how do you handle the limited latitude of digital?

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by jean_., Oct 15, 2006.

  1. Fellow leica users, I dare to post this here since I presume you know what I'm
    talking about:

    I got myself a Sony R1, and while the camera is gorgeous and works like a charm,
    I keep being frustrated by the limited exposure latitude and blown-out
    highlights. I feel that either I have the choice between all shadows black or
    the highlights being totally blown-out. Apparently digital camera makers are
    afraid of the dark, and default exposure is set to avoid shadows at thre price
    of half the frame being blown out. As a cmpromise, I have exposure compensation
    constantly set to -1 fstop to save some of the highlights, but in the end this
    is not really satisfying.

    OK, I know that this is a result of coming from b/w film with plenty of exposure

    My question to those of you who are also using digital cameras - how do you
    handle this? Combine multiple frames and photoshop wizardry, or avoid contrasty
    scenes alltogether?

    Just curious..
  2. Use fill-in flash.
  3. I shot Kodachrome for 50 years. Digital has about the same limitation on latitude in highlights, so it's no problem once you learn how to meter properly. In the case of digital, it's "easy" to bracket and combine the exposures in Photoshop, which you should learn to do. There are also a couple of secrets in avoiding the problem, which I'm not going to share with you.
  4. Fill-flash works best. Otherwise you can meter off the highlights and then see what shadow detail that you can dig up from the exposure in Photoshop.

    Try setting the exposure compensation to minus .6 and check your histogram.
  5. Tiffen makes three kinds of low contrast filters one of which is designed to bring up shadows. They were designed for the movie industry.

    I have not tried them, but they should work if they work with film.

    The Tiffin web site is rather poor and I have not looked in a while. I asked for printer literature and it was equally bad, although there was some original literature that was much better that I lost.

    I will try the original pain old simple low contrast filter I do have that is decades old. Wait for a posting.

    And I feel your pain.

    Fill flash does not work for distant subjects and the HDR multiple exposure system does not work for moving subjects. Hense the Tiffin solution.

    Stay tuned.

    I definately think this is the answer.
  6. "There are also a couple of secrets in avoiding the problem, which I'm not going to share with you."

    That's the attitude!

    Jean, obviously fill in flash and/or combining exposures won't work in all cases - fill in flash is a little difficult in landscapes, and combining exposures won't work if things are moving in the frame.

    My advice would be to dial in some -ve exposure compenation and above all shoot RAW not Jpeg. If you haven't tried already you'll be amazed at how much detail can be recovered in RAW processing.
  7. Don't give up film. In particular, negative film, which has great range.
  8. You can use a technique called HDR (High Dynamic Range). You'll need PS2 or Photomatix. This will combine three or more bracketed exposures with two stop differences into one image giving the photographer the ability to cover more than 9 f/stop range. The subject has to be stattionary and the camera on a tripod.
  9. in an overall contrasty scene all you can do is try to find the best overall exposure that
    does not blow out the highlights. The worst scenario, I've found, is when you've got a
    really bright sky and deep shadows on the ground like when you're shooting into the sun.
    This is nearly impossible to photograph in digital. Fill flash, of course, is stronger on the
    closest parts of your subjects, and what makes it nearly useless for me is simply that no
    matter how well done it still LOOKS
    like fill flash. In order to combime multiple exposures in PS you need to have the camera
    on a tripod, which again makes that techinque useless for my type of work. So, basically,
    the advice above is solid, shoot RAW and approach your metering as though you were
    shooting slide film. Good luck. Damn, I love Tri-X!
  10. Multiple exposures of the same photo with film always bothered me a lot, so I rarely did it. Waste of time and film if you know how to expose properly. But I did shy away from slide film as well. But it seems to me that if there is any advantage to digital cameras at all it would be the ability to completely disregard how many shots your taking--who cares, they're all free and disposable--and more importantly to shoot multiple exposures automatically without even lifting your little finger off the camera. On the other hand what I'm hearing about here are scenes of such contrast that you cannot get everying exposed properly no matter how many exposures you make. Sounds like the Tiffen filter is a good idea for this problem, even for film cameras.
  11. 1. Make sure you shoot RAW;
    2. Push the exposure so that your histogram is pushed as far as possible to the right, limited
    blown-out highlights are not a big problem is you shoot RAW. I recommend you read some
    books on RAW development and how digital camera sees lights. Half the bits information is in
    the highlights so that if you underexpose, you will limit furthe the latitude. But again, get one
    of these book to better understand that.
  12. More on HDR, including the software mentioned, is here.
    And a discussion about using HDR, along with a few examples, is here
  13. I, too, have shot slide film for years and so found digital's aversion to high contrast no big
    limitation. My solution for slide film was learned from Tillman Crane, a teacher at the
    Maine Photographic Workshops, many years ago. He was a dedicated large format B & W
    landscape photographer and carried a spot meter in a holster hanging on his belt! The
    Zone System was where he lived. (And he was super at teaching it to the likes of me.)

