Expose for the Highlights

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Capturing Dynamic Range

You don't take a photograph, you make it.
Ansel Adams

My photography class students learn to "expose for the highlights”. Why is that important to know? Keep reading.

The human eye can see details in the bright area of a scene as well as in the shadows. We call that dynamic range.

When I stood inside the Page Methodist Church in Aberdeen, North Carolina while on a photo walk, my pupils and brain worked together to adjust to the bright light coming thru the stained glass, while still able to see details in the shadows as my eyes moved around. Even the newest cameras are not that sensitive, yet. So, we need to use a technique to bring the details to our image.

The next image is the original shot by exposing for the light coming thru the stained glass. I took the exposure by pointing the meter at the stained glass, holding down the Exposure Lock button, and recomposing before tripping the shutter.

Since the original was shot in RAW at ISO 100, I was able to bring out the details in the shadows using Lightroom. Not a LifghtRoom user, try the free app from Google called SnapSeed. If I did not use this technique, the camera could have taken an average meter reading - making the light coming thru the stained glass pure white without any detail. We called that blown out.

The first image was more like my eye saw the inside of the church that day. Because even the best cameras cannot capture as much dynamic range, the difference between light and dark, we as photographers need to use methods like this to bring the beauty in the scene.

Don’t use this technique for very photo, just the ones with bright light and dark shadows to get the proper exposure. How can you tell when to expose for the highlights? Hint: Histogram and The Blinkies. My editor told me to but that in there to add suspense and get you to skip to that page.

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