With photography there is always more than one way to do things.  The recent discussion on HDR raises several questions.  One being, is HDR the only way to capture a scene with a dynamic range greater than the cameras capabilities to capture.  In other words, your camera might be able to capture seven stops of dynamic range, but the scene you want to photograph requires 14 stops.  What other choices do you have besides HDR?  I’ll list them in order of what normally produces the best image quality.


Neutral Density Graduated Filters

The closer you can come to capturing the desired image straight from the camera, before software manipulation becomes required, the better your image quality will be.  This is a hard and fast rule.

If your cameras sensors can only capture seven stops how can you improve this “in camera?”  Through the use of ND grad filters.  These filters have are clear on the bottom, and darker on top.  The dark side reduces light from 1-3 stops.  Remember, one stop doubles the amount of light increasing, and halves it decreasing.

You normally buy ND grad filters in a set of three.  1, 2, and 3 stops.  You can stack them for up to six stops.



If the sky is the reason the dynamic range is so high in your scene, you can capture two images.  One exposed for the sky, one exposed for the rest of the scene.  Combine the best parts in Photoshop.  This is relatively easy to do.


High Dynamic Range (HDR) Processing

We’ve already discussed this method many times and it’s very popular.  You take several exposures of the same scene at different exposure settings, and then combine 2-10+ images in a HDR processing program.  You then tone map and process to taste.  Sounds easy, but as you know there’s a lot to it.


Which Method to Use?

This very much depends on the scene, how much time you have, and how much gear you want to carry.

I’ll be breaking out the ND grad filter set in the coming weeks and showing you some examples.  I hesitate to promote this method too much because its inconvenient, and I like to promote photography as a fun activity.  Still, there are times when ND grad filters are desirable so we’ll cover their use.

Until next time..