Dynamic Range Limitations

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[singlepic id=206 w=320 h=240 float=right]Humans are a bit spoiled when it comes to dynamic range. Our eyes are incredibly complex and they are able to see a much larger dynamic range than film or your camera’s sensor. In a high contrast scene, such as the low-key sunset shown here, the human eye is actually able to see some of the detail in the darker areas as well as the sun itself. But if you try to capture the scene on film or with your sensor, you’ll lose detail in either the darker or lighter areas, depending on how you exposed the shot. If you exposed for the sun, you won’t be able to discern much detail in the darker areas. If you expose for the darker areas, the sun will appear blown out. Neither situation will necessarily ruin your final photograph. As a photographer, you will need to be aware of this so that you can adjust your exposure.

What if you want to expose everything well? Fortunately, it is possible with a special type of lens filter called a Split Neutral Density Filter. It’s basically a square filter (you’ll need a filter frame for it) that is gradiated so that one half is darker than the other. You would position and rotate the filter so that the darker half covers the brighter side of your scene. This narrows the dynamic range of the scene so that your camera can achieve more detail in the darker areas. A standard Neutral Density Filter will help a tiny bit as well. While you won’t get the same results as a split ND filter, it will help to reduce the contrast in the scene slightly. It’s not a perfect solution, but it certainly helps if you have no other option.

To get a better understanding of your camera’s limitations, I would highly recommend that you take some shots of high contrast scenes such as the one shown here. To be a good photographer, you need to be fully aware of the limitations of your equipment.

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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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