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Engaging Photography: What is Dynamic Range and How to Use It

Ever wonder what dynamic range photography is? Dynamic range refers to the difference between the lightest and darkest parts of a photo. When you expose for one part, it can cause details in other areas to go overexposed or underexposed. This article will talk about dynamic range, show you how dynamic range affects your photos, and give some tips on how to use dynamic range in your own photography!

Dynamic Range Photography Explained

Dynamic range is the difference between the darkest and lightest parts of a photo.

When you expose for one part, it can cause details in other areas to go overexposed or underexposed.

For example: if shooting a photograph where there are both bright white clouds above and dark green trees below, dynamic range will come into play.

If your dynamic range is too narrow, the details in both will be lost.

How Dynamic Range Is Used In Photography

Dynamic range can be used to add emphasis and interest to your photos.

For example: If you want the viewer’s eyes to focus on a certain part of the image, dynamic range is great for that!

You can also use dynamic range in photography to draw attention (for dramatic effect).

If you shoot with enough dynamic range and expose parts of an image properly, it will look like two separate images were captured instead of one photo.

Having more dynamic range allows you to capture details in both bright areas as well as dark ones without sacrificing detail or lighting on either end (although some lightening/darkening happens naturally when using this technique). This makes dynamic range very helpful for landscape photographers where there are dynamic (and contrasting) elements in the photo.

When to Use Dynamic Range Photography?

Dynamic range is a great choice for landscape photographers!

It’s also useful if there are contrasting light and dark parts of a scene since dynamic range allows you to capture them both without losing detail on either end. This makes dynamic range particularly good for outdoor photos with bright skies as well as dark shadows (like tree trunks). It’s not always necessary to use dynamic range in photography – many times it could even look distracting or unnatural depending on your composition and motives behind taking the photo. Think about what you want out of your picture before deciding whether or not dynamic range will help achieve those goals . I recommend practicing this skill using manual mode on your camera because it gives you more control over exposures than automatic modes would.

Differences In Dynamic Range

There are two different types of dynamic ranges that are often used in photography, which we’ll cover below:

High Dynamic Range (HDR)

This type of dynamic range is when you use multiple different exposures to capture all dynamic ranges in a scene.

This allows for the most detail possible, but it’s not always practical or desired since it can take some time and effort.

On top of that, HDR photos may come out looking over-processed if they aren’t done properly . For these reasons, HDR has become one of those “love them or hate them” styles of photography. I personally don’t do much HDR because I think there are better ways to produce dynamic range photos (and avoid processing issues). This style of dynamic range requires more equipment/software.

Low Dynamic Range (LDR)

This dynamic range is when you expose for one part of a scene and sacrifice detail in other parts.

It’s the most common type of dynamic range that can be used with camera settings (and it’s easy to use).

However, this style tends to lack drama and not look as interesting or professional compared to HDR photos. I personally like using LDR because it’s more straightforward than processing multiple exposures through software. It also doesn’t require any special equipment besides your camera! Low dynamic range photography looks very natural since no extra work has been done on exposure after capture. In order to create low dynamic ranges, keep an eye on your histogram while shooting – if there are gaps between data on the histogram, it means you have dynamic range that can be used.

Differences In Light For Dynamic Ranges

In terms of light, there are two differences: illuminance and reflectivity.


In some cases, like in studio portraiture, photographers need more precise lighting measurements. They want to measure the illuminance of the light that strikes the subject rather than the reflected light. In those situations, photographers utilize handheld light meters to quantify the lighting and then manually alter their cameras’ exposure settings.


Reflectivity is the measurement of light that bounces off objects or individuals in a scene. In most cases, choosing exposure settings based on reflectivity works well, especially if the environment has a low dynamic range. Consider the sunny woods example again. Your camera will try to balance the hotspot regions with a lot of reflected light with the shady areas with little reflection since to those high-contrast photo circumstances. Unless you instruct the camera how to handle its exposure problems, you’ll be stuck with under- and overexposure.

How Your Histogram Affects Dynamic Ranges

The dynamic range of a scene is determined by the contrast between light and dark regions. The histogram reflects that dynamic range, which means it’s used to measure how much data there are in both shadowed areas as well as highlight parts of your photo.

If you’re shooting outside on an overcast day, for example , then there will be little difference between the highlights and shadows because everything has similar reflectivity values (due to less overhead lighting). As a result, you’ll have one fewer step on your dynamic-range scale since no part of the scene contains very bright or too dark spots . On sunny days with lots of contrast however, dynamic ranges can cover five steps or more depending upon how many different shades exist within the frame.

You can tell dynamic ranges in a scene by looking at the histogram.

