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On cloudy days, it seems like the amount of contrast available for shooting is greatly reduced.

For a specific test I did, the in-camera histogram shows a very narrow band in the middle - for instance, where 90% of all pixel values are in about 1/8th of the horizontal range, and 99% are in 1/4 of the horizontal range.

How can I increase the contrast so that the histogram takes up more or most of the range of pixel intensity values? I want to do this while shooting, not in post-processing. I'm already using the in-camera exposure settings to maximize contrast, but I assume this is merely involved in how the mapping is made between 14-bit RAW color and 8-bit JPEG color.

I did some searching and found one article that claimed to increase contrast one shout "shoot with the narrowest aperture possible for light conditions" and "shoot with the fastest shutter speed possible for light conditions". These are contradictory, and in fact in my test the opposite (of the first assertion) was true: shooting the same scene at 1/200 @f6.3 produced about 3 times as much contrast as shooting at 1/80 @f14.

This would seem to suggest that shooting with a wider aperature yields more contrast, but with the zoom I am using I am already as wide as I can go and I still need more contrast. Increasing or decreasing the exposure merely shifts the histogram right or left.

Are there any other tricks I can use to stretch the contrast when shooting?

  • Many cameras have settings for processing images including contrast so you could influence the contrast of the output image. May yours has such settings too. – Zenit Feb 12 '17 at 0:09
  • @Alex.S It does, but it doesn't stretch the histogram much... maybe 30% difference between minimum and maximum contrast, when to fill the histogram would require stretching 400%. – Michael Feb 12 '17 at 0:14
  • If everything is near the same brightness due to the lighting conditions, the only way to change that is to modify the lighting to create more contrast between the brightest and darkest parts of the scene. – Michael C Feb 12 '17 at 3:28
  • You might try working with the curves tool in your favorite processing tool (lightroom, photoshop, capture nx2, etc.). Place the steepest part of the curve over the area of the spectrum where you want to increase contrast. – gaston Feb 12 '17 at 3:39
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    @gaston The OP says, "I want to do this while shooting, not in post-processing." – Michael C Feb 12 '17 at 4:30
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What you need to do is simply expose for longer or with wider aperture or for a longer time (or some combination).

Let's have a look at your test :

shooting the same scene at 1/200 @f6.3 produced about 3 times as much contrast as shooting at 1/80 @f14

Now you omit ISO here, which is important ( was it auto ISO or something else ). I'll have to assume the same ISO.

Going from 1/200th to 1/80th means 2.5 stops extra (much more light) Going from f6.3 to f14 means about 1.2 stops less light.

So netting about 1.3 EV extra. A stop.

So this is consistent with what I said - it's about capturing more light in dull conditions. And that's your own experiment.

I don't know how you're measuring "3 times as much contrast" so I can't comment on that specific value.

On cloudy days (compared with those bright blue skies) there is a difference in the shape of the histogram you'll measure in each scene, even when you adjust for the basic level of light.

So when the scene is processed from RAW sensor data to a JPEG (which involves some quite complex remapping of values in a non-linear way), the result will be the (apparent) spreading out of the JPEG's histogram, but sometimes with the broadening of the curve (this will depend on the specific scene).

Because the curve is "stretched out" in that non-linear way you're going to see quite different contrast partly because of the stretching, partly because of the distribution of values being subtlety changed and mostly because the maximum intensity value is now shifted dramatically upward.

It's also worth noting that because cloudy scenes have different white balance from the sunny scene, this also affects your perception of brightness and contrast. Your brain is "tuned", in effect, to interpret sunny scenes as brighter than cloudy scenes. And that's ignoring that the tone curves (red, green and blue) are going to be different shapes as well.

Are there any other tricks I can use to stretch the contrast when shooting ?

This is where I'm going to suggest a technique I personally detest, but it's expose to the right.

It's important when using this technique to note that if you slavishly look at histograms you'll end up with a lot of under-exposed images. You have to use this technique sensibly and expose for the main things you want in the scene. Some things will get blown sometimes doing this.

Personally I have never found a better method that simply shooting RAW and doing a careful conversion later. You need to expose well for the scene, but in practice most cameras have very good metering these days and it's a matter of watching out for situations that need a little exposure compensation.

I know you want tips for when you shoot, but that really boils down to getting exposure settings right and that means learning to use your metering system and exposure compensation.

  • wow, that seemed to do the trick alright... on a cloudy day, even shooting at +2EV nothing is getting blown out, and detail in the shadows is much better. – Michael Feb 13 '17 at 21:35

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