While starting out in photography I owned nothing but Canon cameras. I owned the Canon 5d Mk1 and moved way through the series. It all started with the Canon 5D Mark 2, where I would religiously bracket at least three images for every scene. The results I got with my Canon when I just shot a single exposure for the scene was often not enough coverage in terms of tonal range. What was happening was that I would end up either blowing highlights or blocking the shadows.
It was the general consensus that several years ago to capture dynamic range in any photography scene you needed to take several photos. This would range from-3 under exposure to +3 overexposure. I would bracket at 1-stop exposures so that I included the wide spectrum of tonal values in the scene. At the time, several third-party applications were coming out as well as Photoshop that would be capable of merging several images into a single Image. When arrival of these applications, HDR (high dynamic range) became the big thing. It was really fascinating to capture so many images and merge all of them into a single file. The results for the time we’re Incredible and people started to compare it to medium format photography. But like a lot of things in photography, HDR went too far and quickly received a bad name.
So I chose to explore a few applications and found one called exposure fusion within a program called Photomatix Pro which merged all images together to include all the dynamic range and yet receive realistic result. I was very happy with the results once I learned to fine tune the application but nevertheless took a lot of time to post process images in HDR.
I realized that I was spending a good portion of time now post processing and lot less time in the field shooting so I was always looking for a better solution.
A few years had passed and lots of people still were involved heavily with HDR even though cameras were getting better and better. Digital cameras were now getting behind the movement of more megapixels. The change came for me when Nikon decided to put out a D800 at 36 megapixels. I waited and waited for Canon to follow suit but it never happened. At this time I chose to make the move over to Nikon from Canon because the Nikon D800 had been receiving rave reviews. For my business this was perfect. I could now make larger prints and have the option to crop within the image. This cropping would allow me to eliminate things from the image and still have enough resolution in the image to print large.
In the beginning, the transition was hard and slow moving from Canon to Nikon but eventually it was a saving grace. One of the most unexpected benefits was the dynamic range of the Nikon D800. I immediately noticed that I was capturing the whole scene in terms of tonal range in a single file. For a while I thought this might be a mistake. But exposure after exposure I was able to post process the images from the single file.
As time went on, I began to grow more confident in being able to take a single exposure. Eventually I was not even bracketing as a backup except for situations of extreme contrast. I even noticed I was able to under expose the image and then bring out the shadows in post-processing. With the Canon if I had tried to bring out the shadows I would always have noise that would show throughout the image. This was not the case with the Nikon, which was pretty amazing to see and still is nice to demonstrate to people who shoot Canon.
Shooting one single exposure allows you really to focus on the composition and light. It has also had the added benefit of really allowing me to get into the scene and not worry whether I have everything I need in terms of exposure.
I now own the Nikon D810, which is even better and such an amazing camera when it comes to controlling highlights and avoiding blocked shadows in a single exposure. I shoot freely in low light situations and don’t worry about covering the tonal range of a scene.
When it comes to the histogram on the Nikon D810 I am often asked one should look for when shooting one exposure. Through trial and error I have found excellent results with the histogram if I aim to most of the data and information just to the left of the middle, which would mean I slightly underexpose the image. I know this goes against everything we have been taught from before with exposing to the right, but the Nikon D810 is a revolution and is changing the game. Aiming to have my information on my histogram slightly to the left I do need to make sure I don’t have any clipped highlights as the Nikon is much better at shadows then it is with clipped highlights. So when focusing on a landscape scene I generally will set the exposure on my foreground and go about a half stop to one stop under while making sure I don’t blow the highlights in the sky. I always like to review my histogram after each image just to make sure all the information is present.
The Original Camera Raw Image One Stop Underexposed
Histogram With Information Underexposed 1 Stop to the left
The Long Exposure On The Water
I will be very curious to see in the upcoming months if the new series of Canon 50 Megapixel cameras will focus on dynamic range or will it just be a megapixel monster?
Needless to say I am a very happy with the results of the dynamic range of the Nikon and look forward to get out and shooting lots more now that I don’t have to bracket!