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Very often, when you're shooting in extremely low light, like nighttime, you find yourself encountering high-dynamic-range situations, and that's what we have got here right now. They seem a little counterintuitive because we tend to think of high dynamic range as really bright skies, and maybe dark foregrounds and things like that, but we've got a variation on that. We've got this bright street light up here, this point light source, and we've got all this dark shadow around it. Now, what I want to do is bring some detail out of that dark driveway. But as I do that, I am going to blow that light out more. It's going to get bigger and bigger in the frame.
This is very often something you're going to encounter in low light or at night- time, and there are some things you can do to manage it. First of all, you an accept that seeing big blown out lights like that is just part of the aesthetic of night shooting. It's part of the aesthetic of low-light photography, and personally, I like the way it looks. I could, if I don't want it, try to crop it out of the frame, and just simply avoid it. It's still casting light into my scene, but I don't see the light source directly. In this case though, I like the lit street next to the dark driveway, so I am going to keep it there. So that means I come down to just some exposure decisions.
Now, there is no right or wrong here. I am just trying to make some decisions about balancing this bright side against this dark side. Right now, we have some extra light on these so that you can see me. So, as I take these shots, Greg is going to be turning off that extra light. So let's start with an initial exposure. I have my camera set to aperture priority, because I am worried about depth of field and I have dialed in an aperture of around f/7 to get the focus that I need. I've focused my camera, and I am ready to take the shot.
Greg, could you kill the lights please? It's going to be a two- or three-second exposure and to ensure that I am getting a nice steady shot, I have set the self-timer on my camera. You can hear it beeping right now. This allows me to take my hand off the camera. The camera has got some time to slow its vibration and then it takes its shot. All right! So that was a little longer than three seconds. Here's what I get. This is looking pretty good. You can see that the camera has really tried to get an even exposure.
It's brightened up the driveway a lot, maybe a little too much. I think I might want to pull that down. You can also see that bright light smearing. I am in a matrix metering mode right now. It is trying to average all the light in the scene and come up with a good average exposure. And for most night shootings, this is where you're going to want to be probably. If you're in a spot meter, or more of a center-weight metering, it's going to either put that into complete darkness or blow that out way too much. I like this averaging that I get from matrix metering because now I can just very quickly play with some exposure compensation to bring things up and down.
So I have got this high-dynamic range situation. I have got bright over here, dark over here. I simply have to decide how bright or dark do I want the dark part. The camera is doing a good job of getting me an overall metering. I am going to dial the exposure down a little bit. I am going to go down with my exposure compensation about two- thirds of a stop and take another shot. Again, my self-timer is going off. Here we go! I think I like this better. It's closer to the atmosphere of the scene. The driveway is now a little darker.
I've pulled back the flare of the light a little bit by underexposing a little bit. So, this one is not too difficult to handle. I can mostly just make aesthetic decisions about how bright or dark I want the shadow areas. I am absolutely overexposing the light. There is no way around it, and you don't worry about it. Is this a case where I could employ some high-dynamic-range techniques? I could, but I don't really think there is a reason to, because there is not so much middle tonality in the scene to bring up. There's just not a lot of light here.
Still, it's worth experimenting with. If you're not familiar with HDR, take a look at my High Dynamic Range course, which will walk you through all the steps of shooting multiple images and combining them into a high-dynamic-range scene. Keep an eye on those point light sources as you're out shooting at night, or in low light, and try to get in the habit of paying attention to them, recognizing, and making some intelligent decisions about how to handle them.
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