A while back I wrote about how High ISO Has Revolutionized Photography.
With the release of the Sony Alpha 7 II and other high ISO low light DSLR champs like the Nikon D810 – and now that moonlight is a viable light source, I think its safe to say that the realm of high ISO, low light photography has reached the mainstream.
That leaves dynamic range as the final frontier.
I was recently camping with my family at Bruce Peninsula National Park when I happened to be in a situation where I was photographing my son exploring the grotto – a natural limestone cave on the shore of Georgian Bay – at sunset.
After reviewing the photos in Lightroom, I realized that it is the crazy awesome dynamic range of the Nikon D800 that made these images even possible.
In this article, I will explain how I captured these photos and how I stretched the dynamic range with Lightroom – no HDR or multiple frames required.
Sometimes It Is The Camera
We all know that its the photographer and not the camera that creates the image.
But sometimes it really is the camera that makes a certain image possible.
There are very few cameras on the market today that have the dynamic range available with the Nikon D800 / Nikon D810 – which is a big part of why I am such a fan of these cameras.
But to put it simply – this is another example of a photograph that is impossible to create with an iPhone (for more examples, see “Camera Techniques You Can’t Do With An iPhone”).
What About HDR?
Yes, what about HDR?
You mean that thing photographers were doing to fake dynamic range back in 2010?
Now, I’ll admit that I dabbled in HDR back in its heyday – and I’m as big a fan of an over-processed candy floss HDR monstrosity as the next Flickr viewer – but I’m also lazy, and busy.
Taking 5 or 7 photos on site, uploading and keeping track of stacks of the same image, then merging, tone mapping and all that work in post – its all just a huge pain in the ass.
HDR was an interesting stop-gap measure for artificially increasing dynamic range – but I want what I can see with my eyes – in camera – in one frame.
Photographing The Inside Of A Cave And A Sunset In One Frame
These photos were taken with a Nikon D800 and a Nikon 20mm f/1.8 lens.
The camera settings were ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/125 second (or roughly around that range).
When you’re shooting out from the mouth of a cave, directly into a sunset – or in other words from a very dark area into a very bright area – you traditionally had two choices:
1. Expose for the interior of the cave – which will completely blow out the bright background to white.
2. Expose for the bright background – which would turn the interior of the cave and my subject into a completely black silhouette.
However, knowing the dynamic range possible with the D800, I decided to bat for average and set my exposure somewhere in the middle.
Here is an image directly out of camera (before) and the same image processed with Lightroom (after).
Post Processing With Lightroom
As you can see, there is still quite a bit of post processing required to recover the shadows and highlights – but it is still way easier to do with a single frame in Lightroom than it is to combine multiple exposures in an HDR photo.
Here is the Lightroom recipe I used for these images…
In the Lens Corrections panel:
- Enable Profile Correction – Lens Profile Nikon AF-S Nikkor 20mm f/1.8 G
In the Basic panel:
- White balance: Temperature and Tint to taste
- Exposure +1
- Highlights -65
- Shadows +46
- Whites +34
- Blacks -3
- Clarity +10
In the HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) panel:
Note: For this image I found that adjusting the saturation of individual colors in the water and sunset was more effective than a global vibrance / saturation adjustment.
- Red +33
- Orange +92
- Yellow +44
- Aqua +74
- Blue +56
In the Detail panel:
- Because of the aggressive shadow recovery, some noise reduction was required – which also meant that additional sharpening was required.
- Sharpening 56 with a 98 Mask
- Noise Reduction – Luminance 27
There is a gradient from the left with a -1.0 exposure setting and I used an adjustment brush with a temperature setting of 41 to warm up the rocks in the background.
What Do You Think?
Now obviously the Nikon D800 / D810 still has nowhere near the dynamic range performance of the human eye (or medium format bodies or film either for that matter), but we’re getting there – its just a matter of time.
Is dynamic range the final frontier for camera manufacturers?
Do you still use HDR techniques by combining multiple exposures – or is this more work than its worth?
Is the dynamic range of modern DSLRs getting close to what we used to enjoy with film?
Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts!