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I've been playing with my new camera. I went for a walk in the forest in early morning. As the sun came up, the first rays of light hit the trees, and they glow gold.

I tried capturing this in a photo, and the whole scene turned greyish, and the golden colour was washed out.

What should I change in the camera settings to achieve a photograph with more contrast?trees

Edit: as most of you guessed no doubt, the camera was just set to "auto". I'm working my way through the manual, but it's rather unhelpful.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, the obvious answer is the "contrast" setting (possibly under picture styles, depending on your camera, may not apply at all if you're shooting RAW) \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    May 22, 2023 at 22:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does your camera have a "Picture Style" or "Photo Style" menu? If so, which were you using? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    May 22, 2023 at 22:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm just using the default picture style. Aren't picture styles just an after-photograph filter ? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kingsley
    May 22, 2023 at 23:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Everything is an after photograph filter. Don't believe the #nofilter hype. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    May 23, 2023 at 5:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe explain what settings you used. Most cameras default to "fully automatic (AI)" mode. As one answer indicates, automatic white balance will "kill" any color mood. Still some people prefer neutral colors. \$\endgroup\$
    – U. Windl
    May 23, 2023 at 8:24

7 Answers 7

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A frequent problem is that your White Balance is set to "Auto". When it is so, the camera adjusts the colors so that the picture looks neutral, and this washes out any natural dominant color. If you set your camera to something else (Sunlight, Clouds...) it will apply a predefined color correction that won't be influenced by dominant colors.

Another solution is to shoot "raw" (in addition to JPEG), so you can more efficiently rework these photos when needed (there is no correction applied to the data in the raw file, so you can choose later how it is processed).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Combining these solutions: if you shoot in raw, then it doesn't really matter what you set the in-camera white balance to because you can set any white balance you want in the raw converter. \$\endgroup\$
    – wonderbear
    May 23, 2023 at 7:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ I always suggest using raw+jpeg, because jpeg gives you convenience for shots that need little or no modification, while raw gives you the flexibility if you need it for shots like this \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris H
    May 23, 2023 at 9:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisH agreed. I have 2 cards in my camera, 1 set to jpeg LSF and 1 set to RAW. \$\endgroup\$ May 25, 2023 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @spikey_richie nice to have that option - my kit is too old \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris H
    May 25, 2023 at 21:08
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I think the camera did OK with the exposure, it just badly guessed the white balance.
It will try to make the centre of an exposure an even 50% grey, which can sometimes in high contrast lighting push it off the scale at one end or the other. In this case it seems to have just hit the top in only a couple of small places. The high contrast did make it miss the true 'centre' but it got away with it.

The whole thing does look a bit flat & grey as it's attempted to normalise the white balance, but that's quite easily fixable even from the small jpg; even more so from the original raw or if you don't shoot raw, then the full size jpg.

Push white balance warmer & also slightly greener, then dial in some darks.
Precise method will depend on what software you use, but my weapon of choice is Photoshop's CameraRAW [which will work on any file type, not just raw.] Others prefer to do it using curves. I never feel that gives me enough control… but I'm an amateur guesser compared to some of the pros we have here ;)

This is what I got for under 2 minute's tweaking - I probably pushed it too far towards 'picture postcard'. [Original directly underneath to save a lot of scrolling.]

enter image description here
enter image description here

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    \$\begingroup\$ I really like your edits. But I have to admit, I don't get the sensation of sunrise colors. Yours looks a bit closer to sunset, with warmer yellows. Whereas sunrise tends to be cooler, pinker. Next to each, I definitely feel "chilly" morning on the original. Still, yours is very vibrant, and revives a lot of texture. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    May 23, 2023 at 15:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. I wasn't getting any pink vibe in there at all, tbh, so didn't try to push it. Where I live [London] unless you're out about half an hour before actual sunrise itself [which is about 4.30 am this time of year] it doesn't really tint that way, it does look quite a lot like sunset. I only ever seem to see noticeably pink/purple mornings a few times a year & it's gone in 10 minutes. One day I'll get a good shot of it ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    May 23, 2023 at 15:08
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What should I change in the camera settings to achieve a photograph with more contrast?

