Another email I received this week was from Mark Jones. Mark writes:
I would like some advice on the attached picture. I tried to photograph my band playing a gig in a pub and the light was shining through the window meaning the drummer/guitarist was in almost complete dark, how?why? What should i have had the camera set to?
This unfortunate situation happens because the camera can’t see as well as our human eyes can. We would look at this scene in a pub and would be able to make out both the band, and the scene outside. A camera can’t do as well.
Scenes like the band photo, and the photo of the child to the right have what is called a high dynamic range. That is, they have bright sunlight and dark shadows. It is impossible with current technology to have both parts of the photo correctly exposed.
While you can’t eliminate the problem entirely, there are a couple of choices you can make to minimze the problem.
Recompose The Photo
This is probably the simplest solution. When taking a photo of a scene with very bright and very dark parts, move your camera to eliminate one of the extremes. In the case of the band, I would have either closed the curtains for the shot, or recomposed completely and photographed from the window looking at the band, and the crowd behind.
Use Exposure Lock
If you can’t recompose the photograph, instead tell the camera what part of the image you would like to see. The rest of the photo will be either over or under exposed (too bright or too dark) but at least you will see your subject. You can dothis by placing the center of the image at your subject; half depressing the shutter to lock the focus and exposure; move the camera to re-compose the image; and fully depressing the shutter.
In the band image, the camera chose to correctly expose the scene outside, but even if the band member had been correctly exposed, the window would have ended up being over exposed and you would just have seen white.
Some cameras have an option called ‘spot metering’ to set the part of the image you’d like to be correctly exposed. If your camera has this setting, enable it before using the technique above.
Use Fill In Flash
If your scene has a sunny background, but your subject is in the shade (or has a hat on), turn on the flash (as I explained way back in tip number 9 – Using Flash During The Day). I know it seems wrong but it really does work! By using the flash, your subject will look as bright as the background. This would have worked well for the child shot above.
High Dynamic Range Imaging
This technique is not for the faintof hearted. It requires a subject that does not move; a good camera with the capability to set the exposure and output RAW images. A tripod and image editing software like Photoshop CS3 are also needed.
High Dynamic Range Imaging (or HDR for short) is a technique for placing both very dark and very light areas in the same photo. It requires you to take a number of photographs of thesame scene – each with a different exposure. First take the shot using the camera’s recommended settings. Then, in manual mode and keeping the aperture at the same value as the first shot, take a sequence of shots – each shot having a different shutter speed (above and below the original). You’ll have 5-9 shots of the same scene all in different exposures.
Now import these into your favorite paint program. I use Photoshop, but you can as easily use a cheaper program designed specifically for HDR photos like Photomatix. Follow the HDR directions and the paint program will merge these images into one great looking shot!
Use a Filter
If your scene is of a brightsky and a dark ground (for instance at sunset, or on a cloudy day), you can use a graduated neutral density filter. This filter cuts out someof the light from one part of the photo (the sky). This will correctly expose the ground and the sky without needing to use HDR. These filterscan be complex to setup, so I don’t usually recommend them for beginners.
Fix The Original Photo in an Image Editing Program
Finally, if you can’t take another shot at the same location, you can fix the original image by changing the levels using a paint program. This works best when your subject is darker than the rest of the photo (because cameras lose detail in over-bright areas). I’ve brightened the band member in the top image using this technique and while it looks okay in thissmall shot, this technique can tend to amplify any noise in the image. The darker the subject, the harder time you will have fixing the image.
I discuss exactly how to use this technique in lesson 2 of my free Image Editing Secrets course. I have a tutorial for Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Paint Shop Pro and the free Google Picassa.