I like to take landscape photographs, during the golden hour. I always try to get high dynamic range so as to get the foreground and background proportionally highlighted, but I fail miserably (I use the Nikon D3300 with 18-55mm basic lens).

I tried stacking a few images with different exposures, but didn't quite get what I wanted (also I had to convert the images first to JPEG to input them to the stacking software). I then read about the neutral density and polarizing filter. I want to know how can these filters help me increase the dynamic range? Also I generally don't have a water stream in the composition for which the ND filter is mostly used.

Also I would like to know any other techniques to increase the dynamic range of a photo except post processing.


7 Answers 7


As written your question restricts the answer to "in camera" as you say "except post processing". The graduated ND filters as mentioned in the comments can help with specific circumstances (when there's a linear demarcation between bright and dim). The other in-camera option is to shoot the lowest ISO you can, as you get more dynamic range at low ISO (but to be fair this is usable mostly only in post processing). You can also work with your in-camera JPG processing to increase shadows and kill highlights.

If you expand the answer to include post processing:

  1. Shoot raw. Use software which can let you raise shadows and kill highlights in post.
  2. As mentioned, shoot the lowest ISO possible, as you get about a stop dynamic range for each stop of ISO reduction (more or less, depends on the sensor). This extra DR is mostly usable only in post processing though.
  3. Even if you do not plan to use HDR, shoot brackets so you have a wide selection of exposure to use for your final shot. Getting the best balance of too-bright and too-dark will offer choices, and you can decide later which offer the most interest (e.g. is the most interesting parts in shadow or highlights).
  4. Look into split toning and/or brush-on options for adjusting white balance separately in shadows and highlights. The shadows will otherwise appear too cold. This is not so much dynamic range but it does allow you to make images look better which have too much dynamic range.
  5. Look for software that uses 16 bit TIFF's or raw for HDR processing; most of the better products do it. JPG is a lousy alternative for intermediate files for all sorts of reasons.
  • \$\begingroup\$ I did try using the 'direct sunlight' white balance setting in the camera, it did whiten the foreground a bit. Can setting the temperature help here? I first need to check whether my camera has this feature or not though :D. \$\endgroup\$
    – samjay
    May 31, 2017 at 5:48

There are several ways you can improve the amount of dynamic-range captured. You do not have to use all these at once but consider each one a tool:

  • Use the lowest native ISO of your camera. This is where image noise is at its lowest and clipping is minimized, so the sensor will record more dynamic range.
  • Enable Highlight Recovery or Highlight Priority mode on your camera which raises the saturation point to get more dynamic-range recorded in the image.
  • For a single shot, there is great advantage to shoot RAW since it can record 12 or 14 bits and so up to 14 stops of dynamic-range. A JPEG is only 8-bit its not linear, so it can give you a little more than 8 stops, perhaps 10 but that is still less than a RAW file can hold.
  • Try Exposure Fusion by shooting a series of images with different exposures. Make sure all else stays the same, particularly focus and white-balance and ideally aperture. You need only 3 or so images to capture the full dynamic-range of most scenes. If your scene includes the sun itself, that is a different story. Many cameras have features to take the series of shots automatically. This is called Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB). Many modern cameras can also do the Exposure Fusion themselves, although it is almost always labelled HDR instead.
  • The ulimate tool for producing images that show a high dynamic-range is to actually create an HDR image from a set of bracketed exposures. Again, you only need a a few with parts of the exposure overlapping, so if you shoot 3 images at +5 EV increments, you can easily capture over a 20-stop range. You then must tone-map the image down to an Low-Dynamic-Range image but this part of the process gives you plenty of control over the relationship of brightness in the final image.
  • Instead of varying exposure in camera, you can take the same shot several times with different Neutral Density filters. This will let you preserve shutter-speed, aperture and ISO for each shot. An ND filter in itself does change the amount of dynamic-range, only shifts it. Some people use Variable-ND filters but these result in severe artifacts which change along with density and will certainly cause issue if you were to merge exposures somehow.
  • A polarizer may help by changing the relationship between the brightness of different areas in the scene.
  • \$\begingroup\$ Variable ND filters are somewhat usable with long focals, but not for landscape photography. Polarizers also produces brightness variations across the frame with very wide angles. \$\endgroup\$
    – Piezoid
    Jun 10, 2017 at 13:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ For HDR or Exposure Fusion, somewhat does cut it. Imagine the software trying to merge pixels with different color and relative brightness changes! \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Jun 10, 2017 at 14:14

Domain is the X-Axis of your Curve. Range is in a sense the Y-Axis. What you're hoping to achieve is better balance across the full domain.

If you have a very bright sky then exposing for it will leave the foreground likely very dark. Alternatively exposing for the foreground will cause the sky to be very blown out (all white pixels visually with no data).

