care whether the outside scenes are overexposed. They usually will be, because of the huge difference in dynamic range between indoors and out. And I hate the HDR "look" -- it always looks unnatural to me, although that is straight up personal preference, of course.
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Old 10-02-2018   #16
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Canon DSLRs set a half stop underexposed and that produces useable JPEG files. With my Leica M8, using a tip from Leica User Forum from a number of years ago, I set the ISO at 160 and the compensation at either -2 or -3. Shooting raw files, both give good results without the notorious noise produced by high ISO settings on this camera. And setting the compensation to underexpose on both cameras also avoids blowing highlights. BTW, the Canons have a setting in the menus to prioritize highlights and I leave that on all the time.
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Old 10-02-2018   #17
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So let me ask all those who use negative EV compensation regularly: How heavily do you rely upon noise reduction tools to produce a smooth, clean look when you're viewing your photos at 1:1 magnification?

I ask the question because most of what I'm reading here makes perfect sense if you're using the in-camera JPEG engine, but given the metering calibration of most of the cameras I've owned is conservative (to preserve highlights) and the fact that I save exposures almost exclusively in raw format, I almost always find myself adding exposure (usually +1/3 to 2/3 stop) in order to minimize the need to use noise reduction. In fact, on most of my exposures, I find myself reducing the noise reduction defaults that Lightroom applies because they tend to increase the noisy appearance that wasn't there to begin with.

G
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Old 10-02-2018   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Godfrey View Post
How heavily do you rely upon noise reduction tools to produce a smooth, clean look when you're viewing your photos at 1:1 magnification?
I think it might depend on the camera... I find that there is a big difference between (for example) the 5DII and the x100f. In my experience the latter manages the noise much better when adjusting in post. I am using SilkyPix with my Fuji X-Sensor images.

With the Fuji I might dial in a little minus compensation knowing that I will get a good capture and can lighten it up in post with zero problem... with the 5DII I don't seem to have that leeway.
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Old 10-02-2018   #19
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In the middle or a little to the left! A lot of my images are landscapes that include clouds so I try to expose to maintain as much detail in the clouds a possible without making the rest of the image too dark. Just me but I don't like increasing the exposure slider in LR by more than +1.
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Old 10-02-2018   #20
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I always underexpose ...
... but then my photos are always somewhat dark!




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Old 10-02-2018   #21
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[quote=RichC;2838392]I always underexpose ...
... but then my photos are always somewhat dark!



Nice work!
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Old 10-02-2018   #22
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I learned quite early that the "expose to the right" business was a bad idea with the Monochrom, so I reverted to my days of shooting Kodachrome and started using an incident meter when possible for a good highlight exposure. With slide film in a high-contrast scene you could kiss the shadows goodbye, but with Lightroom I'm able to recover an enormous amount of detail from them.
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Old 10-03-2018   #23
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There are two ways to loose information in highlight regions.

One way is to exceed the full-well capacity of any photosite when the shutter is open. This can only be happen when shutter time is too long and, or the aperture is too wide. This is overexposure.

The other way is when the camera's ISO setting is too high. After the shutter closes, the increase in DC voltage levels from some of the photosites exceeds the analog-to-digital converter' s maximum input level. This is over brightening. The sensor is almost always underexposed when camera's ISO setting is above its sensor's base ISO and the shutter time and aperture are based on the camera's meter estimate. This is unavoidable underexposure because freezing motion and DOF are more important than maximizing sensor exposure.

There is only one way to underutilize a camera's maximum performance potential – needlessly underexpose the sensor.

The goal for digital images is to maximize the signal level. This means maximizing the exposure. The most obvious benefit is in shadow regions. Maximizing exposure is just as important in bright light as it is in low light.

Often a small degree of overexposure is harmless. Some examples are specular highlights in bright sunlight and streetlights in night senes.

A different scenario involves slight overexposure of just some of the R, G or B photosites. A raw file with a bright clear sky will render well if a small percentage of the B photosites are overexposes. Selective hue and luminance parameters for just the blue channel will result in a realistic rendering. In-camera JPEGs are less forgiving.

The same is holds for over brightening (excessive ISO) except lowering the ISO setting is preferable to changing the level of undereposure.

For raw files it is useful to auto-bracket the aperture by +/- 1/3 stops. In post production you can use the image with optimum highlight retention and delete the other two.

For in-camera JPEGs you would auto-bracket the ISO parameter, i.e. auto-bracket image brightness.

