GAC Clinic

Conditions were perfect in Madrid in March for the Greatest Area of Contrast (hereafter GAC) workshop. It was a sunny day, and the Plaza de Callao was busy and bustling. We started the day defining our term: as you’d imagine, it’s the area in the photograph where the darkest darks meet the lighest lights. We would practice making sure that this area fell upon our human subjects, not as if to say it should always fall like that, but as a first step towards placing the GAC just where the photographer wishes it to be. In a way, the workshop was a mini-clinic on lighting.

It was a special day because we were joined by by Achim Soelter (, a Salt Lake City-based photographer who had contacted me earlier in the week regarding his visit to Madrid, to ask whether we’d mind him tagging along. Several Crisol members had the opportunity to speak with him regarding his work, his gear, and street photography in general. He made a great addition to the group! Here are some pictures he made in Madrid, some with the group and some on his own:

After defining GAC I gave some advice on how to measure light and in turn, how to use those measurements to adjust the settings on the camera. For the purposes of this exercise, I asked members to forget about shadows and concentrate on maintaining highlights, on not blowing out their whites. We discussed when would be a good moment to capture a subject to make sure the GAC was in its right place:

  • when a subject on the street is emerging from a shaded area
  • when an indoor subject is near a light source
  • when a dark subject is set against a light background

These tips apply if the photographer wishes to capture an entire figure. If the photographer is making a portrait, imagine that the hierarchy of contrast would depend on what the photographer is trying to depict. Most likely, however, the some point on the subject’s face would ideally be the GAC, for example.

After the 1.5-hour walk, the group reconvened in Pans and Company, a fast-food place with a large upstairs room and a long table perfect for a demonstration of a diagnostic process that produces the GAC in any image. I went through this Photoshop process twice, and then showed a series of photographs by contemporary as well as legendary street photographers and the group practiced commenting on GAC alone. In this way, we learned how to set our vision to seek a single quality in an image; this is an essential workshopping skill in any branch of the visual arts. We saw that not every legend is infallible, and that some contemporary photographers are unknown masters of lighting and contrast control.

While every member went home with a compliant photograph, there were a few that caught my eye. Congratulations to these «winners» of the day! They have made compliant images, showing good understanding of this month’s concept and a good effort toward mastering it. Here they are:


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