So you need to either darken the sky through a graduated ND filter or lighten the foreground through the use of reflectors and/or lights.

If your camera can show you Clipped Areas than that can be a big help in setting this up. (And in the case of the person originally asking this it appears the camera can: http://masteryournikon.com/2014/09/14/understanding-nikon-playback-display-options/). For others that may read this your camera might have similar ability but in the form of Zebra Stripes intended for video but can be useful for Photography as well.

As you likely aren't going to want to try and lighten the foreground of a landscape that leaves the option of darkening the sky. Take whatever ND filter you have to darken it until there is no Clipped Areas. Take that photo. You now have the best you can get in a single frame out of camera.

After the above, did you have overly dark areas and loss of details in the shadows and blacks? If so, then the two options are either adjust the exposure in Post Processing or take a second photo with the exposure adjusted (which you'll want to combine in post). If you're doing this correctly the difference of doing it in camera or from a Raw is negligible. If you're shooting JPG you'll have to do the second photo.

Then you can just combine the two exposures using either dedicated HDR software, the HDR feature if available in your Photo Management software, or through any Raster Photo Editor. Personally I would do it using Adobe Photoshop.

If you're absolutely opposed to any post processing then you'll have to find the balance between the sky and shadows and be satisfied with some loss to both ends rather than lots of loss to one side.


I guess this discussion boils down to three things that I can try out:

1). Keeping ISO the lowest possible to increase DR.

2). Use of a ND or graduated ND filter depending upon the composition.

3). Stacking photos with different exposures as my camera doesn't have auto bracketing.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi samjay, welcome to Photo.SE. It's helpful to think questions and answers here not as discussions. Please use the Post answer button only for actual answers. If you have additional information or clarification for your question, you should modify your original question to add that additional information. If you need more information from a particular answer given, please use the "Add Comment" feature for that answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    May 31, 2017 at 12:32

2 things to try:

  1. Underexpose and bring the shadows up in post. This will give you better dyamic range but will increase noise in the shadows.
  2. Do multiple exposures and put them together in post. I would use software instead of simply merging them. Photoshop has a "merge to hdr" function and there's other software you can use. Make sure you're locked down on a tripod obviously.

How To Extend The Dynamic Range without post processing :- 1.Shoot Raw. 2.Shoot Low ISO. 3.Shoot HDR. 4.Learn Your Histogram. 5.Shoot To The Right. 6.Use A Graduated Filter.


So basically, what everyone is saying is that "no" you cannot appreciatively increase dynamic range "in camera", except...

This is in fact the nature of digital-it's defect and why some Hollywood directors absolutely refuse to shoot digital: trade offs.

The problem is physics.

  1. Kodachrome film, for example has a 12 stop dynamic range, so fine-shoot in RAW.

But with everything, there are unintended consequences. This "famous" photo was shot on Kodachrome: https://www.pcs.org/assets/KodachromeFilm_AfganGirl_Banner.jpg

Yes, in RAW format you can get the detail in the shadows without loosing the highlihghts, but, what you get with a CMOS 24MP sensor is too much detail. In this photo you can count the hairs in her pores. Not flattering.

The Wife

So why film is better (and you guys can argue about that) is the nature of silver halite crystals.

  1. They are of different sizes unlike the CMOS sensor.


  1. They are not in a grid or linear pattern (i.e. random), and,
  2. they overlap each other.

[Silver Halide]

What I believe that you are looking for, as am I, is the quality of film: color reproduction, grain, dynamic range and depth-all of the things that make film look like it's alive.

Head over to Ken Rockwell-he can help.

I shoot jpg small, 6mp, use the widest aperture that I can for portraits (f/1.8), intentionally miss focus a touch, manually white balance for each shot (film never gets fooled-if you're outside shooting daylight film, the film gets the color balance right), reduce clarity, avoid non-natural light when possible and increase saturation in your presets. I sacrifice dynamic range for a better photo "in camera".

Your other choice is to go buy a $6000 Leica or a Nikon DF that will give you much more control in camera. And stay away from "G" lenses in the Nikon system (my opinion). Or you could just go buy a used Nikon FM film camera and some legacy lenses.

Good luck my friend!

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Ken Rockwell has said that his site is a spoof, meant to be an over-the-top parody like The Onion. How will heading there help? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    May 5, 2018 at 14:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Kindly provide some evidence for that spoof statement, nonetheless, if you do follow some of his setting recommendations, you will achieve better exposures. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rusty
    May 9, 2018 at 0:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ But I do agree that he can be over the top \$\endgroup\$
    – Rusty
    May 9, 2018 at 0:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ read in his own words here: "I have the energy and sense of humor of a three-year old, so remember, this is a personal website, and never presented as fact. I enjoy making things up for fun, as does The Onion, and I publish them here…" \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    May 17, 2018 at 18:17

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