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Understanding dynamic range

From: Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light

Video: Understanding dynamic range

In photography, the measure of the darkest to lightest tones that your camera can capture is referred to as the dynamic range. Now you may think that low-light shooting is inherently a low-dynamic-range situation: Everything is dark, right? But actually, low-light situations often have a very high dynamic range, because you'll have a dark scene and usually have bright light in it somewhere. The important thing to remember about dynamic range is that your eye has a much higher dynamic range than your camera, probably close to twice the range. So, while you're standing there, you're going to be able to see detail around the bright light and in dark shadows.

Understanding dynamic range

In photography, the measure of the darkest to lightest tones that your camera can capture is referred to as the dynamic range. Now you may think that low-light shooting is inherently a low-dynamic-range situation: Everything is dark, right? But actually, low-light situations often have a very high dynamic range, because you'll have a dark scene and usually have bright light in it somewhere. The important thing to remember about dynamic range is that your eye has a much higher dynamic range than your camera, probably close to twice the range. So, while you're standing there, you're going to be able to see detail around the bright light and in dark shadows.

Your camera though won't be able to see that full range without using a very long shutter speed. Typically, the camera will meter for the bright thing; in other words, it'll decide to go with shorter shutter speeds and smaller apertures so that the bright thing doesn't overexpose. But that means that shadowy areas will most likely be plunged into complete darkness. So, there are two things to keep in mind. First your camera will require a very long shutter speed to capture the level of detail that your eye can see, and second, you may have to overexpose some bright highlights to be able to get the detail that you want in your shadows.

Finally, know that if you use a long shutter speed, your camera will be able to capture a level of detail that your eye cannot see. So, part of being a good low-light shooters understanding that there may be a picture hidden in the darkness, one that your eyes can't see but that you can coax out with your camera. This is a skill that will come with experience, as you learn more about what your camera can do in low light with long exposures. As a photographer, it's very important for you to understand the relationship between your eyes' dynamic range and your camera's dynamic range. No matter what type of light you're shooting, the easiest way to learn this is simply to pay attention. When you at our finished image, try to remember what was visible to your eye. Or if you're still at the scene, compare what your eye can see to what your camera has captured.

Overtime you'll develop a sense for when you might need to expose in a different way to capture what you perceive with your eyes.

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This video is part of

Image for Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light
Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light

55 video lessons · 36859 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
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  1. 2m 27s
    1. Welcome
      2m 27s
  2. 6m 20s
    1. What can you shoot in low light?
      2m 17s
    2. What you need for this course
      4m 3s
  3. 28m 54s
    1. Working with exposure parameters in low light
      1m 13s
    2. Working with image sensors in low light
      4m 35s
    3. Working with shutter speed in low light
      3m 3s
    4. Considering motion blur
      1m 14s
    5. Working with ISO in low light
      2m 29s
    6. Assessing your camera's high ISO capability
      4m 52s
    7. Working with in-camera noise reduction
      2m 4s
    8. Working with aperture in low light
      2m 10s
    9. Understanding dynamic range
      2m 2s
    10. Working with color temperature and white balance
      1m 11s
    11. Exposing to the right
      4m 1s
  4. 34m 39s
    1. Introduction
      1m 36s
    2. Talking with Steve Simon about low-light photography
      13m 46s
    3. Shooting by candlelight
      1m 55s
    4. Choosing a mode
      4m 34s
    5. Exploring the role of lens stabilization
      3m 1s
    6. White balance considerations
      3m 27s
    7. Flash considerations
      1m 18s
    8. Problem solving
      1m 35s
    9. Understanding aesthetics and composition
      3m 27s
  5. 30m 4s
    1. Introduction
      2m 20s
    2. Preparing for the shoot
      5m 25s
    3. Act I: adjusting to the light
      3m 48s
    4. Intermission: reviewing the strategy
      1m 53s
    5. Act II: moving to the back of the house
      2m 35s
    6. After the show: lessons learned
      1m 18s
    7. Reviewing the performance images
      12m 45s
  6. 19m 18s
    1. Shooting in the shade
      2m 55s
    2. Street shooting
      2m 52s
    3. Shooting flash portraits at night
      4m 5s
    4. Controlling flash color temperature
      2m 50s
    5. Adjusting exposure to preserve the mood
      2m 34s
    6. Dynamic range considerations
      4m 2s
  7. 41m 0s
    1. Shooting lingering sunsets
      1m 42s
    2. Exploring focusing strategies
      5m 17s
    3. Composing and focusing at night
      10m 42s
    4. Shooting the stars
      9m 27s
    5. Practicing low-light landscape shooting
      9m 55s
    6. Focusing on the horizon in low light
      3m 57s
  8. 13m 4s
    1. Light painting: behind the camera
      7m 34s
    2. Light painting: in front of the camera
      2m 13s
    3. Manipulating long shutter speeds
      3m 17s
  9. 1h 4m
    1. Correcting white balance
      8m 49s
    2. Correcting white balance with a gray card
      3m 50s
    3. Correcting white balance of JPEG images
      2m 0s
    4. Blending exposures with different white balances
      7m 13s
    5. Brightening shadows
      9m 8s
    6. Reducing noise
      7m 44s
    7. Sharpening
      9m 14s
    8. Correcting depth-of-field issues
      9m 32s
    9. Correcting night skies
      6m 39s
  10. 53s
    1. Goodbye
      53s

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