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Author Topic: The Heresy of Artistic Intent  (Read 3736 times)
David Sutton
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« on: January 27, 2013, 09:58:17 PM »
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A well written and interesting article from Chris Schneiter, except I would have liked to see him go further with his conclusions.
Folks who are dyed-in-the-wool printers understand that nothing else matters but the print. Colour management as an end in itself is nonsense. Likewise our tripods, cameras, flashguns and so on. But colour management is the worst culprit because it engenders a sense of control, which can be the enemy of our ďvisionĒ for want of a better word.
Don't get me wrong, I have as good a colour managed system as the next man, but WYSISWG inherently deeply flawed as long as we are printing on reflective papers. What it does enable me to do is predict to some extent what a print may look like and so cut down on paper wastage. If micro managing your colour management makes you happy, well go for it. But in the real world, most of us aren't doing product shots for Coca Cola. We just want stuff to work. The histogram on the camera accurate, the screen not brighter than the print, the printer nozzles all firing. But the idea that we are in control of our colour processes is not just unhelpful, but counter-productive as it not only closes the door to serendipity but also seems to be producing a world of beautifully executed images of a sort of homogeneous nothing. By focussing on technique folks seem to lose the idea of art, or self expression, or beauty or whatever it is they are trying to do. They are losing the ability to trust their eyes.
Control. The only thing we really need to control is what we let the world see of our work. The critical moment for exercising control is when we tear up our second rate prints.
David  Smiley
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dreed
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« Reply #1 on: January 28, 2013, 02:13:10 AM »
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This essay centers mostly around the tone curve and how changes in it can change the output...

But is that the best way to achieve the required result?

As an experiment, I compared doing this for myself with simply moving the "Shadows" slider in LR... using the slider won hands down...

But I wonder, having read that essay, whether or not that's really what we're looking for. As Christopher wrote, it was like his entire shooting style was "zone based" (and I could believe many others are too) which makes me think that rather than "shadows" and "hightlights" sliders, perhaps we should have "zone sliders" or similar? So that if you push a subject into zone IV just to get the highlights, it is relatively trivial to get that subject back into zone III...
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Josh-H
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« Reply #2 on: January 28, 2013, 02:32:37 AM »
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Quote
As an experiment, I compared doing this for myself with simply moving the "Shadows" slider in LR... using the slider won hands down...

The shadows slider in Lightroom is applying a curve - it is just doing it behind the scenes.
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Rob C
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« Reply #3 on: January 28, 2013, 03:22:38 AM »
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At last!

Coming from too many years printing pro (my own stuff: nobody else to blame for anything!), I found digital printing very much tied to rules - or at least so I believed as I learned bits here and bits there, all off the Internet. I always suspected the rules, because they seemed to discount the difference between seeing something by transmitted light and then by reflected light. This concept wasn't difficult to understand and respect in wet days, but it was somehow supposed to have vanished in the digital era. How could one have believed that, even for a minute? By listening to gurus, is why. Oh those new prophets!

I had a calibrated screen, eventually, and felt that I should be getting somewhere faster in my printing, but it still didn't seem to work out from supplied data (from paper makers and printer makers) and I ended up getting results that were so-so at best. In time, I came to the conclusion that the way to digi success required exactly the same thinking as printing wet: test prints. Electronics give you a good basic exposure, then it's all up to your eye and experience, and I think that having wet experience if you can free your mind of fears and dogma about digi, is a huge advantage in understanding what you should be able to get from your files. There is no shame in three test prints! If anything, I think it shows you care. Thanks for making me feel okay about it!

As far as WYSIWYG goes, perhaps its only reality in photography lies in a transparency: what you see in a transparency is what you got in the transparency, and has only a loose tie to what you thought you were going to get!