    But when shooting chromes he turned to an incident meter to "protect the highlights." I
    adopted this approach, using a Sekonic hand held digital meter with a "lumisphere" on
    board. Found that my blown highlights were greatly reduced in number. I'm not quite
    certain why.

    Tillman said that an incident meter puts your exposure dead in the center of the various
    light levels falling on the subject. It ignores contrast variations. He believed that much of
    the problem was not knowing just what to meter in the scene or how to deviate from the
    reading a spot or center weighted reflected meter gave. An incident meter becomes a
    quick and relatively brainless way to avoid many over exposure problems.

    I don't use it for digital, but rely on the instant histogram to tell me if I have a highlight
    problem. Also, of course, I check the LCD screen image after the exposure. As has been
    said, it's easy to dial in compensation if serious highlight problems arise.

    After years of Kodachrome 64, the problems with digital highlight overexposure seem very
    firmiliar and not very daunting.
  14. <There are also a couple of secrets in avoiding the problem, which I'm not going to share with you.>


    That is the funniest reply I have read on this forum for months.
    I actually laughed out loud for 30 secs. It was so unexpected. Brilliant.
  15. Why not post some of the images taken with the Sony Camera for discussion?
  16. The "expose like 'chrome" analogy is pretty good, but if you're interested in some more detailed understanding about how digital cameras record light and how to make the most of it, I highly recommend two articles from Adobe's Camera Raw page:
    • I believe both are almost verbatim sections from Bruce Fraser's book "Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS2" (highly recommended if you us PS).


      Geoff S.
  17. 1. shoot RAW, 2. If your Preview / Review screen can be configured to display a B/W image
    and histogram, that may give you an idea of the quality of your exposure and the dynamic
    range. Because your shooting RAW, you'll still retain all the color info.
  18. Horsepuckey. If your highlights are blown out, that's it.I suspect that your highlights on film are also blown out. Shooting in raw is great if your camera and software are up to the task. How many RAW images are posted on Answer: none.
  19. If I can't seem to squeeze the whole brightness range in, I'll output a couple of tiffs from the raw one optimized for shadows and mid-tones, and one optimized for the highlights, through Adobe Camera Raw.

    Then, I'll blend them through the shadow mask workflow here:
  20. "Horsepuckey. If your highlights are blown out, that's it.I suspect that your highlights on film are also blown out."

    Too true.

    "Shooting in raw is great if your camera and software are up to the task. How many RAW images are posted on Answer: none."

    There is no such animal as a "raw image".


    Don E
  21. Why not admit that there are some lighting situations that have a range so wide that sensing medium just can't accommodate it? Shooting skiing footage is an example: shoot for detail in the shadows and everything else is blown. Actually it is exactly that way with the naked eye -- we just don't recognize it. Sometimes reflectors can be set to throw reflected light into the shadows. Be realistic, there are conditions for which there is no 'perfect' fix.
  22. There are many answers to the question, most of which fit limited scenarios and are a fair
    amount of work that's rarely is done well enough to be perfectly natural looking.

