Lesson in What Not to Do: The Umbra-Penumbra Conundrum



I learned so much today; the light, the dark and that grey space in between.  No, I’m not talking about what’s left of my noodle, though it feels extra-squishy after cramming all that info in.


Examples of Umbra and Penumbra:


Sydney Closeup 2 BW


This is Syd from a previous Lessons in What Not to Do.  It looks okay, but now that I know a little more of what I’m looking at, not so much anymore.  Talk about raining on my feeble, one clown parade, but with the exception that this was not shot in a studio, I’ll cut myself some slack, albeit just a little.   


Take a look at the dark side, where her hair disappears into the black abyss.  There is no definition between the two; umbra.  Not a good thing unless you’re going for some dramatic/theatric effect.  Penumbra.  Do you see it?  It’s that grey area between where the light hits and the umbra.  Good penumbra, as I understand it, should still shows texture and balance bridging  the light and dark in a nice little gradient.  The light in this case is a tad blown-out adding to the penumbra/umbra woes.


Let’s look at color:


Sydney Scrunchy Nose 1


Umbra – Penumbra?  Presto – Change-o?  Abracadabra - Bananarama?  Nothing seems to work.  Besides other issues going on in this photo, do you see the grain in the penumbra?  Not a good thing, but at least I know what is causing that particular headache.  JPEG-F. 


Important lesson learned; Never, NevER, NEVER, Ever EVER use JPEG no matter what ‘quality’ it is.  Work in RAW to work less later.  I knew that going in and had shot in RAW when I first got my camera, the problem was I could not make my computer/PS3 to read it without wringing it out to a JPEG or buying Nikons tres-spendy reading/converting software so I went exclusively to JPEG-F.   (I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to all those I shot in this format.  My bad.)   Turns out, a few clicks here and there and NEF magically converts to RAW.  This is one of those Homer “Doh" moments; relish in my stupidity, relish.  To be fair, Nikon does a good job of pulling the wool over your eyes to spend those Ben Franklins.


As if that wasn’t enough to bake my noodle, lesson number three:  The Retouching Three Amigos.  Levels, Hues/Sats, and Color Balance before you touch anything else.  It’ll save numerous steps once you start fiddling with the ‘artistic’ value of the photo when you work off of a nice, clean base.  It puts the Zam in ShaZam!


I was lost on a Mac.  Completely lost.  It was like that fateful raft ride into the Land of the Lost and those white monsters were my Sleezaks, funky mice and all.  None of my hot keys worked, of course.  The dash to close a window didn’t work.  (Use the colored buttons, Stace.)  I had the kids help me and they were more than happy to show off their stuff.  Then I took a spin on the tablet.  Another moment in frustration, but I could get used to it.  I really could get used to it.


My assignment?  Reshoot Syd.  All of Syd.  Somehow I’ve got to be fun, give the appearance of confidence, complete math problems on the fly, look at the light, do more math, make her feel at ease while I’m snapping away, look for things out of place, yet more math – I hate math in my head – fix what needs to be tweaked (i.e. crumpled dress, spearmint gum stuck to the bottom of her shoe) and pay close attention to my 3’s and DOF .  Oh, what have I gotten myself into?  I’ll never look at a photograph and think  “piece of cake” ever again. 


Wish me luck or send a whole lot of chocolate – I just might need it.  Are you ready Smekskdlajg?




  1. Connie said...

    Okay okay, now get yer b*tt over here and teach ME this lesson, chick!! I need alllll the help I can possibly get........
    Sydney looks adorable also.

  2. young family said...

    Ok I am thinking that ignorance is bliss. I like the photo's and I am uneducated enough to do that ;) Maybe I should just stay in my state of unknown and be a happy happy camper ;)

    It sounds like you are enjoying what you are doing, even though it is using lots and lots of gray matter :) Keep it up, I need a professional photographer ya know ;)

  3. Bronco P3t3 said...

    Good Luck! I love learning new things. Looks like you are well on your way to being a photoshop GURU. I look forward to the lessons, Master.