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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Full Dynamic Range Photography

How to capture the range of tones, from dark shadows to bright highlights, with traditional filters and HDR software

This Article Features Photo Zoom
Similar to on-lens grad NDs, you can also rotate ACR's filter, tilting the line of ND delineation. But digital takes it farther with the precise exposure control up to 5/100th of a stop, from 0, where no change is applied, to -4 or +4 stops, if necessary—rarely used to those degrees, but nice to have the existing option.

Also resembling on-lens grad ND filters, you can determine where you start and stop the line of ND delineation by dragging the start-stop lines in ACR. However, in ACR, you also can expand or compact the length of the ND gradation and that, too, offers the precise control a physical filter can't provide.

Other software manufacturers also have implemented grad filters into their programs. Nik Software's HDR Efex Pro 2 has full 32-bit depth with its built-in Graduated Neutral Density control, applying it to the merged HDR image, providing detailed control for a natural effect, especially on images with a strong horizon line. The other Nik plug-ins such as Color Efex Pro 4 and Silver Efex Pro 2 also have versions of grad NDs, yet as good as any digital grad ND may be, recovering detail from an overexposed area is limited. Apple's Aperture 3 doesn't offer a graduated filter, and some prefer the dodge and burn tools to "paint" areas needing lightening or darkening, but third-party plug-ins like Nik Software's products easily can be imported into Aperture. In fact, when I loaded Nik Software's suite of plug-ins, a menu option allowed me to import them into Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture during the installation.

In HDR Efex Pro 2, in a section entitled "Finishing," the Graduated Neutral Density sliders offer Upper Tonality (the upper areas of the composition), Lower Tonality (the lower section in the image), plus Blend, Vertical Shift and Rotation, once again giving you ultimate grad ND tweak control of your photograph.

When Should You Use Your On-Lens Grad ND Filters?
Some new to outdoor photography falsely assume techniques like grad ND filters or HDR imagery can be used virtually anytime. That's just not true. The goal is to choose the appropriate tool for the given situation. Light and contrast play critical roles in the decision to add a filter or create an HDR; so does exposure. Without the proper knowledge of utilizing the right light or metering the scene well, you can blow both processes.


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