Intentional underexposure to insure all the highlights are retained is a practical alternative. Content counts much more than a small loss of signal-to-noise ratio. Current cameras have dynamic range and sensitivity to spare. A 1/3 stop of intentional sensor underexposure is usually inconsequential. Also, letting shadow regions render as shadows is useful. An image rendered with all of the scene having similar brightness levels could be uninteresting.

So

– Maximize exposure (a.k.a. right) or purposefully underexpose (center or even left)

– Intentionally overexpose unimportant highlight regions

– Use the lowest ISO practical setting (1)

– Auto-bracket aperture (raw) or ISO (JPEGs)

1. Selecting the optimum camera ISO setting will be different for different cameras. Different brands used different signal amplification strategies over time. The electronic noise contributions for your cameras could be essentially constant for all ISO settings or it could be much lower for some settings than it is for others.
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Old 10-03-2018   #24
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I use digital when I do promo photos for plays. This lighting is very contrasty. So like you I always underexpose. Even the very occasional family picture I take with digital I under expose a stop or two. So much easier to correct in post.
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Old 10-03-2018   #25
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I think you also have to think about whether your ultimate output is screen or print. In my experience, printers won't lay down ink above 242, so all of those highlights between 242 and 256 will print as unattractive paper white. Maximizing highlight exposure can easily lead to problems. Using the shadow recovery slider has been the better approach for me. I rarely use noise reduction. I do not intentionally underexpose by multiple stops when noise might be an issue. And none of this is even applicable except in situations in which the dynamic range of the scene exceeds the dynamic range of the camera (and print). It's rare that my images have values from 0 to 256. Fitting a print between say 16 and 240 is just a matter of a simple curve adjustment.
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Old 10-03-2018   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Godfrey View Post
So let me ask all those who use negative EV compensation regularly: How heavily do you rely upon noise reduction tools to produce a smooth, clean look when you're viewing your photos at 1:1 magnification?
In monochrome i don't use any noise-reduction, i like it actually on BW-shots.

I meter on the subject i want to have correctly exposed. If the rest of the image is over/underexposed doesn't matter in this case.

The topic reminds me of a vacation with my girlfriend, she overexposed all images 3 stops because the screen was too dark.
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Old 10-03-2018   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Godfrey View Post
So let me ask all those who use negative EV compensation regularly: How heavily do you rely upon noise reduction tools to produce a smooth, clean look when you're viewing your photos at 1:1 magnification?
A "smooth, clean look" is not a requirement ... Viewing images at 1x1 magnification is not a good indication of what a print would look like. Some people like a bit of texture. Also, the slight underexposure we're talking about to save some highlights does not significantly alter the noise in the image on a digital camera that is not ancient.

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Old 10-03-2018   #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by willie_901 View Post
There is only one way to underutilize a camera's maximum performance potential – needlessly underexpose the sensor.
Sometimes, I`d rather maximize my chance of getting a fleeting moment. I`ll trade a little noise for that...
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Old 10-03-2018   #29
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On today’s sensors I’m not so sure that exposing to the right produces as much final image improvement in brightness range and noise reduction as it did with earlier sensors. But for some photographs where you are striving for every little bit that can better image quality, landscapes, architecturals, e.t.c., there is an easy solution. Bracket your exposures. Shoot a series of pictures increasing your exposure by a half stop and pick out the most generously exposed image that holds the highlight detail.
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Old 10-03-2018   #30
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I shoot manual exposure at all times but still usually dial in about 2/3 of under exposure in exp. comp (essentially changing the zero of the meter) for this very reason.
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Old 10-03-2018   #31
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I sometimes wonder if a slow shutter is where digital sensors really shine in their fullest. Usually means a smaller aperture and lower iso. I always look at slow shutter stopped down lower iso shots when evaluating the "look" of a sensor. Maybe the level of settings/exposure makes some discernible difference.

Maybe like some frequency of waves or something deal

Crazy sounding I know but slower shutter exposures with digital just look better to me.
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Old 10-04-2018   #32
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Godfrey View Post
So let me ask all those who use negative EV compensation regularly: How heavily do you rely upon noise reduction tools to produce a smooth, clean look when you're viewing your photos at 1:1 magnification?
...
G
Well, even exposing to the right and intentionally overexposing unimportant highlight regions can result in noisy shadows –*even at base ISO.

With raw files, I typically don't use color noise filtering in LR CC until the highlight regions are intentionally underexposed by 4 stops (ISO 3200 for my cameras). For monochrome conversions I never use color noise filtering.

I suspect luminance noise filtering in LR CC is intended to average photon noise. I typically use the default value.

Occasionally I use selective noise filtering when it is useful to push shadow regions. Even in bright sunlight shadow regions can be underexposed by more than 4 stops.
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