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Old 09-06-2009, 11:47   #1 (permalink)
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Understanding Dynamic Range

Hi all,

I have been doing a lot of reading and playing since I last asked questions about exposure, I have been having fun with it to be honest. A lot of information has been taken in and I am pleased I understand a lot more.

I would like to ask some advice about Dynamic Range, I need to know more about this, I have been getting into a good habit (at least I think it is a good habit) of checking my histogram after every shot to check my exposure. I have noticed sometimes that I will get clipping in both the highlights and the shadows. Does this mean I am out of the dynamic range and I will have to sacrifice one or the other?

I have also been toying with spot metering, I have enjoyed that too. Not sure if I am doing it right but for example on a overcast day I wanted to take a photo of this old warehouse, I switched to spot metering, I metered from the sky and when the camera indicated a correct exposure I locked this setting and recomposed my shot. I got what I wanted. Is this the correct way to spot meter? Or should I meter from the shadows and the highlights of a scene?

Any advice would be great, I will stop rambling now... Thanks guys.
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Old 09-06-2009, 11:56   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

Yes, you've got it right! Dynamic Range is the tonal spread of the image - the range between the lightest and the darkest elements of the photo. Checking the histogram as you go along is something I would highly recommend, although ideally you should look at the RGB histogram rather than just luminance as the latter often relates to just one channel (e.g. green).

If the dynamic range of the scene is too great for your camera/sensor, you can either sacrifice shadows or highlights, or you can take multiple photos (on a tripod) at different exposures and blend the images. This is often done using HDR (High Dynamic Range) software such as Photomatix.

In general, I'd suggest that blown highlights are far more obvious than lost shadow detail, so I tend to expose to avoid blowing all three channels in the highlights. If you shoot in RAW and use a good RAW converter with a decent Highlight Recovery feature, you can often retrieve 'lost' highlight detail, but it helps if at least one of the channels is not blown.

Hope that helps!
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Old 09-06-2009, 12:17   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

Thanks for your reply, wasn't a great explanation from my part I know. I really love using the spot meter, maybe too much at times! lol

I do shoot in raw too and use Lightroom and photoshop for editing, I hate it when I have blown out parts on my images, On my camera I have 4 histograms displaying, the three at the bottom are RGB so I get to check all of them on screen to help me get what I want, I used to rely on post processing but now I want to get the exposure as perfect as I can in camera and play about with other creative ideas in PS.
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Old 09-06-2009, 20:29   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

Just to add a few figures to Silkstones helpful answer. Dynamic range in photography is usually measured in stops (doubling or halving exposure). A DSLR using JPEG typically has a dynamic range of 6-7 stops and a DSLR using Raw has 9-10 stops dynamic range. It is worth being aware of the dynamic range of typical scenes:

Overcast and no sky in the scene 3 stops
Sunny with side lighting 7 stops
Sunny overhead with shade 8-9 stops
Night scene with street lamps 14 stops
Interior with sunlight beaming through window 14 stops
Fully Sunny backlit scene 18 stops

If the sun is actually in the scene the figures will be even higher. For the last three on my list of examples, a single Raw file cannot cope so this is where HDR techniques with multiple exposures are needed.
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Old 09-06-2009, 21:03   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

[QUOTE=darker1985;271177....... I used to rely on post processing but now I want to get the exposure as perfect as I can in camera and play about with other creative ideas in PS.[/QUOTE]

Getting it right in-camera is really the only way to go. I too tend to expose to prevent burned highlights as I think it's often the downfall of a perfectly reasonable composition - whereas, as long as there isn't proportionally too much, clipped shadows aren't nearly such a problem

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Originally Posted by Dave Canon View Post
It is worth being aware of the dynamic range of typical scenes:

Overcast and no sky in the scene 3 stops
Sunny with side lighting 7 stops
Sunny overhead with shade 8-9 stops
Night scene with street lamps 14 stops
Interior with sunlight beaming through window 14 stops
Fully Sunny backlit scene 18 stops

