Dynamic range is simply the variation between the lightest and darkest areas of any photo. It tends to be an obsessive topic for too many photographers. They spend too much time being overly concerned with how to manipulate or correct highlights and shadows. They think the solution can only be found in the latest digital camera, printing paper or whiz-bang accessory.
The general solution for highlights that bloom into a washed-out white or shadows that lose all their details in total blackness is to learn how to expose the subjects of your photos properly within the dynamic range of your camera.
Digital photography technology has made this much easier than the old film days. You review the image you’ve shot, in the camera, and make any adjustments. In most cases, changing your exposure settings and/or utilizing various light sources, such as a flash, studio lights or the sun off a reflector, will allow you to take pictures with highlights and shadows that still reveal details. You’ll find many articles at PhotographyTalk.com that will help you improve your exposure and lighting skills. Start with these:
Designing a digital camera with a wider dynamic range isn’t the answer. To do so would require a camera with lower contrast and that leads to many nearly even gray tones, making your photos look flat and lifeless. Since knowledgeable, experienced photographers want contrast built into their cameras that give their photos more definition, dimension and life, they don’t mind the narrower dynamic range of most of today’s digital cameras. They know the best photos are created with dull lighting; the camera and editing add the contrast.
Try these tips for specific contrast and light conditions.
Neither a camera with a wider dynamic range nor high-dynamic range (HDR) photography will help you take indoor photos and show interior details, with a window in the picture. The solution is to add more light from artificial sources. You can balance the light coming through the window with a flash or studio lights or overwhelm and essentially eliminate the window light with even more artificial light.
Another professional solution is to cover the interior of the windows with a photo gel that acts like a light filter. Use a different color of gel to match the white balance of your photo with your indoor lighting.
Bright Skies with Dark Foregrounds
In the low-light conditions of sunrise, sunset or an extremely cloudy day, your flash unit obviously won’t cast light on a distant object, such as a landscape, a boat on a lake, etc. Try a graduated neutral-density (ND) filter. The round piece of glass is set in a filter frame, and the top half is gray and the bottom half is clear. You’ll find ND filters in many sizes and strengths to attach to the end of your lens.
An ND filter is meant for extreme conditions, such as shooting towards a sunset. You won’t want to use a ND filter during strong light, such as noon on a sunny day. It would make your photos look strange: the ground would be brighter than the sky.
Once you understand dynamic range, you can essentially disregard it, and rely on your digital photography skills to light and expose your picture’s subject correctly.