Rob C
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bjanes
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« Reply #4 on: January 28, 2013, 08:57:40 AM »
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The shadows slider in Lightroom is applying a curve - it is just doing it behind the scenes.
That is not the case with PV2012 in Lightroom and ACR. Jeff Schewe discusses this briefly on page 83 of his digital negative book. The basic panel sliders are smart (using Laplacian Pyramids and other exotic algorithms that most of us don't understand). The curves are basically dumb and do not apply the new technology, but are useful for fine control after one has applied the basic controls. Hopefully, Jeff will go into further detail with these matters in his upcoming digital print book.

Chris's article is very well done, but it is basically Photoshop oriented and leaves Camera Raw and Lightroom out of the discussion. With digital, he is likely using raw files, but he does not specify how those files are brought into Photoshop. Maybe he uses Capture One or another converter and maybe he renders rather neutrally as with PV2010 with the sliders on the basic panel all set to zero with ACR/LR and does the fine tuning in Photoshop. However that is not the way most of us work now. His approach harkens back to that of Dan Margulis (unmentionable in this forum Smiley).

Regards,

Bill

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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #5 on: January 28, 2013, 09:27:49 AM »
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The point I took from the (excellent) article was simply that playing with the shape of the curve to get what you like is OK. The "tone curve" seemed to be simply an example. In other words, don't be afraid to use any of the tools available, whether in PS or LR or anywhere else, to get the detail and effects that you want.

In my case, I feel that playing with the basic sliders in LR (PV2012) is usually the easiest way to get what I want, but it's nice to have the curve tool for the rare extra tweak. And I certainly don't worry about whether a Laplacian Pyramid is the "appropriate" tool to use: If it does what I want, great.
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-Eric Myrvaagnes

http://myrvaagnes.com  Visit my website. New images each season.
david loble
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« Reply #6 on: January 28, 2013, 04:18:03 PM »
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Here's a "second" for Rob C's comments about wet darkroom experience. I had very little of it and hated it. Now, it turns out about 90% of my digital printing is b&w and I wish I had spent more time in the darkroom. Fortunately I have two close friends, photographers, with extensive b&w film experience who can coach me with an eye towards turning out a decent print. Test prints? Do 'em often. Umpteen steps in LR Develop module? Lots of times. Enjoying it? Yes.

David
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BarbaraArmstrong
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« Reply #7 on: January 28, 2013, 04:21:30 PM »
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Though not steeped in the Zone System, I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated Chris Schneiter's piece.  Whether many of us often use the Curves Adjustment Tool, or have moved to making most of our tonal adjustments with sliders in ACR or Lightroom (or other image editor), the graphic Curves tool was an excellent way of illustrating his main points -- namely, that we often need to increase tonal separation in both highlights and shadows to increase contrast in those areas and thereby bring out their details (and, with that contrast, add more zest to our images).  The fact that the slope of the curve, at any point along that curve, indicates the amount of contrast in that tonal area of the image, is very helpful; that understanding is obscured by the use of sliders.  Understanding what one is doing, in terms of how it would be achieved or represented in Curves, is very helpful to knowing what types of adjustments to make to an image, regardless of the tools employed -- Curves, or sliders, or whatever. Like the earlier poster, I have found that it is easier to achieve more refined tonal adjustments with sliders in ACR than with a Curves adjustment.  Nevertheless, even in ACR, I am sometimes going into its curves tool when I know exactly what I want to do with it.  --Barbara
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Rob C
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« Reply #8 on: January 29, 2013, 02:46:55 AM »
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I didn't realise that Curves is a seldom-used tool; I find myself using perhaps four or five different layers of curves settings even on cheap cellpix shots!

I couldn't imagine a well-finished image that didn't need at least that many tweaks to lift it out of the camera's native product!

Perhaps it's because I only have a very basic Photoshop 6 setup, but it seems to be perfectly capable of doing all I need; if anything, it's my lack of skills that leaves so many of its features in the mists of the unkown and untried. In my mind, if I can get what I think I need from a few controls, why seek out more? With my attitude to technology, it certainly wouldn't be for the fun of it!

Rob C
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kencameron
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« Reply #9 on: January 29, 2013, 03:25:15 AM »
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...Perhaps it's because I only have a very basic Photoshop 6 setup...
Sounds a bit like a very basic Rolls Royce. Probably the wrong car, but you know what I mean. I am in awe of what can be done with Photoshop and other image editing software. Amazing tools that provide different and often complementary ways of working. Skilled practitioners are virtuoso musicians while I can pick out a few tunes.
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stamper
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« Reply #10 on: January 29, 2013, 06:19:04 AM »
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This link is worth looking at if you want to "visualize" the connection between curves and slider. Near the end George explains how to add contrast to the dark areas between shadows and blacks.

http://mulita.com/training/hns-r/

When you use curves in PS and for instance you lighten a dark area in an image then it can flatten out the curve and lose tones in the lighter areas. Using sliders in LR/ACR to mimic the curve means less tones are lost. A rapier instead of a hatchet.
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James Horne
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« Reply #11 on: January 29, 2013, 07:12:06 PM »
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I may struggle to represent my thoughts on this as I am not in the pro category of user but I did want to share my thoughts so please indulge me. 

I came away from this article initially confused and thought that perhaps the biggest issue I had with print satisfaction from matte substrates was a misconception about the role of printing profiles in the process.  I think that now I have narrowed things down to the rendering intents.  The way in which the information in your image is being mapped into the available gamut is not specifically chosen by the user and it is yielding less than satisfactory results for a proportion of images with lots of darker tones.  The suggestion of offsetting this with curves of sliders adjustments makes sense and it is essentially the method I have arrived at from (expensive) trial and error.

I greatly value the strengths of colour management and what it has helped me to achieve more generally, but the more I print the more I find there are still many areas where I have to make editing decisions I did not realise I would have to.  It comes down to perceptions I guess.  Experience is a great teacher.
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BarbaraArmstrong
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« Reply #12 on: January 29, 2013, 09:41:01 PM »
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I'm certainly not a foremost expert on this either, but I'll throw an observation into this discussion, based on my reading on the subject.  Many (or most, or all) printers don't differentiate between the lowest tonal levels, and print them all as black, thus effectively giving us a clipping point that is higher than desired or expected.  I don't know where any of my printers actually "clip" at the lower or upper ends, but have assumed that anything below 7 or 9 will print as black and I work to keep my upper end at 247 or lower.  (Maybe the newer printers do better than the 7 or 9.)  I also have the impression that matte papers exaggerate this effect, compared with semi-gloss or gloss papers.  I won't mind having anyone jump in here to correct me if need be.  Anyway, I am wondering if this may be a big part of what you are describing.  --Barbara
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James Horne
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« Reply #13 on: January 29, 2013, 10:30:57 PM »
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I had thought that the purpose of the print profile was to allow rendering of the image to scale within the limits that are printable for that device, paper and inkset.  Should there be ANY tones that are below the black point of the output device if a proper profile is applied?  Assuming there are not this is why I am now considering the way in which the out of gamut tones are being mapped in by the selected rendering intent.  Of course the assumption could well be incorrect!  But if I am on the right track it just reinforces the need to compensate for the standard rendering (and seeming compression) of dark tones when applying the profile to your image.  And there it gets ugly for me.  When faced with subjective decisions on tonal manipulations I am prone to producing exaggerated outputs.  I'm hoping that will scale back to a more restrained product with a more practised eye and perhaps better workflow!  Cheers.
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Wayne Fox
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« Reply #14 on: January 29, 2013, 10:52:32 PM »
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While I agree that theoretically the profile should handle mapping the tones to avoid "clipping"  when mapping to an output gamut, I don't think it's quite that simple, especially with perceptual rendering intents.  There is quite a bit of variability when building a profile in the way it is constructed to handle perceptual rendering intent and in fact some methods and software has seen some criticism of how they go about doing it.  So I do think it's possible to see blocking up of detail, and sometimes not limited to just the dark or lightest regions.  There are other factors in play one being the ability of a device to measure a difference vs how we actually perceive it.

