This morning, I wanted to take an image of a room, with a window.

Outside, the sun was about to rise so the sky was a dark pink/blue with a bright moon also.

Inside, the room was dark, but the outside light was subtly illuminating objects close to the window.

I went manual and experimented with various settings, though couldn't quite get the image I was after. If I captured the outside light level perfectly, the room was too dark. Likewise, if I got the room light level correct, the sky was over exposed, making it look like day time.

How can I adjust the settings so that the levels of light in the image are closer to what I see, both inside and out?

Should I use a flash or change metering for instance?

All comments most gratefully welcome in advance

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3 Answers 3


First of all you need to understand the concept of "dynamic range". (Maybe you do, I don't know) The dr is the ability of your camera to render as much darktones and highlights at the same time. Have a look about this concept on youtube. You have to be aware that the human eye has the hability to render a better DR than most of digital cameras. On average, the human eye can render 24 stops where the average camera can render 12 stops. This is why your picture doesn't look the same as what you see with your eyes.

So, this situation is a very contrasty scene where you would like to have both very dark shadows and highlights correctly exposed. Without taking the direction of post production, it is impossible to do with your camera. the better DR your camera has, the better rendering you'll have but you won't have the result expected with using lightroom or photoshop.

Using a flash is another option but then you will need good lighting material and knowledge to lit the scene correctly (I mean so that it is not obvious that you're using an artificial lighting)

When you take this picture, usually you will want to "expose for the highlights", this means you will want to protect the highlights = not burning them like in your left version. Why ? because digital sensors are usually better at keeping informations in the dark tones rather than in the higthlights. So when you will try to recover informations in lightroom for example, if you camera is not to bad, you will be able to push (to add 1 or 2 stops or more depending on your camera) your darktones, making them brighter. Trying to remove stops of lihgt from the highlights is usually more complicated not to say impossible because when it is white, totally white you can't manipulate it to recover details in this "burned" zone.

I hope this explaination makes sense and will be usefull for you. Please note that you will find a billion of articles, videos, tutorials explaining thoses basic concepts on the internet :)


The simplest way to do what you want it to make HDR. Bracket several exposures with +-1 or +-2 stops then use software to combine in single image with light and dark areas exposed closest to your vision. In such very high contrast scenes this can help a lot.

Of course you can try with single RAW file and try to compress high contrast to acceptable level.

P.S. I would like to thank to Michael Clark for the link in to the question's comment. The idea is fantastic and I quote the comment of user2719 here:

Just for the sake of historical interest: we used to tackle this task by taping (or tacking) large CTO + ND gels over the outside of the windows to reduce the intensity of the exterior light and bring it into balance with the (usually tungsten) interior light. The cine types still do this. It takes time, usually two or three people, ladders or a cherry picker, and was never what you would call cheap. Combining exposures, or multiple developments of a single RAW exposure, may seem like an imposition, but only if you have nothing to compare it to.


Outside, the street is evenly illuminated by the light coming from the sun, but once that lights goes through your window it behaves as any other light point, and its intensity falls proportionally to the traversed distance.

If we see the scene evenly lighted is because our eyes are fastly adapting to the brightness inside and outside the window, which our cameras can't do. Instead, we have to set our camera to expose for one of those situations.

If you want to capture the light of both situations in one shot, you should use a flash and set it to light the inside of the room with as much light as there is outside. (For example, if you are using 1/200 f/8 in order to get the sky as you want it, you should set the flash to get f/8 light at the distance from your camera to the desk).

Another option, for which you should better have a tripod, is to set the camera to shoot several photos, at different exposition values, and then combine them in what is known as an HDR photo.


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