Better than Film: Fix Lighting Contrast in the Digital Darkroom

by Lewis Kemper

Combining Exposures
Combining Exposures
© Lewis Kemper
All Rights Reserved
This article is excerpted from Lewis Kemper's course: Photographer's Toolbox for Photoshop: Toolbox #1 - Exposure and Color Corrections

Last week, in Lesson 3, we worked with Adjustment Layers and Blend modes to control overexposure, underexposure, and burning and dodging. Sometimes these methods are not enough to preserve a good image. Sometimes we need to take action before we even get our images into the digital darkroom.

Why do photographers think that film is so great? After all, film can not get close to recording the brightness range of light that the human eye can perceive. This holds true to digital sensors as well. While some high-end sensors can record more tonal information than film, they still cannot record all the tonal variations the eye can see. The human eye can perceive a contrast ratio of 800:1; the best slide films, 30:1; and the best digital sensors, 40:1.

As any photographer can attest, if you have a contrasty scene you must either expose for the highlight or the shadows, but the film will not record detail in both ends of the brightness range. Many chrome (slide film) users carry negative film to use under those contrasty situations.

But even if you take that route, what do you do when you come across that contrasty scene and you have your chrome film in the camera or know your digital sensor will not be able to capture the full range? Do you quickly rewind the film and replace it with negative film? Do you not shoot the digital exposure?

I have another solution for you … Multi Image Capture. With Multi Image Capture, take two or even three exposures of the scene, shooting each exposure to record a different range of the light, then combine the images in your digital darkroom to create a single image containing the full tonal range of the scene.

Just as you have utilized bracketing exposure in conventional shooting, now - instead of just picking the shot that is the best compromise - you can create in the digital darkroom, far beyond the limitations of the conventional darkroom, an image that completely captures the reality you saw.

This article is excerpted from Lewis Kemper's course:
Photographer's Toolbox for Photoshop: Toolbox #1 - Exposure and Color Corrections

About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Lewis Kemper
Photography Instructor: Lewis KemperLewis Kemper specializes in nature and wildlife photography, and has taught over 100 workshops and classes on landscape photography and/or the digital darkroom.

He is a contributing editor to Outdoor Photographer and PC Photo magazines.

His work is represented worldwide by Getty Images, Index Stock Imagery, Stock Connection, AFLO Japan and DRK Photo. Lewis's computer-enhanced images have been used in advertisements, cards, bookmarks and calendars. He is the photographer of Ancient Ancestors of the Southwest, published in 1996.

He also runs a custom digital printing service to create fine art prints for photographers.

Lewis has been honored to be included into Canon’s Explorers of Light program, which recognizes 78 of the country’s most influential photographers.