Seizing Possibilities

Seizing Possibilities
Seizing Possibilities

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Value-an element of art


The element of art called value. Value means exposure variance, the darks, lights and mediums of  art or in a  photograph.  This can more easily be seen when a photo or drawing is produced in black and white.  The depth of shadow and the height of highlights are on either ends of the idea of value.  A histogram is valuable for determining the overall tonal quality of a photograph.  If the curve leans to one direction or another it shows the overall value of the photograph.  One of the best ways to see value in a photograph or picture can be to squint or blur it to see what it looks like without definition.  In essence it is a way to see the compositional arrangement and where the eye is brought to in the photograph or picture because the lights will always draw your eye to them.  Rembrandt, though a very realistic painter, was magical at this as the painter of light.  If you blur any of his paintings you can see what I mean, he was abstract in a very realistic way just by the way he used lights and darks in his work.  Value can REALLY make a piece of art good.  Without value a piece of work is without definition.  Sometimes using one tonal quality is valuable in conveying certain moods, but you have to realize the impact of value before you remove it to be on only one tonal level and understand what it does for your work.

From conceptualization to actualization value should be considered in the creation of your work.

In abstract work, the mindset is different than if you want something to be very realistic; yet they both require a clear understanding of value range.  Realism demands a good range of values to create definition of your subject, from the blackest black to the whitest white.  Once you move away from realism the floodgates of creativity arrive.  One word of caution.  Don’t use bad camera skills  or poor quality work to justify a vision devoid of value or to push the contrast level high to attain what you should have captured initially. 

I would recommend that you take the time to learn your camera or other medium well, getting good with realism and realistic shots so you know what your camera or medium is capable of before you use value to fully define your vision or style.  Starting with a good photograph is essential to using value in your vision.  As an artist learning to draw realistically what your eye sees is an essential precursor to allowing your creativity to have free reign.  In art you have to really know how to draw well to be a good artist and as a photographer, you really have to know how to use your camera well to be a good photographer and to stretch the bounds of your vision.  Practice those skills continually and simultaneously to being creative in what you do.  Once you reach a point where you can selectively create the evocative mood you want in what you do with proper manipulation and not just by accident, your vision can become much clearer.  Refining and defining what you do and what you want to say with your work is a constant transformation.  To get people to feel what it is you are trying to evoke from your work makes for one very happy artist!


Consider this pair of photographs, one in color, the other transformed to black and white yet the mood stays the same because it is not just the color but the value in the photograph that creates the pleasant mood.

As a photographer there are several tools you can use to achieve the full range of value in your work.  You have the gray card or color charts like the color passport from Xrite to help you in post-processing to get the correct lighting in which you were photographing, on to your computer and that is a good start; they do work wonders and can create some ease in post-processing especially for the portrait, fashion or wedding photographer.  In post-processing there are ways to achieve a better range of value as well, such as the black in light room or using the histogram to bring the blacks and whites forward in your photograph.  If you can get to a true black in your photograph you will find that the rest of the photograph will follow to bring in more contrast and depth to your work, which is the aim of value, to define depth and subject. Far more than you might realize the blacks are extremely necessary.

Low value photography has more of a feel for the contemplative or sad and depressing so it might be a way to use the darker values to convey those types of scenes or concepts. High value photography might convey a more carefree or cheerful and happy feeling so it’s use seems more appropriate. 

Once value is mastered it can be a powerful element in your work and vision.  A picture or photograph with extremely high or low value does not mean it is over or under-exposed as part of your vision.  Value can play a large role in conveying your vision and the feelings you want to evoke with your work.

Albums for the element of value are found here on Facebook and here on Flickr.