Protecting your highlights

Lessons from the masters

Few days ago I watched a video on YouTube by Sean Tucker. In that video he talks about many aspects of life and photography but the general theme is protecting the highlights and letting the shadows fall where they may.

The video got me thinking about my photography and I wanted to take a look at some photographers from the past whose work (in my opinion) represents both sides of the argument.

Thinking about it, one photographer that I liked jumped to mind. Brassaï was a French-Hungarian photographer who excelled at street photography. He liked to photograph more controversial subjects such as prostitutes, criminals and similar subjects. Most of his images were captured at night using mostly the available city light to illuminate the subjects.

“The thing that is magnificent about photography is that it can produce images that incite emotion based on the subject matter alone,” – Brassai


As a result of shooting mostly at night his work has a lot of rich shadow areas and very little highlights which are almost never completely blown. This, in my opinion, gives the images a sense of realism. It also helps to focus the viewers eye directly at the subject.

Contrasting Brassai’s work I’d like to mention some images by the amazing Fan Ho. He was a Chinese photographer who also shot a lot of street photography. Now I won’t be going too deep into his work as I do want to make a separate post analysing his work so keep an eye out for that. Anyhow as we can see bellow his work has a totally different feel about it, especially the last two.


Fan Ho liked to capture emotion with his work. He often sought inspiration in literature and poems and searched the world around him to simulate that emotion. We can his love for light modifiers such as fog and haze. Using those he created a special longing in the images.

Contrasting Brassai’s work his feels a lot more mystic, dreamy, … We can also see he wasn’t afraid to blow up his highlights and only show the more “important” parts of the images.

I think that both photographers did amazingly in capturing the subjects they wanted and giving the images emotion, that beautifully complements them. Brassai was shooting a lot of controversial subjects who were mostly ignored or even frowned upon by the society and so his use of harsher tones really works with the subjects and their stories. On the other hand Fan Ho created beautiful work that plays on viewer’s emotions. Creating a sense of longing, calmness and overall beauty.

As you can see once again there is no one way – right way in photography. It all depends on the feelings we want to portray and on our own style of photography.


Thank you for reading the post. Share your thoughts down bellow. What is your prefered style of shooting? Do you prefer more of a lowkey or highkey types of shots?

As always if you liked this post consider supporting me by buying me a nice cup of coffee.

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Have a nice one and stay tuned for future posts.

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