BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: All About Photography : Photographic Field Techniques : Exposure Settings

Photography Question 
Mike J. Caudle
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/10/2007

Exposure Problem?

I can come up with the proper exposure I want with my new camera, the Rebel XTi. Let's say I'm taking pictures of a barn, with clouds in the sky as the background. With my kit lens zoomed all the way out, it creates an image with the clouds having an all-right color/exposure ... however, the barn is dark! When I move the exposure stop up +1, the barn becomes visible, but the clouds/sky are way overexposed. How can I get around this?

To love this question, log in above
5/24/2007 6:29:17 AM

Jon Close
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/18/2000
  The dynamic range that can be recorded in a single exposure is limited. The difference in brightness between the sky and the barn is too great. With film, the typical solution is to use a graduated neutral density filter (dark at top, clear at bottom) that lessens the difference between the bright sky and the dim foreground. This also works with digital.
Additionally, there are several techniques for achieving High Dynamic Range (HDR) in digital. The digital Raw file retains more dynamic range than the in-camera JPEG files, so a better result can be obtained in post-processing with a powerful editing program. Alternatively, it is relatively simple to take several shots (one exposed for the sky, others exposed for the dimmer subjects) and combine them into a single image.

To love this comment, log in above
5/24/2007 8:41:28 AM

Mike J. Caudle
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/10/2007
  Thanks for the reply. Do most images require that much work outside of taking the picture? I have Photoshop CS2, so editing wont be a problem. However, right now I only have a 1 gig card, so RAW owns me.

To love this comment, log in above
5/24/2007 8:51:43 AM

David A. Bliss   Mike, the quick answer is yes. Taking the picture is only the capture of the moment. Creating artwork, instead of a "snapshot," requires a lot of steps and knowledge. Film or digital, it doesn't matter. The end results are the same, but can be acheived in different ways. I don't see it as any different than any other artisan skill. Just because someone put paint on a canvas doesn't make them a painter or their final product art. Sawing wood doesn't make someone a carpenter. It takes experience and technical knowledge to achieve artistic results.

This is in no way directed as an attack on you. Honestly, I didn't look at your gallery. It is simply a response to your question about images requiring that much work. Anybody can point a camera at something and take a picture. True artists control their tools and use their knowledge of their equipment, light, framing, etc... to create beautiful images.

To love this comment, log in above
5/24/2007 9:11:20 AM

Mike J. Caudle
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/10/2007
  Haha, no offense taken. Im soaking up all this knowledge. For some reason I always looked at someone who used Photoshop to be an amatuer photographer. But I guess Photoshop is the equivalent 'digital darkroom'.

To love this comment, log in above
5/24/2007 9:15:07 AM

David A. Bliss   When shooting digital, there will always be some processing involved. If you have used on-camera filters (GND and/or polarizer, for example) and have the perfect exposure, there very well might be only minor processing, but there will always be a little. Remember, even if you shoot jpeg, there is processing, only it is done in the camera instead of PS. Like any other tool, PS can be used to turn a great initial shot into a beautiful image, or it can be used as a crutch to try and cover up flaws in the original shot.

To love this comment, log in above
5/24/2007 10:10:43 AM

Hi Mike,

"How can I get around this?"

Like Jon said, it's a dynamic range problem.

You can get around that with HDRI photography:
You WILL need a tripod, though!

Have fun!

To love this comment, log in above
5/24/2007 10:26:50 AM

Mike J. Caudle
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/10/2007
  Wow, that is amazing. Now I get to have even more fun with my camera. Thanks guys.

To love this comment, log in above
5/24/2007 10:37:19 AM

Ken Smith
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/11/2005
Contact Ken
Ken's Gallery
  You can also use a graduated neutral density filter cut back the light of the sky. Your camera's automatic sensor sees the "bright" sky and adjusts accordingly, e.g., a darker barn. Or, you compensate for the barn's exposure, and the sky is washed out. This is the same challenge for sunrise/sunset pictures. The graduated ND filter will help balance exposure.

To love this comment, log in above
5/24/2007 1:48:51 PM

Mike Rubin
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/15/2004
  This type of shot will require extra time either setting up a GND filter in the field or extra time in front of a PC.
Both ways require the use of a tripod.
I choose to use the filters and spend the time outdoors rather than in front of a PC/
The question "Is one way better than the other?" is like the endless Raw vs Jpeg debate. If you are happy with your choice,that is all that really matters.

To love this comment, log in above
5/24/2007 8:09:58 PM

David A. Bliss   Here are a couple of links on GND filters.

To love this comment, log in above
5/25/2007 8:44:12 AM

Ariel Lepor
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/8/2005
  The problem of dynamic range is with film and digital, but mostly digital. The camera can only see 8 bits of color depth, and the eye can see much more.

GND filters will not always work, unless the horizon is more or less flat. With less uniform pictures, you will need to create an HDR image using Photoshop, Helicon Filter, (Picasa if you are careful to align the shots before-hand) or another program. What you do is set up on a tripod, expose one shot for the dark, one for mid-tones, and one for the sky. Then the program you use can combine the shots into one picture with more brightness information. Adjustments to brightness after combining the pictures can results in a shot close to what the human eye sees.

ScrattyPhotography Blog

To love this comment, log in above
5/28/2007 5:00:30 PM

Helena Ruffin
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/5/2005
  So glad to see this thread. I just returned from Normandy, france, and spent upwards of 20 hours in my "digital darkroom". Kicking myself because I didn't have the GND filters.
Thanks so much for the reminders.
Mike, this is a universal challenge.

To love this comment, log in above
5/30/2007 7:57:45 AM

Log in to respond or ask your own question.