Understanding Dynamic Range in Photography

The world of photography is not only limited to equipment. You also need to know more about photos so that your shots are more interesting. One thing that needs to be studied is the dynamic range. Dynamic range is very important in the world of photography because it is related to color. Dynamic range can shape the appearance of a photo, and its contrast, especially for high-contrast subjects.

Dynamic Range Definition

Dynamic range in photography can be defined as the range (from minimum to maximum) of the luminance (lighting) of a photographed scene. Dynamic range can also be related to the intensity range of the camera sensor in recording images, both in the shadow and highlight areas.

Maximum luminance is generally the area where the light source is located (e.g. Sun or sky). It can also be in areas with high reflective levels (e.g. Mirrors that reflect light). While the minimum luminance is a dark area or under shadow. The area usually has a low reflection (e.g. Rocks).

The human eye has a very wide dynamic range. Humans can distinguish between dark and light areas with amazing speed and accuracy. However, the camera sensor has a much narrower viewing angle. The camera sensor struggles to capture details of dark and light areas at the same time. Therefore, the camera cannot record the entire area perfectly. Due to under or over-exposure. This is the reason why photographing landscapes with different light contrasts can be very difficult.

Each photo object has a different dynamic range. A high dynamic range means that the difference in luminance between the maximum and minimum is very large. In general, landscape objects are scenes with a medium-high dynamic range. The sun and sky are generally very bright, while the foreground generally lacks light so it looks dark.

The average modern digital camera, both DSLR and Mirrorless, has a dynamic range between 12 and 14. A camera as expensive and sophisticated as the Nikon D850 only has 14.8 stop dynamic range. A high dynamic range, number does not guarantee accurate results. The screen of a camera with 14 stops of dynamic range is only able to display 10 stops.

Adorama divides 2 dynamic ranges that must be considered, namely the dynamic range of photo objects, and the ability of the dynamic range itself. As long as the dynamic range of the photo object does not exceed the camera’s capabilities, we can still produce photos with perfect exposure.


Sensors And Dynamic Range

Do you know why each camera has a different dynamic range? The difference in dynamic range is actually due to the pixel size. The bigger the pixels, the more light it can contain. Pixels can be thought of as a container of collected light. So, if the light is full it cannot accommodate more information. The size of the sensor plays a role, the bigger the sensor, the more pixels the sensor can accommodate.

Because the closer they are, the more they “interfere” with each other electronically, therefore the distance between pixels is very important. This is called noise and can reduce the dynamic range. When camera manufacturers decide on the dynamic range their sensors use, it’s usually measured by shooting in perfect conditions. Shooting in JPEG will reduce the dynamic range because the camera system will correct the contrast and saturation of the photo. Increasing the ISO will also reduce the dynamic range of the sensor.

How to View Dynamic Range

The dynamic range is represented by a histogram showing the brightness range of the subject from black on the left to white on the right. The width of the histogram chart represents the dynamic range of the camera sensor.

On the left side of the histogram represents the camera’s ability to “record” the dark parts and on the right the bright parts. If these two parts are not “cut off” then the exposure of the image can be said to be perfect.

The Exposure to The Right (ETR/ETTR) technique does not always work to ensure a balanced dynamic range. Chances are when you drag the histogram to the right, the dark will lighten up, but the light will get lighter and lose detail in that part.


How to Maximize Dynamic Range

The dynamic range capability is not always accurate, so in photography, we know the terms exposure bracketing and neutral density filter. Exposure bracketing is shooting (on average) three exposure values ​​ (light-medium-dark) which are then combined into a single frame after shooting. Currently, many cameras are able to do it without having to be ‘edited’ in the editing application.

Read also: Master Adobe Illustrator, Create Stunning Design Works!

This technique is often referred to and most of it has become a camera feature, namely HDR (High Dynamic Range). Dark and light exposure will be combined to produce the right exposure. While the neutral density (ND) filter is a photography accessory to make a photo object darker than the original. ND filters are also often used for long-exposure shooting techniques.

The development of camera technology is now able to produce images with ideal exposure, even though everything has to go through post-processing or editing.

Landscape Photography And Dynamic Range

The ability of a camera to capture detailed images in the dark and light ranges is very important. But it’s a different story in landscape photography. Dynamic range is an important feature in determining the selection of a camera for the needs of shooting nature and landscapes.

Dynamic range can have a big impact on the editing process. RAW format camera photos are able to display detailed results in the image after the highlight and shadows balancing process.

The HDR feature can be an alternative choice to reduce image editing, although not all cameras can be optimal. Of course, each brand has a different technology and approach. The need for a good dynamic range is because the image object in a wider landscape includes more space for highlights and shadows.

However, the sharpness and detail of the image in the shadows is not entirely a matter of dynamic range. But also, how to select the lens aperture in the exposure triangle to determine a wider depth of field.

This is an explanation of dynamic range in photography. If you are interested in learning more about the world of photography, take the Photo assistant course here!

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