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Tips & Tricks

How We Shot It: Maximizing Dynamic Range On A Cloudy Day

By Pye Jirsa on April 17th 2017

Cloudy days are arguably some of the best conditions to work under as a photographer. With minimal sunlight we have the ability to maximize dynamic range in scenes that would otherwise require an ND filter or off-camera flash in order to retain full detail.

The scene

During this particular engagement session we were surrounded by gloomy clouds but we still had an apparent light direction. Seeing the scene and understanding the full capabilities of the SLRL Preset System is what inspired us to underexpose the scene and photograph to maximize the dynamic range.  Here are the three steps we took to create this shot:

1. dial-in exposure using histogram

By jumping into your camera’s  Live View you can view the histogram which will help you decipher whether or not you are retaining the highlights and shadows in your scene. Here, we were aiming to catch the action of the wave while still preserving the detail in our shadows. Adjust your shutter speed and aperture accordingly while using the lowest native ISO possible to retain all of the available detail and information in the image.

To learn more on how to read your camera’s histogram check out this video!

2. enable highlight alert

If your image looks a bit dark, there is nothing to be alarmed about. You want to preserve as much detail in the shadows and highlights as possible, and underexposing typically allows us to have more wiggle room once we start post processing the image.

In order to double check your exposure, enable your Highlight Alert function to see which portions of your image are overexposed. Once you see the areas, you can determine whether or not it is worth it to lose detail in those areas and adjust accordingly.

[REWIND: single shot hdr | getting the most out of your camera]

3. Pull up the shadows in post

The true test of a camera’s dynamic range is in post production. How much can you truly pull out of a photo and still retain the highlights and shadows without heavy grain or bright spots?

The final image was actually created with one-simple click in Lightroom using HDR Natural Color preset from the SLRL Preset system. By getting our settings right in camera we were able to preserve the detail and action in the photo, making our work in post effortless.

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About

Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

Follow my updates on Facebook and my latest work on Instagram both under username @pyejirsa.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ken Yee

    Doesn’t this depend on how well your camera handles shadow noise?
    E.g., it’ll work great on the new Sony APS-C or FF sensors, but won’t work as well on Canon or m4/3 sensors?

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    • Shivani Reddy

      Absolutely, but the lesson to take home here is not to rely on post-production to get you to your final result. Understanding your camera’s capabilities and how much you can push it before post production is really what will get you the shot you want. 

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