Do you struggle with preserving valuable highlight and shadow detail when shooting high-contrast photos? Follow the camera tips below and learn how to use your camera’s lighting controls to balance exposure and preserve both highlight and shadow detail in your high-contrast photos.
Many cameras now have a widget that helps to extract additional highlight and shadow detail from your images. Auto Lighting Optimization (Canon) or Active D-Lighting (Nikon) makes a post-shot adjustment of the highlight and shadow areas to improve the tonality of an image by restoring highlight and shadow detail in the brightest and darkest parts of the picture.
With this function switched on, digital processing is applied to the shadows and highlights when necessary to produce a final picture with less contrast and increased detail.
It’s a useful tool for scenes with a high dynamic range and can be applied at various strengths. Like most digital enhancements, the tweaks are made to JPEGs and not directly to a raw file, and it does have some limitations – most notably the potential to introduce noise in the shadow areas.
It can also make exposure adjustment features such as Exposure Compensation and Auto Exposure Bracketing less effective.
If you shoot in raw, the lighting optimisation details are embedded into the file so that when the image is opened in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional, for example, it will turn it on to match the camera settings at the time of exposure.
You can then turn it off or apply the effect when you convert your raw images. Raw shooters also have the option of rescuing highlight and shadow detail in high-contrast images using shadow and highlight sliders during processing.
Here’s how to set up your camera to rescue both highlight and shadow detail in any shooting situation.
Understanding the key camera settings to preserve highlight and shadow detail
01 Standard setting
This is the default setting (found in your camera’s shooting menu) and will bring out detail in the shadow areas of most images without being too obvious. Improvement in the highlights is hard to see, but is evident on the histogram on the back of the camera.
02 Low setting
When set to Low, the effect is subtle, but it does brighten up the darker portions of the picture and add a little more vibrancy to darker colours. The difference between Low and Standard is slight, and in most cases there’d be no reason to switch to Low.
03 Strong setting
Great for ‘standard’ scenes to extract detail in dark and light parts of the shot and make the picture ‘pop’, but it can look over the top with some images. It’s best avoided if shooting at high ISO settings, because it often introduces noise in the shadows.
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