Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I'm new in photography, however I have some basic knowledge of exposure, aperture, etc.

I own a Nikon D7000. The issue I've found in number of pics I've taken (in P mode) is that whenever the scene is relatively dark and there is a bright contrasting lighting source (bulb or sky), then I get too dark of a picture overall. Here is one example.

What I can do to make light source be darker and the rest of dark scene be brighter?

enter image description here

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That looks like a nice pic to me. I don't think you're doing anything disasterously wrong. You may have to live with blown-out highlights. –  AJ Finch Jul 27 '11 at 9:03
    
@AJ Finch: still it is far different from what I have seen with my eyes )) –  Pablo Jul 27 '11 at 11:08
    
@Michael. You've hit the nail on the head! The problem is that our eyes are very good at seeing very bright things and very dark things at the same time, whereas our cameras are much less tolerant. Has anyone mentionned HDR in their answers? That might be worth looking into. This article addresses the question of how to capture what we see: luminous-landscape.com/columns/eye-camera.shtml –  AJ Finch Jul 27 '11 at 14:06
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7 Answers 7

up vote 11 down vote accepted

You're asking the right question, "How do I properly expose...?" Put the emphasis on the "I" part of that. If you are using "P" mode then you are not determining the exposure. Your camera is. And your camera thinks it is taking a snapshot of your Aunt Mathilda at Christmas, and has no idea that you are trying to do something creative. So in cases like this you need to take control, meaning switching to "M" manual mode, or at the very least, playing with camera features like "exposure compensation" or "exposure lock" or "spot metering". Look these up in your camera's manual.

Generally, you want to look at a scene like this and decide what parts of it you want to be be the well-exposed. Presumably in this photo you wanted the worker to be be a little brighter, so you could see more detail. These could be done a few ways:

  1. Take a photo like you did, then examine the results and maybe the histogram and take another shot with positive exposure compensation.
  2. Zoom in so you are excluding the brighter lights
  3. Meter the shot when centered below the person, with the lights excluded and then either use exposure lock (if your camera has it) or set that exposure manually after reframing the shot the way you want it.
  4. Enable spot metering so your exposure is determined by the very center of the frame, giving less weight to the lights on the side.
  5. Bracket your exposure, so you automatically get shots 1 stop faster and slower. This also allows you to do some post processing, even HDR.
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Nice answer — +1. But note that we have good explanations of exposure compensation, exposure lock, and spot metering here on this site, if the camera's manual isn't helpful (or handy). –  mattdm Jul 27 '11 at 2:08
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Dim the light.

Barring that, pretty much nothing without some serious lighting equipment that light up such an extensive the foreground to reduce the difference.

What you are encountering is a situation where the scene has a greater dynamic range than your camera can capture. According to the metering-mode in use, the D7000 correctly chose not to over-expose the highlight and that made the rest of the scene darker.

If you apply positive EC, everything gets brighter so the light source will start blooming. In that scene, I am guessing you can go +1 EV and you should see an improvement in the foreground while the light will probably not bloom too much.

You can get the same effect as applying EC by going into Manual mode but that does not change the relationship between the bright light and the dark areas.

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"Correctly"? It's not a choice I would have made. There's no law against letting light sources clip (unless you're hoping to retrieve bulb detail). –  user2719 Jul 26 '11 at 21:17
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Yeah, I agree with Stan. It's up to the photographer to decide what area of the scene they want to expose for. As long as your scene has a larger DR than your camera can handle, lights aren't typically the primary focus of a photograph, it's the people, person, or object you want the viewer to take notice of. There's nothing wrong with having brighter (and possibly blown) lights so long as you've exposed the subject properly. –  Nick Bedford Jul 26 '11 at 22:47
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Clarified. I meant correct for automatic metering looking at the whole scene (Matrix on Nikon, Multi-Segment/Evaluative/etc for others). Absolutely, the photographer can take control and decide what he wants using EC or Manual exposure. –  Itai Jul 27 '11 at 0:09
    
There is another potential option, provided the ISO is not too high. Shoot raw and use Fill Light to bring the rest of the scene's exposure up. –  Nick Bedford Jul 27 '11 at 0:30
    
@Nick Bedford: I have NEF format of that pic. Where exactly I can "Fill Light"? –  Pablo Jul 27 '11 at 5:21
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Meter what you can't control. I'll use an example of an office interior balanced with an exterior sky:

enter image description here

How the balance was achieved was metering the exterior (I used a Sekonic meter, but you can use your camera just as well). I got f/8 at 1/250. Fine. So then I set up a single bare bulb behind the camera and a small diffuser to mitigate the glare and took readings inside the office until I got the exact same reading.

Now, the image you showed is challenging because there is a great deal of area and several relatively small blown-out light sources. You may not want to bring artificial light to the areas of interest as I did here, but that's one solution. Another is HDR, although there you concede a lot of control to computer algorithms and you don't know how well you did until you've post-processed. Yet another way is to do two exposures: One for the areas of interest (spot metering in camera or with an external meter is really handy for this), and the other for the light sources you don't want blown out. Then composite them in post.

