Dynamic Range: what you see is not always what you get!
OK, the details about dynamic range get a little tricky. But here’s my favorite analogy: You know how on a really bright day, if you look at a scene, say a house, with the bright sky behind it, it takes your eyes a few seconds to “adjust” to the point where they start to see the details of the house in the shade? But eventually you begin to see the door, and the windows, and even the shrubs in the flowerbed.
This lack of response to contrasts happens to cameras too – film and digital both. Film has a better range of brightness, or contrast, just by nature of the way it’s made. Negative film has better range than slide film.
Most digital cameras, I’ve found, have a range similar to slide film, except for possibly one type of shot – but one that is critical for landscape photographers.
It’s the landscape scene with the landform or subject against an overcast or partially cloudy sky. Digital cameras seem to have more trouble dealing with this kind of image than slide file does. The dreaded “white sky” seems to cause all manner of issues.
What happens in most cases, is the sky gets “blown out” if you expose for the shadowor landscape areas. Blown out means that there is no picture information in your file at all – no colors, no pixels, no nothing. This is not good, because if there’s no information there, you can’t do anything to fix the image afterwards.
Now, if you expose for the sky, the shadows and landscape areas are too dark, and if you try to bring them back in Photoshop or your favorite image editor, you will uncover lots of “noise”. All this makes exposure for these scenes with a digital camera a little more tricky than you may be used to.
What’s a creative photographer to do!? I’m a big believer is making the photo as much in the camera as you can. Photoshop is great, but too much tweaking breaks down your image and can cause all sorts of ugliness. So if just like film, you take an accurate exposure, with all your filters etc. at the time of shooting, your final image will just be that much better.
The secret is to use a graduated neutral density filter – I use one on my Nikon D300 most everytime I shoot outdoors, which decreases the exposure for the sky by a several stops (depending on the filter used), but allows you to expose normally for the land. Cokin makes a good one – it’s a square piece of plastic that fits into a special holder. The P Series fits most digital SLRs like the Nikon D300, and most other DSLrs.
November 2008 News
A Special Filter for Landscapes
This summer I bought a Singray Variable neutral Density filter – it’s not graduated, but it IS used for some mighty wonderful photos.
Check out the Pro Section (coming soon) for a tutorial on slow shutter speed photos with a neutral density filter!
Look for new Images in the Gallery too!
If you have a point & shoot digital camera, you may have trouble finding a proper filter to fit on your lens. My Olympus 5050 has an optional extension ring (CL1-A) that makes it possible to use regular screw mount 55 mm filters.
And Cokin makes adapters for this size ring, so you could get the 55mm adapter ring for Cokin’s system, and get the filter holder and the filter itself. It’s a bit cumbersome, but worth it – especially for landscape shots.
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