If the sun is actually in the scene the figures will be even higher. For the last three on my list of examples, a single Raw file cannot cope so this is where HDR techniques with multiple exposures are needed.
Very useful guide, Dave! Cheers!
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Old 09-06-2009, 21:16   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

Darker1985, it's a great habit to get into, checking the histograms on the back of the camera. Also light metering, even if it is just using the spot meter on camera is also a good practice to do. Exactly as Silkstone says, you have RGB channels all recording separate information. To blow one, and sometimes 2 is not so bad, but if you have clipping in all 3 channels then you have no details there to get back. It entirely depends on your finished look if this is what you want or not. Sometimes blown highlights can look great in an image, other times it just looks dreadful.
Have you ever come across the 'zone-system' on your research. This explains in more detail about obtaining a correct exposure.
With whether you have used your spot meter correctly or not entirely depends on what you are photographing and what it is you want to expose for.
The more you look at the histograms the more you'll know when you have a good exposure that you can work with well in post. Obviously the purists will say get it all right in camera, then you will have nothing to do in post...... However i say.... (being a non-purist) if you are getting paid, shoot a good even low contrast RAW (without any clipping in any channel if you can help it), this will provide you a great foundation to create a decent looking image. If you're not getting paid, do what you want!
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Old 09-06-2009, 22:12   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

Thanks for the comments guys. Really appreciate it.

Sorry to sound like a complete idiot, but when you explain the stops range is that the range from dark to light in the scene? Obviously anything over what the number your data file can handle you will clip highlights or shadows?

Or am I not understanding this at all. I just want to get into habit for the future so I know what I am doing when it comes to exposing. I want it to become second nature to me. lol
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Old 10-06-2009, 00:10   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

Strangly enough film tends to have a greater dynamic range than digital and clips more forgivingly. It's just you don't get your results immediately.

That's if anyone remembers film
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Old 10-06-2009, 01:26   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

Well actually, modern digital cameras have a wider dynamic range than most film , but you're right Steve that the results of blown highlights in digital tend to be more noticeable - or maybe we've become more critical.

If you expose for highlights, there will be many instances where the mid-tones and shadows need a boost. That makes it especially important to shoot in RAW rather than JPEG, because you have a lot more gradations of tone to work with in boosting low/mid tone details without causing posterisation or blocking.

And yes, the "stops range" is a measure of the degree of contrast from light to dark. Basically you may not be able to capture the actual tonal range on a sunny day because your camera/sensor/computer/screen doesn't have the light output of the sun (just as well, really!) so everything has to be compressed into something that is viewable either on screen or as a print (even more limited, as it is entirely dependent on reflected light).

Sorry if that's confused the issue even more, but basically the idea is to capture the full tonal range of the scene in the photo, if possible, or to compromise in such a way that the final image looks right, and/or to use HDR software to extend the range, and/or to use the highlight and shadow recovery features of RAW converters to fill in details that would otherwise be lost.
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Old 10-06-2009, 10:20   #10 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

You have certainly made it a lot more easier for me to understand and I appreciate your excellent response, I often spend a lot of time reading about exposure than actually going out and testing it. I really must learn this with trial and error too.
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Old 10-06-2009, 12:56   #11 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Canon View Post
Just to add a few figures to Silkstones helpful answer. Dynamic range in photography is usually measured in stops (doubling or halving exposure). A DSLR using JPEG typically has a dynamic range of 6-7 stops and a DSLR using Raw has 9-10 stops dynamic range. It is worth being aware of the dynamic range of typical scenes:

Overcast and no sky in the scene 3 stops
Sunny with side lighting 7 stops
Sunny overhead with shade 8-9 stops
Night scene with street lamps 14 stops
Interior with sunlight beaming through window 14 stops
Fully Sunny backlit scene 18 stops

