I know that many of my readers like to shoot log. One of the most common terms used around shooting log is “shooting flat”. Lets take a look at that term and think about what it actually means.
One description of a flat image might be – “An image with low contrast”. Certainly an image with low contrast can be considered flat.
8 years ago, with the advent of DSLR cameras that could shoot with film like depths of field it became fashionable to shoot flat because digital film cameras when shooting using log produce and image that looks flat when viewed on a conventional TV or monitor.
But lets think about that for a moment. A typical digital cinema camera can capture 14 stops of dynamic range. A scene with 14 stops of dynamic range contains a huge contrast range, perhaps a brilliant bright sky and deep shadows, so how can that possibly be “flat”?
The answer is – it isn’t flat. The dynamic range that most digital cinema cameras can capture is not flat, not at all.
The problem is that a normal TV or video monitor can’t a very big dynamic range. A conventional TV can only show 6 stops. If you take a video signal with a 14 stop image and try to show that on a 6 stop screen you will be squashing the highlights and shadows closer together. As you squash all the levels closer together the difference between each shade is reduced and as a result the displayed image appears flatter. The data in the file itself is NOT flat. It’s just being displayed incorrectly and squashed together so it looks flat.
Many DSLR shooters then decided to mimic the flat look of a true digital cinema camera, perhaps in the miss-guided belief that a flat image must → continue…