The basic problem is not the camera settings. It's that three-fourths of the image you told the camera to automatically expose and automatically set the white balance for are not leaves being illuminated by the sun. The camera has no way of knowing it was only the sunlit leaves you wanted to feature when they're mixed in with the shaded tree trunks blocking many of them and the dim grassy floor of the forest that fills the bottom third of the photo.

Based on what you framed, the camera was trying to balance the very dark grass in the bottom third of the frame, all of the grey tree trunks (that it probably wanted to make as neutrally grey as possible), the patches of very bright sky, and the few sunlit leaves that don't make up anywhere near a majority of the frame.

If you want the camera to do most of the work setting color and contrast, place yourself in a position so that the sun is behind you and most of the frame is filled with sunlit golden leaves!

Composition and lighting are everything with landscape photography.

Shooting towards the sun through the lower limbs of some trees early one morning after the overnight rain froze into ice on the trees before the freezing rain turned to snow:

enter image description here

Shooting the tops of the same trees from the other side with the sun at my back:

enter image description here
Eleven minutes after the first image above.

Shooting a tree with the rising sun directly behind it:

enter image description here

Shooting the same tree minutes later with the sun to the right:

enter image description here

Coming at somewhere between thirty and forty-five degrees to the sun:

enter image description here

Going away at a one-hundred-eighty degree angle to the sun:

enter image description here
Maybe 30 seconds after the previous image, but probably more like 15-20.

Sometimes a few steps can make all the difference:

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

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  • \$\begingroup\$ your photos? very nice \$\endgroup\$
    – FarO
    Jun 9, 2023 at 9:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @FarO Yes, Thanks! All of these are photos I have taken. Most of them about a decade ago, because that's what I was working on archiving/checking backups when I answered this question. The first two and the last three were taken one week and about 750 miles apart. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Jun 9, 2023 at 18:02
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The other answer mentioned white balance, but I think it is also possible that you were simply overexposing.

When there is relatively little light in the scene (like around sunrise or sunset), the camera's metering will by default still try to expose in such a way that around half the image is darker than average and the other half brighter, although that is not what the human eye perceives.

One advantage of a mirrorless camera is that you can see things like that in the EVF or live preview before taking the picture and set an exposure compensation accordingly.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So to adjust this I should have used a "faster" lower ISO ? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kingsley
    May 24, 2023 at 5:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kingsley Whether you change shutter speed, aperture or ISO is immaterial, the point of my post is that your image is too bright and should have been exposed darker. \$\endgroup\$
    – wonderbear
    May 24, 2023 at 5:34
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I would expect a backlit scene like that to have a very high dynamic range.

It appears to me that your camera has some type of HDR function enabled (D-lighting, Auto Lighting Optimizer, etc). When such function is enabled the camera will flatten the exposure's dynamic range in order to record more of both the shadows and the highlights... exactly how it does that depends on the specific camera/function.

Recording raw files is a partial solution; but with many cameras the dynamic range function (HDR/etc) will alter the base exposure, which also affects the raw images.

This edit was done by simply compressing the tone curve/DR.

enter image description here

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Your problem can be underexposure of most of the photo. The bright areas of sky can make the camera underexpose the rest. You can get the camera to display a histogram of the brightness which may show the bulk of the frame is at very low levels. Adding in some exposure compensation may help. It may also blow out the highlights in the sky. That may not be so bad. The first thing I would try with the original is go into some photo editing software, bring up the shadows, and bring down the highlights. See how you like it then. I prefer doing this on a raw image, but it works on jpegs as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There's already a tiny bit blown out. Setting it even further to the right wouldn't help at all, in fact judging by the posted jpg it could have perhaps handled a little more to the left. No guessing what the raw would really have been like though, so it's not a bad guess from the camera's meter, it just lost the plot on contrast & white balance. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    May 23, 2023 at 14:51
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I think it has something to do with, always setting your camera on manual and playing with the f and also the 1/30 etc etc. also, the photo looks fine and if you adjusted the "ctrl+L" in photoshop. the picture should look like you described. so .. if you match the coloring to the sky in the back ground it should look more similar, so either done with after the fact editing and or if its a point and shoot. you would point it at the sky and or any place with the ... either point at lighter areas and or darker areas to make it pick up that sensitivity , and then shoot the picture.

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