In any event, your camera is good for between 3 and 5 stops of dynamic range. What you've shown is greater than that, so no matter how you meter it, you can't get one single "right exposure" with just ambient light.

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Dynamic range of most DSLRs vary from 7 to 12 stops, depending on model and ISO setting. Transparency film is about 5-6. –  ishmaiel Jul 26 '11 at 20:08
    
My bad. The dynamic range is (optimally) from 7 to 12 stops. Practically speaking, I find that while I can choose the lighter area and optimize for than when I process the file, it compromises the dark are and vice versa once the RAW bits are mapped onto a color space. So while there may be 7-12 stops, they aren't all usable at once. If that makes sense. I do maintain that the original image exceeds the camera's dynamic range and in fact would always require some trickery (lighting, post processing) to keep detail in both the brightest and darkest areas. –  Steve Ross Jul 26 '11 at 20:19
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You have quite a few options. The easiest would probably be to simply increase your EV value. EV stands for exposure value, and will allow you to quickly make the scene brighter or darker as you wish. On your Nikon D7000, the button is denoted by a +/- symbol and it is located right next to the shutter release button and on/off button on the top of the camera. Just select that button, and use your scroll wheel to increase the brightness(+1,+2,+3) or decrease the brightness(-1,-2,-3). Technically this is called increasing or decreasing the exposure.

If you have a scene that has a very bright light source(the sun) as well as dark shadows, this might beyond the capabilities of your camera sensor to capture it with a single exposure. This is where HDR photography can come in handy. It allows you to capture a scene at multiple different exposure values, and combine it into one image.

A third option would be to change the metering mode that you are using. If you are in P mode I am guessing that is set to automatic or some type of evaluative metering of the entire scene. You can test out spot metering, where you are only evaluating a small portion of the scene for the correct exposure. I am not sure if the D7000 allows you to do this in P mode or not, but take a look at the manual and see where it talks about metering modes, and that should give you a good place to start.

In response to this comment "I get too dark of a picture overall":

After reviewing the image, I think your main issue here is the metering mode. Try switching that up to see how your results differ. You could easily setup a scene like this in your own house to test the differences.

In response to this comment "What I can do to make light source be darker and the rest of dark scene be brighter?":

As others have stated, this is beyond the capabilities of your camera sensor. Your camera simply cannot expose the very bright bulb and the foreground at the same time. HDR is your friend in this case.

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Generally these are good, but @Itai makes a good point about the large bright light source in the picture causing some issue with just changing the exposure. –  rfusca Jul 26 '11 at 19:14
    
@rfusca - Yea I haven't seen the image yet :) –  dpollitt Jul 26 '11 at 19:23
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make light source be darker and the rest of dark scene be brighter

You can't. You cannot adjust the contrast difference between the light source and the scene. Even if you dim the light source, you will be dimming the scene proportionally, if the light source is the major illuminant.

If the scene is lit by a combination of light sources (e.g. ambient window light and a lamp) then you can change the ratio of these sources by modifying one of them (usually the lamp), by either turning it up (not likely) or adding a ND filter in front of it to reduce its contribution. However, looking at your scene it does not look like you have control of any of the light sources (windows or billboard flood).

You are therefore left with manipulating the image in post. You can take two frames, one exposing for correct exposure of the background (e.g. ceiling) and a second image at -2 EV or so, to capture highlights in the light sources and reduce speculars. You would then combine these two by masking.

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I personally would not worry too much about the lights, unless you are taking a photo which must have a high dynamic range captured. The lights are not the focus of the photograph, it's the billboard and the person, and that's what you want to expose for.

I shoot manual most of the time, but I would have exposed this particular photograph maybe a stop brighter (rough guess). If you're shooting in a semi-automatic mode like aperture priority, this means you need to dial up your exposure compensation.

Take this photograph I took recently as a good example of high dynamic range and the choice of what to expose for. I always choose to expose to bring your eyes to the people in the scene, whether they're facing the camera or looking away from it.

For me, it's all about the people and in this image. While it's not ideal that there's a bright light behind the guitarist, it really doesn't make too much difference to me. The fact is that the light source itself is far brighter than the current exposure would allow and to expose for the lights would likely mean everything else was black or close.

The Monster Goes Rawr Music Video Shoot

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Some people are interested in more than people and would like to see the whole scene without losing composition.

From what i have read, it seems the camera is just not good enough. In certain composition where theer is a vast contrast in light and darkness, you will have to use artificial light to match the scene as close to the eye sees it.

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What do you mean "the camera isn't good enough"? The D7000 isn't a good camera, or just that the scene has too high a dynamic range for most any digital camera to handle? –  MikeW Feb 22 '12 at 21:34
    
I mean a camera cannot capture what they call "a high dynamic range". Take a look at Nick Bedford's picture. i bet the scene was not as dark as you see in the picture. I didn't understand why people used so much light in different angles but i have slowly come to realise cameras in general are not good enough. The technology requires improvement in that department. "The human eye is still better regarding the above" –  user8801 Mar 4 '12 at 19:07
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