DSLR Tips: the best settings for preserving detail in any situation

How to use lighting optimisation to rescue detail in any shooting situation: Strong setting

Tired of losing detail in high-contrast conditions? Try these DSLR tips and learn how to use your camera’s lighting optimisation feature for preserving that detail in any situation you may find yourself.

DSLR Tips: the best settings for preserving detail in any situation

Images by Mark Hamblin

Many cameras have a widget that helps to extract additional 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 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 format, 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 detail in high-contrast images using shadow and highlight sliders during processing.

How to use lighting optimisation to rescue detail in any shooting situation

How to use lighting optimisation to rescue detail in any shooting situation: Standard setting

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.

 

How to use lighting optimisation to rescue detail in any shooting situation: Low setting

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.

 

How to use lighting optimisation to rescue detail in any shooting situation: Strong setting

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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