The further to either end of the axis you see data, that means there’s more information present for those parts of your image. In this case, dynamic range is determined from black on one side and white on another – any pictures with lots of contrast will have high dynamic-range values because they contain both shadowed areas as well as bright spots . Basically , anything above what photographers refer to as “middle gray” (around 3250) shows an increase in dynamic range while below it reveals less dynamic range than normal/usual. For landscape photography especially, it’s important to look at where these changes occur within the frame since different regions will require different exposure settings.

Exposure Settings For Dynamic Range Photography

Below we’ll cover the different exposure settings you should consider for dynamic range photography.

Metering Modes

The first step is to pick a metering mode that allows you to see where dynamic ranges take place in your frame. The “multi-segment” option on most DSLRs works well for this purpose, but photographers willing to work with spot or center-weighted measurements should consider those as well since they can pinpoint important spots within the scene more accurately. In general though , it’s best not to use matrix/evaluative measurement modes because dynamic range scenes aren’t something cameras handle very well even when using multi-area measures unless there isn’t much contrast between light and dark areas . If possible , try avoiding automatic exposure options altogether because dynamic ranges are unusual situations for any camera – manual controls give you better results overall by allowing for more fine-tuned measurements.

Center-weight Metering

Center-weight metering is a dynamic range method that uses the brightest portion of your photo to determine exposure settings. In most cases, this means you’ll get overexposure in bright parts and underexposure for dark ones since it’s difficult for cameras to balance dynamic ranges on their own . As a result , make sure you introduce additional brightness into these areas through either filters or careful dodging/burning practices before using center-weighted measurements.

Spot Metering

Spot meters are similar to center-weights except they use only one small area rather than assessing all portions of your scene equally (which can lead to errors from other regions). This makes spot metering very useful if there isn’t too much contrast between light and shadow within the frame – dynamic ranges that only have a few bright/dark spots will be easier to measure using this method.

What Can You Do to Improve Dynamic Range Photography?

Luckily dynamic range is something that can be improved over time and with practice! There are a few things you can do if dynamic range seems to be an issue:

When photographing landscapes, choose your exposure carefully so at least one part of the scene has detail.

If there’s too much dynamic range between light and dark parts of a picture, try either exposing for darker areas or lighter ones, not both together . This will prevent loss of details from overexposed/underexposed areas. I recommend practicing this skill using manual mode on your camera because it gives you more control over exposures than automatic modes would.

How To Use Dynamic Range In Your Photos

Now that we’ve explored the main considerations you need to factor in for incorporating dynamic ranges in your photos, let’s walk through how to shoot dynamic range photography.

Expose For The Highlights

This is the most important dynamic range tip since it’s almost always better to overexpose your pictures when there are bright spots involved. This will make sure these areas don’t lose detail in post-processing while also ensuring that other parts of your image, including shadows and darker regions, aren’t underexposed .

Expose For The Shadows

After you’ve dealt with highlights using exposure compensation or other methods , you can determine an accurate dynamic range for the rest of your frame by exposing for shadow details – meaning not letting them turn out too dark while still avoiding blown-out highlight problems . It may take a few tries before you get this right but once mastered dynamic range photography becomes much easier!

Avoid Clipping At All Costs

Dynamic range is essentially the difference in exposure values between highlights and shadows, meaning that if you can’t bring back details from both ends of dynamic ranges then your image doesn’t have much dynamic range to begin with. As a result , it’s important to avoid clipping at all costs when exposing for dynamic ranges – whether this means avoiding overexposure or underexposure depends on which end of the scene has less information .

Pay Attention To Light And Composition

When shooting dynamic range photos, pay attention not only to light but composition as well since you’ll need to take multiple exposures for each frame (one over/underexposed) instead of just one. This may slow down your pace so plan by bringing along spare batteries or memory cards if necessary!

Using an ND Filter

When dynamic range scenes are too dark to expose for with any of the above methods, you’ll need to use an ND filter – they’re essentially sunglasses for your camera that allow less light in so you can have longer exposure times. Just make sure there’s enough ambient lighting available when using this method since it won’t work if there isn’t anything besides dynamic ranges.

Avoiding Lens Flare With An ND Filter

Lens flares occur when direct sunlight hits a lens at certain angles or intensities which results in additional contrast and decreased dynamic range between bright regions (usually) and shadows/blacks. As a result , most photographers avoid them by either shading their lenses from outside lights or using an ND filter but aware that these aren’t foolproof methods and might not work all of the time.

Using High Dynamic Ranges (HDR)

Instead of bringing dynamic ranges together as you do in standard dynamic range photography, high dynamic range (HDR) photos try to expose for all parts of a frame evenly. This means that top-notch HDR images will have perfect exposure throughout without any clipping whatsoever which takes time and practice to capture properly.


So there you have it – dynamic range photography explained! I hope this helped answer questions about dynamic ranges and how to use them in your photos.