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There are several ways to increase dynamic range in post-processing, but what should I do while shooting to maximize the dynamic range of a picture? I know that shooting in Raw and trying to use all the histogram help. What else?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The lowest native ISO for your digital camera has the greatest dynamic range.

A RAW file keeps all that data. If you shoot JPEG, the data gets transformed according to your image parameters. To get the most dynamic range in JPEG mode you need to find which mode keeps the most dynamic range. This is usually one of the low contrast modes (Natural or Muted or something like that) with highlight preservation turned on (name depends on the camera model). If your particular model was reviewed at DPReview, they usually have charts showing the dynamic-range of each mode.

The above sets up your camera to keep the most dynamic-range but you can also maximize how much you capture:

  • Avoid flare. Veiling flare occurs when too much light bounces around inside your lens and causes a drop of contract. Use a lens hood and avoid strong light sources in the frame or just outside.
  • Choose the right angle. The same scene can show much more dynamic-range from certain angles. Usually the trick is to find the angle when the scene contrast is high but still lower than the limit of your sensor (except for Exposure Fusion and HDR of course). If the sun is behind you, a scene gets illuminated evenly for the most part which results in less dynamic-range because the shadows are behind your subjects.
  • Avoid extreme apertures. This only makes a tiny difference but it's here for completeness. Wide open lenses get soft. This also happens past the diffraction limit. When that happens, contrast gets reduced cause a slight loss of dynamic-range in the shadows.
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One thing to keep in mind is that at least on some Canon models, turning on highlight tone priority forces you out of the native lowest ISO. I am not sure which ultimately is the best for dynamic range. –  dpollitt Jan 15 '13 at 14:41
1  
@dpollit - That is a UI artifact. The ISO shown, say 200 instead of the 100 native, represents the one metered for. The sensor though uses the lower one actually, meaning no signal implication. This is actually why dynamic-range increases. Metering for the faster ISO while using the lower amplification is what increases the saturation point. This is why this setting affects the dynamic-range of highlights only. –  Itai Jan 15 '13 at 14:47
    
Ah, very cool. I now understand highlight tone priority a bit better! –  dpollitt Jan 15 '13 at 14:59
    
If you look up your camera on dpreview (and maybe you get the same on other websites), they list the dynamic range for different ISOs as a chart, so you can get a picture how much you lose if you chose one over the other. –  uncovery Jan 17 '13 at 5:43

First rule: shoot raw. Raw files have a much higher bit depth than jpegs and therefore a higher dynamic range.

ETTR: Expose to the right. This means exposing by using the histogram. As far right as possible without clipping. This needs some practice. Sometimes you have to let it clip, other times the image will look to bright on the monitor, but that's ok.

Shoot film: Negative film has 14 stops of latitude. The problem is getting it scanned so you can use all of it. Tomorrow's sensors are going to beat that.

Larger format: The larger your format, the less noise you get and therefore the higher the dynamic range.

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Shooting in black and white using classic (chemical) film. I think nothing currently on market beats that.

Shooting for HDR - using bracketing. Tripod essential if your camera can't shoot fast enough.

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