One tool I like to use once I've built a profile is the Printer Evaluation Image available on Uwe's site, outbackphoto.com.  It was designed by Jack Flesher and there is a good explanation by him on how to use it, see the link later in the page.

One thing it provides is a visual reference to the clipping points in the black and grey patches designed specifically for that purpose.  I use Bill atkinson's file as well, but I like how jack made it smaller, still using some of bill's images but including a really nice grey scale that lets you see how well the profile handles grey scale tonality.

Of course, there is more to this than just clipping and when you get into dark shadow regions you may have detail that is technically not blocked up, but because of the challenge to see separation in those regions might as well be.  To me the gist of the article was how these regions are much more likely to show detail on a transmissive device so we get fooled into thinking they will show on the print.  Since they don't, the answer to is modify the "contrast" basically pulling the tones further from each other to increase the visual separation.

Most of the time when using the shadow slider and getting it to where it looks good on my display, I go just a "little" bit more to try and make sure the shadows do show the detail I'm after.

Soft proofing, if you are good at it (which I'm not) can help with this.  I'm still a little old school, so some images see a few test prints before I get them where I want.
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Rob C
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« Reply #15 on: January 30, 2013, 03:35:17 AM »
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I'm certainly not a foremost expert on this either, but I'll throw an observation into this discussion, based on my reading on the subject.  Many (or most, or all) printers don't differentiate between the lowest tonal levels, and print them all as black, thus effectively giving us a clipping point that is higher than desired or expected.  I don't know where any of my printers actually "clip" at the lower or upper ends, but have assumed that anything below 7 or 9 will print as black and I work to keep my upper end at 247 or lower.  (Maybe the newer printers do better than the 7 or 9.) I also have the impression that matte papers exaggerate this effect, compared with semi-gloss or gloss papers.  I won't mind having anyone jump in here to correct me if need be.  Anyway, I am wondering if this may be a big part of what you are describing.  --Barbara



Hi Barbara,

I'm no digital print guru either, but I have managed to get b/white down to a pretty fine art using an HP B9180 printer.

The problem, unfortunately, is that I use Hahnemuehle Photo Rag Bright White paper which is very matt indeed, and only the brightener makes it acceptable, much of the time. But, itís supposed to be capable of outliving me Ė not difficult at my stage in the general scheme of things, I suppose, but you see what I mean.

When I l look at a dried print itís not unpleasant, most of the time, but it really springs to life once itís safely tucked inside its archival polyester print sleeve. Then, it assumes a new and entirely finer life and inner glow. In other words, it takes on the mantle or glory of a well-glazed wet print, further than which itís impossible to take a print. AFAIK. (This general concept has been disputed by a printer whose work I much respect, right here on LuLa, but I have to hold to the evidence of my personal experiences.)

The obvious answer would seem to be to print on a natively glossy medium, but that brings itís own set of problems, the worst being (in my limited experience of glossy digi printing) that bronze patch effect here and there, randomly across the surface wherever it seems to take its fancy. That ruins anything! But I suppose thatís because of using pigment inks on gloss paper Ė I donít want to buy more printers, thank you!

So for me, mattís the lesser of two evils, and thatís not taking into account the longevity question inherent in pigment vs. dye.

From personal experience in the archaic (Ņ!?) art of wet printing, I absolutely hated using matt papers back then; horrid stuff devoid of tones other than a mid-grey, dead blacks and whites, regardless of grade. But then, one had to understand the beauty of which WSG was capable, and many died-in-the-wool Ďartistsí never went there.

All of which simply illustrates that everything is connected to everything else, and itís really a completed package that determines how the picture will eventually appear to look.