If the sun is actually in the scene the figures will be even higher. For the last three on my list of examples, a single Raw file cannot cope so this is where HDR techniques with multiple exposures are needed.
Very simply put
Thanks
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Old 10-06-2009, 13:12   #12 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

just to add to this, how can you ensure have the right range without a spot meter? I guess, its just take a picture and look at the histogram...


very usefull thread guys!
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Old 10-06-2009, 13:43   #13 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

Quote:
Originally Posted by Slicker View Post
just to add to this, how can you ensure have the right range without a spot meter? I guess, its just take a picture and look at the histogram...


very usefull thread guys!
I'm fairly sure that in most cameras the histogram is not 100% accurate, but is certainly good enough for the majority of shots. However, if you are shooting something important it is best to bracket your exposures.
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Old 10-06-2009, 13:53   #14 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

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it is best to bracket your exposures.
And I assume by this you mean take pictures at 0ev, -1ev and +1ev (or similar?)

Thanks
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Old 10-06-2009, 14:07   #15 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

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And I assume by this you mean take pictures at 0ev, -1ev and +1ev (or similar?)

Thanks
Yes - exactly that. The amount of the change of exposure and the number of shots in the sequence will depend on the subject and lighting. Sometimes half of a stop, or even one third of a stop and five (or more) exposures will give the best results.

As a bonus you could also use the whole sequence for HDR if you could not get the right result from any one of the bracketed shots.
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Old 10-06-2009, 20:50   #16 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

Back in the days of film, you would quite often shoot normally with neg film, but bracket your slide film. Neg has a wider latitude than slide, so the exposure for slide would be more critical. A little like RAW and JPEG, only slide generally gave you better colours and grain etc. whereas RAW is the better of the 2 digitally speaking. But certainly for exposure critical shots bracket, even 5 times or more, if you are a whizz at editing you can always blend the images (not neceessarily HDR).
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Old 10-06-2009, 23:54   #17 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

Those who remember slide film may remember just how difficult it was to use. If you manged to avoid burning out highlights there was little subtle shadow detail. This was because typical slide film had a dynamic range of only 5-6 stops less than JPEG files. However, negative film was much better and at about 7 - 9 stops. While many popular negative films had a little less dynamic range than Raw files, the characteristic of film is a softer clipping. You can also use film for HDR if you scan and process digitally.

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Old 16-06-2009, 00:59   #18 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Canon View Post
Those who remember slide film may remember just how difficult it was to use. If you manged to avoid burning out highlights there was little subtle shadow detail. This was because typical slide film had a dynamic range of only 5-6 stops less than JPEG files. However, negative film was much better and at about 7 - 9 stops. While many popular negative films had a little less dynamic range than Raw files, the characteristic of film is a softer clipping. You can also use film for HDR if you scan and process digitally.

Dave
True, B/W negative was / is even higher at about 10-12 stops, very forgiving.
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Old 16-06-2009, 11:15   #19 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

WOW, dynamic range, clipping etc etc. Just goes to show your never too old to learn stuff. Very interesting thread, When I used to shoot a lot of kodachrome 25 I always underexposed it by about half a stop and usually this was fine.
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Old 16-06-2009, 17:13   #20 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

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Originally Posted by Steve_Turner View Post
True, B/W negative was / is even higher at about 10-12 stops, very forgiving.
The figures I used for DSLR are very conservative because there are many different figures found on the internet and I intended to be non-controvertial. Some figures are supplied by those who wish to put down film so tend to be biased in favour of digital and there are other figures supplied by the other camp which wish to put down digital; it is best to ignore these extremes.

More scientific analysis I have seen suggest that B&W negative film has a much higher dynamic range than colour film and the best is 10-11 stops. However, Roger Clarke who analyses film and digital has the best DSLR's using Raw at around 11 stops. There are differences in their characteristics but you do have to process Raw files and make tonal adjustments to get the best in much the same way as you did in the darkroom.

