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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
The general rule always has been that it's best to use any filter on your camera to attempt to get as much as you can in your original RAW image file rather than add or create something in post-capture editing. On some occasions, if you don't capture certain highlights or details in your original file, it may take quite a bit of time to pull them back using Photoshop or other software methods—and on many occasions, the final file may not look optimal or as realistic as if you caught it in-camera. So, for fast-moving subjects where other techniques like HDR may create issues, an on-lens grad ND could be applied.

Landscapes with high contrast are impossible to capture in one single image without losing some detail. As most nature photographers can attest to, when it comes to metering, skies often need less exposure than the land below them—anywhere from one to three stops of light depending on the circumstances, time of day and weather conditions. These filters "fix" that inability through a one-, two-, or three-stop grad ND adjustment. The best ones are square with a filter holder to slide up and down depending on where you want the ND to start because you don't always want the ND line to start exactly in the center of the frame.

Put one of these filters to use in the right situation, and it's the difference between a lousy-looking exposure without the filter and an amazing landscape image when the filter is applied (Fig. 5a without a filter, Fig. 5b with a 3-stop grad ND, both exposed at 1⁄4 sec. at ƒ/22 using ISO 100). Many workshop students, when viewing my images, would comment on how they could never get a shot like that—yet it was mostly due to the application of my grad ND filter.

HDR Vs. Grad NDs
An advanced technique of combining multiple-bracketed exposures to retain all detail in a high-contrast scene (15 to 20 stops of light), HDR imagery changed the landscape of exposure, never seen with such accuracy in the nearly 200 years of photography. HDR Efex Pro 2, HDRsoft Photomatix, Photoshop's HDR Pro and other programs have given fans of HDR imagery tools that are easier to use to produce these amazing feats of exposure "stretchability."


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