The Villain Behind The Camera
When I was growing up there were all kinds of cowboy movies, TV shows and books. And the players were either villains or heroes.
To keep things well organized so one could tell the difference between the villain and the hero it was decided that the villain would wear a black hat and the good guy or gal would wear a white hat. I am not sure who decided that.
Okay! What does this have to do with photography? I mean for a photographer a hat is a hat and wearing a white hat does not make you one of the good folks.
When the now defunct Blue Ridge Photography Workshops first opened its doors I decided that there should be some kind of identification in the field and one of the identifiers was a hat. The hat was 99.9 percent black with subdued lettering.
I just happened to like black. A close friend and exceptional professional photographer, Steve Uzzell and supporter of my efforts to provide photographic education wanted one of the hats which I of course gladly provided. It was then I learned the significance of the all black hat versus a black hat with a red color or any other color on the underside of the brim.
Steve is a person whose judgement I rarely dispute and what he said about hats made perfect sense and has stuck with me ever since our conversation. The conversation went like this:
“1. A black underside to a cap acts as a glare reducer for your eyes the same way a lens hood does for a lens– exactly the same way. If direct sunlight hits your eyes, colors are diffused, contrast is reduced, dmax is elevated, and all the tiny scratches on your cornea act as a mild diffusion filter of what you are looking at. Shield your eyes and all of a sudden you have contrast, dmax is lowered, color are vibrant, etc.
2. The black underside of a cap also serves the same purpose as a black cloth did in large format days. Imagine trying to see the image on a 4 x 5 without one. The design of black cloths progressed to where there was/is elastic to wrap the cloth tight around the camera and prevent light bouncing off the ground from destroying contrast and dmax. Well… exactly the same issue occurs with the display on your digital camera. If you try to evaluate anything critical in bright sunlight, you simply can’t do it without some kind of shield — even with the display brightness turned all the way up. Your cap serves as
A mini-dark cloth. With camera on a tripod you can use both hands: block direct light falling on the sensor with your left hand and, with your right, turn the visor over to have the black underside serve as the black reflector for the image on the sensor. Hold the underside just below the display and look over the top of the cap at the display: the result is instant dmax. The same result will be noticed if you wear a black shirt or jacket and the image on your display reflects the black of the shirt or jacket. Your cap can then serve as the block for sunlight hitting the display directly. If you wear a white shirt, then the display is always reflecting that shirt as you try to evaluate, and it simply doesn’t work well at all. Alternatively, you can carry a dark umbrella. When Susan is shooting in really bright sunlight, I’ll hold a very dark gray golf umbrella over her iPhone and her, and instantly she can see better to compose and shoot and evaluate. Her eyes are shielded from direct sun, as is the iPhone display, and from her perspective, the umbrella serves as her source of dmax.”
So there you have the full explanation as to why an all black hat is not necessarily a bad thing. Kind of blows the villain concept right out of lens mount. Well, almost. I guess bright sun and LCD join up to be photographers villains.
If you are not one to wear a hat because you either hate hats or just don’t feel cool wearing a hat (I guess that was a pun) then you might want to look at this:
Always remember that it is just as important to use a lens hood as it is to shade your LCD. Without a lens hood on the front of the lens you are virtually guaranteed a loss of contrast and saturation in you image.