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Old 11-05-2007, 16:08   #1 (permalink)
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Capturing Full Tonal Range

Immediately after taking a shot, the histogram on my camera sometimes shows a very limited tonal range, like all pushed to the dark side, or to the light side, or in the middle, i.e. very limited tonal distribution.

It's a pain, 'cos I then have to spend ages on PC trying to bring out detail that isn't really there but should have been there at capture stage

What am I doing wrong, + what's causing this failure to capture a full tonal range?

Thoughts/advice please
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Old 11-05-2007, 16:18   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Capturing Full Tonal Range

Well, it's more than likely that it just isn't there. Hence multiple exposures and HDR to capture the histogram high across the tonal range

If you think about it, a grey, misty day has little contrast and limited tonal range. Extreme, but it's a variation on that all the time!
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Old 11-05-2007, 16:28   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Capturing Full Tonal Range

Right, gotcha, thanks

TBH at the time of shooting I don't think about bracketing often enough, but now you mention it, what I describe above is the time I really need to!
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Old 11-05-2007, 16:34   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Capturing Full Tonal Range

I used to bracket all the time, it is the one thing i miss when I am shooting raw, not being able to really does my head in! lol

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Old 11-05-2007, 16:36   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Capturing Full Tonal Range

I've got my LCD set to show the histogram too. Ideally, a nice even spread across the range will show you have a balenced capture. The height of the graph will indicate where the most pixels are in the range. If you have a predominantly light or dark image, there will be a concerntration in that part of the histogram. The trick is to try not to have any clipping - that is lots of the range indicated by the height of the histogram going off the scale at either end. This is where you will be losing detail, blown at the RHS, or lost in shadow on the LHS. Narrow high peaks indicate high contrast. This might be cured with grad ND filters that will reduce the light entering the camera at that brightness and allow settings that will better 'see' the darker areas.

I'm not sure if this would apply to taking pictures, but in the darkroom you could increase contrast by stopping down the lens of the enlarger and making longer exposures, and the reverse would give less contrast.

Sometimes there will be more than one 'hump' if, for instance there is a bright element in the shot in a darker picture, maybe the moon in the evening or night, but if you can prevent the extreme ends of the graph hitting the vertical sides of the graph, the detail will be there for you to use.

Compromises might have to be made if this cannot be accomodated, like using multiple exposures.

Not sure if this addresses your question, but hope it helps.
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Old 11-05-2007, 16:53   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Capturing Full Tonal Range

Something else to consider..

You may be making shots that push the limits of your camera's metering ability..

This isn't all bad as it can be used as a justification for spending way too much on new high end camera bodies

(at least that is the excuse I'm going to stick with when the credit card bill shows up in a couple months...)
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Old 11-05-2007, 17:02   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Capturing Full Tonal Range

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Originally Posted by fionaB View Post
I used to bracket all the time, it is the one thing i miss when I am shooting raw, not being able to really does my head in! lol
Why does shooting RAW prevent you bracketing? If it's because there's little/no buffer, then do it manually (I rarely use it on auto bracket anyway but set it to manual). If there's too much movement for manual there's not much you can do! Except await a decent HDR application that will allow for pixel shift (only a matter of time!)

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The trick is to try not to have any clipping - that is lots of the range indicated by the height of the histogram going off the scale at either end.
Luckily, Sigma, tho without bells and whistles, has seperate RGB histograms, so easy to check for colour clipping (most dSLRs default to a shooting profile with conservative settings to prevent colour clipping)
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Old 11-05-2007, 17:06   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Capturing Full Tonal Range

My D70s only has the basic histogram, don't know about the D80, but I think the D200 and above have RGB histograms.
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Old 11-05-2007, 22:47   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Capturing Full Tonal Range

Thanks for replies all

Fiona - I was going to ask why you can't bracket when shooting raw ... but Markulous has already asked, although you haven't replied yet. Is it a file size issue + thus your choice not to bracket?

Graham - thanks for all the info, which I do already know, except your suggestion of using a longer or shorter shutter speed to control the contrast, so I might give that a try next time, although I do prefer to work in aperture priority, i.e. shoot with a particular aperture.

There is a setting on the D50 to control the contrast, which I do use sometimes, but my question was really trying to find out why this particular histogram shape happens in the first place, i.e. is it common to some cameras, or is it related to lighting conditions, or is it that one or more of my settings is not optimally set? That's really the kind of answer I was after, but bracketing seems to be the best solution suggested here so far ... unless anyone else can fully answer my question re: the whys + wherefores

So far, I think Mark's closest, i.e. it's prolly low contrast scenes, or more accurately low lighting conditions, e.g. thick cloud cover, + I'll check on that the next time I get that reading on the histogram.

lcraft - LOL I'm always in the market for a new toy ... D200 is at 3rd place at the moment, after 1.PC + 2.wait for it ... drum roll .... wide angle lens ................. yes folks, I'm going for the Sigma 10-20mm ... and after all I said about Sigma LOL (but that was ages ago well, it wasn't Sigma I was against, just anything not Nikon!) Anyway, as to your suggestion of pushing the limits of my camera's metering ability, wouldn't that have the reverse effect? i.e. loss of detail in both shadows + highlights? i.e. a too-wide histogram, as opposed to a too-narrow one that I'm talking about?
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Old 11-05-2007, 23:41   #10 (permalink)
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Re: Capturing Full Tonal Range

Your shopping list is similar to mine. 18-200VR (bought, still waiting for it..) 10-20 Sigma, and then a D200..

