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In photography dynamic range is the measure of the darkest thing to lightest thing that you can represent. A camera has a particular dynamic range, and so does a printer. Even different printer papers have different dynamic ranges. Your eyes also have a dynamic range, and their dynamic range is larger than what any current photographic technology can offer. This means that very often your camera will capture very different detail in the light and dark parts of your scene than what you actually saw with your eye while you were there shooting.
Take a look at this. This is pretty close to what I could see, in terms of dynamic range, while I was standing at this scene. I could see detail in the very bright parts of the scene and detail in the shadowy parts of the scene. If I point a camera at that same scene though, I most likely will get something like this. Here I can see detail in the highlights but not in the shadows. I could choose to dial in some overexposure and then I get a shot like this. Now I've got detail in the shadows, but I've lost all of the highlights. Because my eye has almost twice the dynamic range of my camera, it can see detail throughout, but I have to choose which part of that range I want to capture with my camera.
Now all of this is covered in more detail in my Foundations of Photography: Exposure course. Note, too, that there are ways that I can shoot multiple images and combine them into a shot with broad dynamic range. What I'm talking about here is the dynamic range of a single shot. Understanding how your eye sees brightness differently from your camera is very important. It can be a big disappointment to see a scene one way but come home with a very different photo of it. If you understand the difference between your camera and eye, you can recognize when you need to start thinking about exposure adjustments.
But also, light and shadow are fundamental compositional tools. If you recognize that your camera might see a solid shadow where your eyes can see detail then you might find that you can use that solid shadow as a shape or element in your compositions.
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