I do most of my photography while hiking. I find open woodlands to be a very pretty setting, but have difficulty capturing it. While sunny spots are brighter than shady spots, they don't glare in the natural setting like in my photos. Shady spots are darker in the natural, but show up as a bit gloomy in a photo.

Is there a best setting that could get closer to capturing the natural setting, i.e. wider aperture, higher ISO, etc?

mixed lighting

  • \$\begingroup\$ You could start planning your woodland walks around overcast days... Seriously, HDR and/or careful RAW (watch that histogram!) with post processing is about the only hope you have for managing the dappling. At least you aren't trying to take a family portrait amongst the trees! \$\endgroup\$
    – BobT
    Jun 25, 2014 at 17:14

4 Answers 4


Shoot RAW, color correct in post (or even color grade a bit to give it a more creative feel) so that you can boost shadow detail and fine tune the black point. Cut the highlights and adjust the curves to make the shadows look less over-contrast. Depending on the overall look you end up with, you may also have to cut saturation a bit if the green becomes overpowering.

It's a hard shooting environment and your camera's built in processing likely isn't going to cut it. For large extremes, you may also want to consider HDR techniques to help augment the camera's dynamic range so that it can catch detail in both the shadows and in the sunlight.

  • \$\begingroup\$ 'color grade' strikes me as a very 'video' term... \$\endgroup\$ Jun 25, 2014 at 15:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ElendilTheTall - I suppose arguably in this context color correction is all that is needed, but color grading implies color correction in addition to giving the shot a "feel". Color correction is when you are simply trying to make what you see is what you get, color grading is where you start making artistic choices about how you use color. I tend to think that any good color adjustment requires a bit of artistic work, so I tend to use grading more broadly. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Henderson
    Jun 25, 2014 at 16:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks everybody for your suggestions. I shoot just a step down from RAW, but it should be easy to remember to change the setting for shots like these. I would have never considered dropping the color saturation, but I looked at it and it was an improvement. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 26, 2014 at 18:42

This is a tough scene to capture in a single shot, because the dynamic range is larger than your camera can capture. Shooting on a cloudy day, or at a different time of day (this scene looks like it was taken near noon) so that you can work the angle of the light might help, but it's going to be tough. It might be worth looking at HDR or exposure fusing post-processing techniques, and RAW processing.

If you're using a compact small-sensored camera that doesn't have RAW capability, and you want to do this in-camera, newer models often have an in-camera HDR setting. If your camera doesn't, however, another possibility would be to look at any processing presets that allow you to adjust the contrast in the scene, and then setting the contrast to be as low as possible. If you can do in-camera curves adjustments, a reverse-S adjustment (lowering contrast) will also help.


With so many elements potentially moving and 'ghosting', id actually put HDR to one side, this is a very easy 5 min job in post if shooting raw

A) make sure you shoot in raw :) B) (in Lightroom or Adobe Camera raw) bring up the shadows and take down the highlights, make sure theres little or no pure white or black - hold down the alt/option key whilst adjusting your sliders to check. A little black does look good though. You've probably now got much closer to the image you were after. C) if necessary, then with a Brush target the 'worst' areas and do the same to even out the image D) If still not overly happy edit in Photoshop and dodge and burn the trees a touch

Adjusting contrast and clarity here is a bit iffy as theres so much going on so itd be really easy to make this look unreal.

The more i look at it the more id be tempted to just use a brush from the start and spot target the highlights and darks tbh


My experience

With this kind of scenery, HDR is very often not really an option, because you didn't bring a tripod along. Also you often can't get to your subject at dusk or dawn, because you want to complete your hiking track.

For me, this approach to mitigate those issues works best:

  1. Always shoot in RAW Mode
  2. Enable any overexposure warning on your camera in review mode. E. g. on Canon Models, overexposed parts are blinking black.
  3. Avoid overexposing the highlights at any costs!
  4. Underexpose the shot to an extent that nothing in the highlights is lost. Sometimes a correction of -2 EV or more is necessary. Then bring it up to it's normal exposure in post-processing and use local corrections to recover detail in the highlights and the shadows

Technical Background

Digital Cameras, as opposed to analog ones, have many reserves in the shadows, but nearly none in the highlights. You can see that in the bright parts of your picture, the highlights are "white out", and even if you try to bring them down 2 EV or 3 EV, there is no detail to recover.

To avoid this, underexpose the shot enough so that the detail in the highlights is preserved. The shadows will get very dark, but it is at least possible to recover the details in the shadows as opposed to recovering overexposed highlights. Also you can use some Lightroom brushes or local correction in Photoshop to reduce the contrast between the shadows and the highlights and get details in both areas.


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