10 camera techniques to master in 2014: ways to cope with high-contrast lighting
In this next section we’ll show you how to deal with high-contrast lighting and capture the maximum range of tones.
Using your DSLR’s Exposure Compensation to adjust the overall exposure is fine for many subjects, but there are also times when the brightness range of the subject is too large for your camera to capture detail in both the shadows and highlights.
This range is known as the camera’s dynamic range, and while it does vary between different models, it’s pretty common to find scenes where the contrast is greater than even the best cameras can cope with.
With practice, you’ll often be able to recognise these conditions before you start shooting, but the easiest way to spot the situation is by reviewing your shot and checking the histogram and highlight warnings.
Start by taking a shot and checking that the shadows reach the left of the graph. You can now activate the highlight warning display.
If the display blinks to indicate that there are highlights without any detail, then your camera can’t record the whole brightness range.
When you are faced with this situation, there are a number of ways to deal with the problem.
If you are shooting in JPEG mode, many cameras offer built-in systems to capture more highlight and/or shadow detail than normal images.
The Nikon system is called Active D-lighting, while the Canon version is Auto Lighting Optimiser.
Shooting in raw format will allow you to capture more highlight and shadow detail than in JPEG mode. But even in raw it’s easier to recover more detail from the shadows than the highlights.
For this reason, when shooting high-contrast subjects set the exposure so that you capture as much highlight detail as possible.
The traditional solution for dealing with high-contrast lighting is to use an ND grad lens filter. These filters are half dark and half clear, so you position the dark area of the filter to reduce the brightness of the lightest area of the scene.
This is fine where a large area of the scene is brighter than the rest, such as the sky in an open landscape.
However they are less useful for subjects containing smaller bright areas, such as windows or sunlight through trees, because the filter will darken the areas around these highlights too.
High Dynamic Range
High Dynamic Range (HDR) has become a popular technique for capturing images that would otherwise have burnt-out highlights, no shadow detail, or both.
To achieve true HDR images you need to take at least three shots, one under-exposed, one correctly exposed and one over-exposed.
These images are then combined using either the Merge to HDR tool in Photoshop or software such as HDR Efex Pro 2 or Photomatix.
Camera Techniques for 2014: 01 Take control of focus
Camera Techniques for 2014: 02 Get white balance accurate every time
Camera Techniques for 2014: 03 How to focus on moving subjects
Camera Techniques for 2014: 04 How to use exposure compensation
Camera Techniques for 2014: 05 Ways to cope with high-contrast lighting
Camera Techniques for 2014: 06 How to position your subject in the frame
Camera Techniques for 2014: 07 Learn basic TTL flash techniques
Camera Techniques for 2014: 08 Sharpen photos like a pro
Camera Techniques for 2014: 09 How to control the saturation of colours
Camera techniques for 2014: 10 Add depth by using different apertures
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