I'm too impatient to wait till I could just pay for a D200+18-200 Kit..

I can only speak for my experience - with my D50 and the 18-55 kit lens and my Nikkor 60mm Micro, sometimes the thing just blows the exposure. Shooting with available light, aperture priority mode, I'll often get images that have no blown out highlights but need 2 or 3 ev boosts in my raw processing software and there will be great details.

I shot a bunch of Johnny Jump Ups yesterday - about the size of a thumbnail. They were in shade so I bounced some sunlight over them from around the corner of the building using a white card.. Camera readout said 1/250th of a second and occasionally faster and I had my ISO speed bumped up to 800 just to be sure I'd get it. Every one of those pictures had to be processed +3 EV.. and there was tons of detail in them. I'll upload my favorite shot from those to a new thread..

A friend of mine with a D200 doing similar stuff finds himself doing a lot less processing to fix exposure than I when mucking around with low light stuff.

He's unfortunately not THAT good of a friend or he'd let me borrow his for a couple nights to see if I'm right about the camera just not metering it right..
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Old 12-05-2007, 00:57   #11 (permalink)
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Re: Capturing Full Tonal Range

lcraft, in one of the photo books I'm reading at the mo' it said not to take the camera histogram as gospel, as they tend to show exactly what you're saying, i.e. shows overexposure when in fact + in reality the exposure is good. The D50 manual is careful to say the histogram is only a guide + not necessarily accurate. Experience is a better judge, but I haven't got enuf yet

A lot of my shots come out underexposed (at PC stage), so I think that backs that theory up. Although, shooting in raw, you do get flatter images in any event that need sprucing up.

I also wonder if metering method has something to do with it, i.e. whether you use matrix, centre-weighted, or spot

I took some low light flower shots in my garden the other day, using ISO 400, with 105mm macro lens ... all came out with quite bad noise Back to Plan A, leave ISO at 200!

Anyway, I might try a test series giving more exposure than the histogram indicates, + see what happens


PS: I see from your Johnny Jump Ups thread (oh, is that what they're called ) that you also got quite a bit of noise at high ISO.

Last edited by Charlotte; 12-05-2007 at 01:02. Reason: Added PS
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Old 12-05-2007, 01:06   #12 (permalink)
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Re: Capturing Full Tonal Range

i'm not sure how much of that is CCD noise, vs. jpeg.. The full size uncompressed ones look pretty decent to me.
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Old 12-05-2007, 01:42   #13 (permalink)
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Re: Capturing Full Tonal Range

I hear what you're saying, but since we have to convert all images to jpeg as end product, i.e. for web or print, having no apparent noise in the original uncompressed (raw) file isn't much to go by As you shot these at high ISO, I'm guessing the noise is there in the raw file, it's just that the jpeg compression has exacerbated it. If you view your raw file @ 100% magnification, I think you'll see the noise. If my guess is right, then your 60mm macro lens produces noise similar to what my 105mm macro lens does ... I see a pattern here. Another factor affecting noise is aperture size, if you use a small aperture (+ thus a longer shutter speed) this seems to increase the noise problem considerably.
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Old 12-05-2007, 02:16   #14 (permalink)
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Re: Capturing Full Tonal Range

Yep, looking at that one in Aperture there is some noise that shows up at 300% magnification.

Slight gaussian blur time, or perhaps I'll try hitting it with noise ninja.
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Old 12-05-2007, 22:02   #15 (permalink)
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Re: Capturing Full Tonal Range

It seems to me that increasing (or decreasing) exposure would simply push the whole of the histogram to the right or left respectively, still leaving a gap at one end, that is, providing it's not blocking up at one end. I believe you can only expand the histogram in two directions at once by increasing contrast at the capture stage. I am not familiar with Nikon so I can't be specific, but on my Canon there are programs called "picture styles." These are used for changing contrast, exposure and other parameters at the capture stage. I feel absolutely certain that Nikon will have it's equivalents.
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Last edited by John F; 12-05-2007 at 23:02. Reason: To add phrase re: blocking up.
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Old 13-06-2007, 02:09   #16 (permalink)
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Re: Capturing Full Tonal Range

there's some maths but I think the comon accepted plan is to 'expose to the right' Expose Right

a single luminosity histogram is not really that great for checking clipping (and even with RGB on most cameras that is showing you the values after WB has been adjusted so beware clipping could still be occuring)

many scenes in nature do not fit into the dynamic range of a camera and you have to pick which parts are important or multiple expose or wait for better lighting etc

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Old 13-06-2007, 09:17   #17 (permalink)
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Re: Capturing Full Tonal Range

Quote:
Originally Posted by silver View Post
there's some maths but I think the comon accepted plan is to 'expose to the right' Expose Right

a single luminosity histogram is not really that great for checking clipping (and even with RGB on most cameras that is showing you the values after WB has been adjusted so beware clipping could still be occuring)

many scenes in nature do not fit into the dynamic range of a camera and you have to pick which parts are important or multiple expose or wait for better lighting etc

Sil
I think this is the crux of the matter.Just like film,the sensor has a limit to what it can record at the extremes [highlight/shadow].Some sensors will record a greater range than others.
And lets understand the other bit.If the light is 'not right' for the effect you want to convey then don't expect a brilliant picture.Wait for it to change or come back another time.I have been out with my camera twice recently and never took a shot worth keeping as the light was not 'co-operating'.
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