Westminster fountain at sunset

by Jorge Córdoba

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I took this pic today with my new camera. The picture seems too dark. But if you look at the white board on the right hand side corner ,it seeems to be reflecting light .

I was wondering is there a way I can make the pic a little brighter (not by post processing) and make it appear sharper.

I am new to photography (I was using point and shoot before in auto mode). This is the first time I have got a DSLR(Canon 600D)

On a unrelated note , is there a community wherein I can discuss the pics taken by me and get critique for the same , helping me improve myself?

enter image description here

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plus.google.com and reddit.com have many communities built around photography. –  dav1dsm1th May 25 at 8:20

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I like the general advice of learning by using only manual mode. However, automatic mode wasn't the cause of any problems with this particular picture.

The basic problem is that this scene has a very wide dynamic range, which is pretty much true any time the light sources illuminating the scene also appear in the picture. This is no different from the sun appearing in a normal daytime outdoor picture. To keep the light sources from being overexposed and blowing out, the rest of the scene must by necessity be underexposed. There are basically two ways to deal with high dynamic range: use a sensor with high dynamic range or take multiple pictures at different exposures, then do intelligent blending afterwards. The latter is often referred to as "HDR" (high dynamic range) processing.

Modern cameras do capture impressively high dynamic range compared to film, and are getting steadily better. However, to access that, you have to capture in RAW mode and do all the manipulations in that high range space before converting to the low range space the picture will ultimately be displayed in.

Even your JPG with its limited dynamic range contains a lot more details in the dim areas than are apparent in your original picture. Here is what I got after some fairly aggressive non-linear brightening:

Note the splotches on the pavement in the foreground. These are because the original didn't have more resolution than this in these dim areas. The sudden transition between two shades of gray are because these are differences of one count out of 8 bits in your original. This small difference in your original was greatly amplified by the brightening I applied to the picture after the fact. If you go back to your original 12 or 14 bit raw image, you can apply the same brightening without the result being splotchy like this. If you only kept the JPG you showed us, then there is nothing more you can do because the extra information your sensor captured has already been discarded.

This picture is a great example of why to always shoot RAW, then post-process in that space, then convert to the limited 8 bits/color final display space as the last step only. Think of it this way. If your camera captures 14 bit values, then there are 214 = 16000 intensity levels per pixel. By converting this to 8 bits (256 levels), you are picking one level from 64 on average. 256 levels per color per pixel is more than most mediums can display, so is good enough as the final image in most cases. However, the higher input resolution of RAW allows you to chose those 256 levels non-linearly from from the original with smooth input steps corresponding to each output step. The lack of that is exactly why you see splotches in my brightened version of your picture.

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If you want to take the same shot again but make it brighter, you need to leave Auto mode and select one of the manual modes - in fact, with tricky light conditions like this, you will probably need full Manual (M) mode - your camera's manual is the best place to learn how to use it. Don't be afraid to experiment. The automatic modes will be confused by the all the lights in the shot and set the exposure for them. I recommend ignoring all the automatic modes completely - you will learn very little about exposure by using them.

You will also almost certainly need a tripod, because the shutter speed you will need to brighten the shot will probably be too slow to give you a sharp shot simply hand-holding the camera.

There are any number of photography forums with critique sections. You could try Digital Photography School.

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Auto mode isn't the problem in this particular case. The bright parts are correctly exposed. Any more and they would be blown out, so additional exposure is not the answer here. Non-linear brightening starting with the raw data is. –  Olin Lathrop May 24 at 14:47

this is hard to do without RAW postprocessing. You want more dynamic range than the usual jpeg conversion assumes. Your shot is well exposed for the lights. If you shoot 2 stops longer, which is needed to bring forth the road, you blow the lights, so much that even the halos around the lights saturate and it looks weird.

enter image description here

If you instead process the tonemapping from the 14bit HDR raw to the 8bit jpeg piece-wise linearly like the way simple HDR cameras work) you can bring up the road , while keeping the high lights (not meaning highlights).

enter image description here

Note that if the source is the raw, it will look a LOT better than my quick attempt on the imggur jpeg. If you want the back buildings exposed more, you might get away with 1 more stop and then bring down the highs in post if shooting raw.

With in camera processing you might get away with highlight tone priority and low contrast setting and tweak the Exposure Compensation or go manual.

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Based on your underexposure it's difficult to tell so I made some slight corrections to use as a teaching tool.

1.) Exposure. Looks like you are 1.5 - 2 stops underexposed, if you want to cary more detail and color in this scene. You can do this by either increasing ISO or exposure. If exposure just make sure you can hand hold the camera for the length of time the shutter is open and still make a sharp image. If not increase ISO.

2.) Shoot Raw. Over expose slightly to reduce noise. (ETTR) Once a Jpeg is created opening up the shadows without some nasty artifacts is virtually impossible (as we see above)

Remember darkness is a canvas and light is the paint, so use more paint in this case. A tripod may be needed to keep ISO Low, but I don't know about the traffic at the right. If it was moving and you wanted to make some fun tail light streaks, then a tripod would be required.

Compositionally The post on the left is not important to your story so remove it by taking a step or two toward it and point the camera a bit more to the right. Watch the lines of the road and the curb to use them as leading lines.

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