So I am not suggesting that one or the other is best but whether using RAW on a good DSLR or high quality B&W negative film there will be little to choose between them in dynamic range.
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Old 16-06-2009, 23:36   #21 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

.... addition of something to try....
if its a "Set" shot, (Static subject...) take an under-exposed and an over-exposed shot of the same subject, and overlay one on another as layers in post-production.... (as many layers as you are comfortable with) you get some interesting effects by altering the opacity of each layer.
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Old 17-06-2009, 00:33   #22 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Canon View Post
The figures I used for DSLR are very conservative because there are many different figures found on the internet and I intended to be non-controvertial. Some figures are supplied by those who wish to put down film so tend to be biased in favour of digital and there are other figures supplied by the other camp which wish to put down digital; it is best to ignore these extremes.

More scientific analysis I have seen suggest that B&W negative film has a much higher dynamic range than colour film and the best is 10-11 stops. However, Roger Clarke who analyses film and digital has the best DSLR's using Raw at around 11 stops. There are differences in their characteristics but you do have to process Raw files and make tonal adjustments to get the best in much the same way as you did in the darkroom.

So I am not suggesting that one or the other is best but whether using RAW on a good DSLR or high quality B&W negative film there will be little to choose between them in dynamic range.
With out sparking a digital vs film debate, I'm sure you'll agree that a good photographer can get the best of whatever medium they choose whether its 5-6 stops for slide film or 11 stops for a high end DSLR. The hardest bit is always to point the camera in the right direction, get the composition right and then set it up correctly for the subject matter.

Personally I shoot both digital and film. I currently shoot digital when photographing my son doing athletics but use film for landscapes or stuff that dosn't move much. My manual focus prime lenses coupled with some Kodak Ektar 100 / Fuji reala do produce some pleasing results. (I can't afford a high end DSLR)
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Old 17-06-2009, 11:13   #23 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

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With out sparking a digital vs film debate, I'm sure you'll agree that a good photographer can get the best of whatever medium they choose whether its 5-6 stops for slide film or 11 stops for a high end DSLR. The hardest bit is always to point the camera in the right direction, get the composition right and then set it up correctly for the subject matter.
Here here, well said, I think sometimes as enthusiastic as we all are about our photography we forget that the cameras film storage devices lenses and all the other gadgets are just tools.
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Old 17-06-2009, 12:37   #24 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

Very true. I often used to blame my "tool" but as I have learnt more and discovered, It is me who always has the control and the camera is as you said. Just a tool. A very fun one at that.

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Old 17-06-2009, 14:55   #25 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

Ahahahaha, my "tool" has got me into no end of trouble.
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Old 17-06-2009, 15:18   #26 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

It's OK if you don't overdo the exposure.
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Old 18-06-2009, 15:25   #27 (permalink)
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Re: Understanding Dynamic Range

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve_Turner View Post
With out sparking a digital vs film debate, I'm sure you'll agree that a good photographer can get the best of whatever medium they choose whether its 5-6 stops for slide film or 11 stops for a high end DSLR. The hardest bit is always to point the camera in the right direction, get the composition right and then set it up correctly for the subject matter.

Personally I shoot both digital and film. I currently shoot digital when photographing my son doing athletics but use film for landscapes or stuff that dosn't move much. My manual focus prime lenses coupled with some Kodak Ektar 100 / Fuji reala do produce some pleasing results. (I can't afford a high end DSLR)
I don't disagree with you. My effort goes on trying the identify the subject and capture a good and hopefully original interpretation. The rest is understanding and getting the best from the tools and equipment you have.

I was printing colour images in the darkroom back in 1979 when very few amateurs tackled colour pinting. Most of the time I used negative film for prints because of the poor dynamic range of slide film. When I started digital processing (long before I bought a DSLR), I often used to scan a slide twice (or more) at different exposures to try to extract the more detail.
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