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I'm standing here at a situation that has a pretty fair amount of dynamic range. I've got bright sky back behind the mountains. I've got a light side of the mountain. I have a shadowy side of the mountain. What's interesting about this shot and the reason that I stopped here is those trees poking up out of the shadows into the sunlight. Those can be very interesting things to compose with. They're point elements that I could compose around because they are nice bright accents amongst what would otherwise be shadow. Exposure-wise this is pretty simple. I'm going to expose for the highlights, just like I always do for the most part to ensure that highlight detail was preserved.
Now the program modes and the light meters on most cameras are going to do that for you anyway. If you are not comfortable with these exposure concepts, check out my Foundations of Photography: Exposure course. There's another issue here that I might be facing though, depending on what kind of camera I am using. If I'm using a point and shoot camera or any other type of camera that uses an LCD viewfinder, then I am potentially going to have trouble when I start to frame this shot. My eye can see detail in all those shadow areas. That's part of what stopped me as I was thinking, wow! Those brightly lit trees, against some of those shadowy rocks, those could be interesting elements to compose with.
The LCD screen on the back of the camera can't do that though. It can't show the full dynamic range of the scene, like my eye can see, or like I would see through the optical viewfinder of say, an SLR. Instead, it's going to expose for the highlights and show those, and plunge the darker areas into shadows. Now that doesn't mean that it's not going to capture detail in the shadows when I shoot. It can do that when I shoot, because it has time to take a longer exposure. But when I am just looking at the viewfinder, shadowy areas may go to complete black. So this is a simulation.
If I point a camera like this at a scene like this, on the viewfinder, I am probably to see something like this. And this is what I am talking about, the shadowy side of the mountain has lost lots of detail. I can no longer see rocks and things in there. When I take the shot though, I will probably get something like this, and this is showing me the detail. Now the reason it's important to be aware of this is you might be walking along and something catches your eye compositionally. Hello! Look there is a rock and a brightly lit tree. Cool! That's the shot I am going to take, and you raise your camera up and look at the LCD, and because it can't show you all that shadow detail, you may not see those details, and go oh, well, I thought there was a shot here, but there's not.
No, there still is, it's just your viewfinder can't show it. You've got to take the shot anyway. And one way to work that is to go back and forth. Look at the scene with the full dynamic range of your eye and take note of where things are, and try and frame it on the viewfinder here, even though you can't see all those details, take the shot, double check it, make sure you've got what you need. So if you think there is an image there when you are working with shadows and you hold up the viewfinder and you don't see it, don't give up on the image. It may just be that your camera isn't showing you the whole scene if it's a camera that uses an LCD viewfinder.
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