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Dynamic range

From: Foundations of Photography: Exposure

Video: Dynamic range

One of the most incredible things about your eyes is the range of light that they can see in. When your eyes are completely adjusted to the dark, they can detect a single photon of light. But then you can take those same eyes out into bright daylight and discern details on brightly lit objects. What's more amazing though, is that you can see a huge range of dark to light at one time. This is referred to as dynamic range, and your eye has a dynamic range of around 18-20 stops worth of light. By comparison, your digital camera has a dynamic range of about 10-12 stops of light, maybe 14 if you are really lucky.

Dynamic range

One of the most incredible things about your eyes is the range of light that they can see in. When your eyes are completely adjusted to the dark, they can detect a single photon of light. But then you can take those same eyes out into bright daylight and discern details on brightly lit objects. What's more amazing though, is that you can see a huge range of dark to light at one time. This is referred to as dynamic range, and your eye has a dynamic range of around 18-20 stops worth of light. By comparison, your digital camera has a dynamic range of about 10-12 stops of light, maybe 14 if you are really lucky.

In other words, your eye can see almost double the range of light to dark that your camera can capture. It's very important to understand that just because a scene looks a particular way to your eye, that doesn't mean that your camera will be able to capture it. For example, I was hiking in the bottom of a canyon. It was dark on the canyon floor, but the sky was bright daylight. My eye had no trouble seeing detail from the canyon floor to the sky, but when I pointed my camera at the scene and took a shot, I ended up with a canyon floor that was plunged into darkness with bright sky up above.

In other words, my camera did not have the dynamic range required to capture the whole scene in the way that my eye was seeing it. By default, the camera metered with the idea of preserving the bright areas and so it exposed for the sky, leaving the canyon floor in darkness. Seeing that this wasn't working, I change my exposure settings to overexpose, so that I would brighten up the canyon floor, and I got this. Sure enough, you can see detail on the floor, but now the sky is blown out to complete white. In the end, there is no way that you can shoot a single frame of this scene that can capture the full dynamic range that you can see with your eyes.

Now, I can cheat, and I can composite those two images to arrive in a finished image that looks like this, but very often multiple shots aren't possible. If there are moving objects or people or waving trees, then multiple shots just may not work. Very often when in a high-dynamic- range situation, you will have to decide if it's the highlight or shadow detail that is more important, and expose accordingly. Expectation leads to as many bad photos as lack of technical skill. You see a scene. You take a picture. You expect the picture to look like the scene, because it looked fine to your eyes.

It's very important that you learn to recognize when your scene has more dynamic range than your camera can capture, so that you can make the appropriate exposure adjustments.

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This video is part of

Image for Foundations of Photography: Exposure
Foundations of Photography: Exposure

64 video lessons · 86644 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
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  1. 8m 45s
    1. Welcome
      1m 57s
    2. What is exposure?
      4m 8s
    3. A word about camera brands
      2m 40s
  2. 9m 31s
    1. What is a camera?
      2m 52s
    2. The shutter
      3m 53s
    3. The aperture
      1m 33s
    4. Exposure defined
      1m 13s
  3. 13m 50s
    1. Modes
      2m 7s
    2. Pressing the shutter button
      2m 54s
    3. Autofocus
      5m 22s
    4. Light metering
      2m 3s
    5. White balance
      1m 24s
  4. 29m 26s
    1. Shooting sharp images
      1m 58s
    2. Noting shutter speed
      4m 3s
    3. Taking control of shutter speed
      1m 30s
    4. Stop defined
      2m 50s
    5. Shutter priority mode
      4m 34s
    6. Exercise: Shutter speed
      40s
    7. Reciprocity
      3m 13s
    8. Controlling motion
      7m 8s
    9. Shutter speed increments
      2m 21s
    10. Exercise: Go work with shutter speed
      1m 9s
  5. 26m 2s
    1. Depth of field
      1m 53s
    2. How aperture is measured
      2m 42s
    3. Aperture priority mode
      4m 57s
    4. Lens speed
      53s
    5. Shooting deep depth of field
      3m 53s
    6. Shooting shallow depth of field
      2m 50s
    7. The depth-of-field preview button
      4m 24s
    8. How shallow should you be?
      2m 47s
    9. Exercise: Go work with aperture
      1m 43s
  6. 16m 26s
    1. ISO: The third exposure parameter
      6m 27s
    2. Assessing your camera's high ISO
      5m 32s
    3. Shooting in low light
      3m 32s
    4. Exercise: Shooting in low light
      55s
  7. 14m 30s
    1. White balance controls
      5m 37s
    2. Adjusting white balance manually
      4m 25s
    3. Shooting raw
      4m 28s
  8. 6m 3s
    1. How light meters work
      1m 47s
    2. Why are there different modes?
      4m 16s
  9. 33m 58s
    1. Exposure compensation
      4m 0s
    2. Intentional overexposure
      2m 40s
    3. Intentional underexposure
      1m 42s
    4. Controlling tone
      2m 31s
    5. The histogram
      10m 4s
    6. Real-world histograms
      5m 49s
    7. Tone and color
      2m 16s
    8. Auto exposure bracketing
      3m 57s
    9. Exercise: Go work with exposure compensation
      59s
  10. 12m 56s
    1. Dynamic range
      2m 24s
    2. Exposing for highlights
      4m 15s
    3. Fill flash
      3m 11s
    4. Three solutions to the same problem
      3m 6s
  11. 12m 26s
    1. Manual mode
      2m 6s
    2. Manual mode and light meters
      4m 52s
    3. Manual exposure exercise
      5m 28s
  12. 12m 1s
    1. Custom modes and A-DEP
      1m 39s
    2. Program shift
      3m 52s
    3. Exposure compensation with program shift
      1m 58s
    4. An exercise in reciprocity
      53s
    5. Scene modes and in-camera processing
      3m 39s
  13. 8m 15s
    1. Shooting with post production in mind
      3m 45s
    2. Exposure strategy
      3m 51s
    3. Goodbye
      39s

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