Rob C
 
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BarbaraArmstrong
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« Reply #16 on: January 30, 2013, 02:03:39 PM »
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Rob, I enjoyed reading your commentary, and appreciated your assessing print longevity in terms of your own longevity.  I am very doubtful that my "children," who are all grown now, will have much interest in my prints.  I enjoy them because they reflect my own interests and experiences.  In the same "longevity" vein, I started accumulating traditional light-bulbs last year when they were due to be phased out, calculating how many I thought I'd need to take me to a statistically-average demise.  (Hopefully, that time isn't that close, but light bulbs were cheap.)  I know this isn't very eco-conscious, but I certainly didn't like the light quality of what else was available.  I know light bulbs are getting better. 
     In the vein of getting better, I have to say a thanks to Wayne for including the link to the print evaluation image in his post.  Though I had read many commentaries on this image in the past, I had never actually printed it for myself, as I hadn't seemed to be having the kinds of problems many other printers were facing, and I had been satisfied working with the manufacturers' profiles I was using.  And I think I have been fortunate that, as I have gotten better as a photo editor and printer, the profiles have also improved.  I was happily surprised to see how much differentiation I had in the lights, seeing the 252 block clearly against my Canson Platine background.  The blacks, however, blocked up below 12.  Thank goodness for raws (and tiffs converted from Sigma raws) which I bring into ACR, the newer workings of which were helpfully described by Jeff Schewe's sometimes dense (I definitely need a second or third reading of some sections) "The Digital Negative."  I especially appreciated the article which is the subject of this thread, whose author went to some considerable effort to put it together for us, because it demonstrated why we typically have more trouble in the shadows and highlights than in the mid-tones, and brought our attention to the need to adjust and fine-tune there. 
     I also want to add a thanks for the link, and thumbs-up, to the video in the earlier post.  Very illuminating, very helpful!  I have very much appreciated the help L-L has been to me in the four areas of my photographic life: the vision thing, the capture, the editing, and the printing.  Many thanks to all here who have contributed over the years! --Barbara
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James Horne
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« Reply #17 on: January 30, 2013, 06:55:53 PM »
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That goes for me too.  Thank you for replies that get me thinking further and wider about things.  It is very much appreciated.  Cheers  J
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markd61
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« Reply #18 on: January 30, 2013, 11:10:24 PM »
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I enjoyed the article quite a bit but came away with a slightly different conclusion.

For me the take away was that though we have our technical tools and rules they will only take us so far.
A pleasing print is not necessarily an accurate print.

This was the lesson I learned 40 years ago when I spent half a year just shooting 4x5 and learning the Zone System just like Mr. Schneiter. What I realized was that the ZS was a tool whose principles allowed you to make a neg that was then able to withstand severe manipulative abuse in the darkroom.

The slavish devotion to the technical and "correct" aspects of imaging completely ignore the fact that almost every print we look at  has been manipulated to enhance or reduce various aspects of the image elements. What is dodging but a local reduction of density and burning its opposite? PS allows us to jump in and make changes to our images we only dreamed of in a wet darkroom.

His call to enjoy yourself and have fun is the most important point as we can then feel free to make the images we dream of without the criticism of being "wrong".
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johncustodio
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« Reply #19 on: February 03, 2013, 10:09:34 AM »
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The question the article initially seems to raise, but doesn't answer, is why his low key images look good on his monitor, but not in print. Monitor contrast range needs to be similar to that of a print, and monitor brightness needs to relate to the illumination level on a print. If the monitor is very bright, there will be a tendency to bring levels down, resulting in darker prints, especially in low key areas. My Eizo monitor, for example, is calibrated for a white level of 80cd/m2 and a black level of 0.3cd/m2 for a brightness range of 240:1. This is close to the density range of glossy inkjet papers that have a Dmax of 2.30 (200:1). Most LCD monitors are inherently much brighter, running to 200-350cd/m2, way to bright for print work. Also, the level of illumination on a print when judging it is more critical for darker areas than for midtones and highlights. A high key print will look OK under a lot of illumination levels, but darker areas in low key prints will "dump out" if the illumination level is too low. The question is, what level of viewing illumination corresponds to the brightness level of the monitor such that the psychological effect of viewing an image on the monitor approximates that of viewing a print. Another issue is the profile used to make the print. Some profiles, for example, may block up shadow areas.
-John
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