    When I am shooting weddings in contrasty conditions, and there isn't time to study the
    histogram to re-adjust because what just happened won't be repeated, I just shoot neg film.
  23. sometimes, film hightlights get blown too if not careful..latitude, a matter of perspective.
  24. Use pre-war uncoated lenses?
  25. The Sony R1 has zebra stripe display of any highlights that will be blown out. Dial down exposure comp until these are eliminated or reduced. Bring up the shadow detail in post process. The R1 also has 4 contrast settings. Choose the low contrast setting or the auto contrast setting that to compensate for high contrast lighting. The lowest contrast setting is probably the best choice. Shoot RAW files to access more of the available exposure latitude during post processing.

    I find blown highlights more disturbing than blocked shadows, I think because I am more accustomed to seeing little detail in the dark, than little or no detail when the light is bright.
  26. The irony of this post, and many others like it, is that I find "latitude" or "dynamic range" to often be significantly BETTER with a good digital camera than with film scans - especially those from the fine-grain films that can compete with digital for resolution and edge sharpness. Here are a couple of shots, coincidentally with a Sony R1, processed from RAW. Feel free to point out any areas where your feel the latitude is lacking. Neither are processed for "artistic" qualities, just for the maximum amount of tonal range. The color shot has little red labels for the Photoshop levels of certain areas. If anything, to me, it has an almost artificial look because the shadows are so "open" compared to the highlights. The only areas hitting pure white are the direct centers of the sunburst reflections (even digital has trouble capturing unfiltered thermonuclear reactions). The B&W image has the histogram included in the corner - the tones do not hit pure white or pure black (i.e. there is detail everywhere), even though the illumination range is from white walls directly under a skylight to a windowless museum gallery in the background. These are single exposures, not HDR fake jobs, and no fill flash was used. Although, like Jean, I set the exposure compensation to -0.3 or -0.7 stops unless there is a lot of white being metered.
  27. Now the B&W:
  28. I still use film mainly, apart from a compact digital with no RAW setting. Other low-tech
    ways of evening up the light imbalance would be reflectors, ND filters or just waiting for
    more subdued lighting. If possible. Fill-in flash, maybe. But I think there are some scenes
    you can't capture well no matter what you use -- digital or film, they're just too damn

    I agree RAW does seem to result in better capture of highight and shadow detail with
    digital, judging from published pictures I have seen. I would love for someone with more
    technical knowledge to explain the reason in detail, but it seems the difference is that RAW
    employs 12 bit colour. JPEG uses 8 bit -- so some scene information is lost. But does this
    mean RAW is always better, as there are very good JPEGs around? And how about slides
    that are scanned to JPEGs?

    It's all part of complexity of the digital world!
  29. Oh dear, you all have given away the secrets of exposure.
  30. "Subject: how do you handle the limited latitude of digital?"

    High-resolution TTL electronic viewfinder (EVF)


    Don E
  31. Apparently digital camera makers are afraid of the dark.

    Me, too. I always rush home when it's dark. When it is really dark i sometimes hide under my bed.

    blown-out highlights.

    Of course with film you never get blown out highlights,do you. How about metering your cam correctly.
  32. Thanks to all for your responses, and my apology for coming back so late, but I've been
    travelling and had no access to the web..

    OK, what I get from it is that sooting RAW will certainly help. I admit that I shot jpeg until
    now, and have only fiddled with the jpeg settings the camera offers, like that auto-
    contrast-thingy that actually is very useful to gain a bit of tonality.

    Fill flash: Has occured to me of course, but is not helpful for landscapes, and for people -
    let me put it that way: the silence of the R1 is one of the main reasons I bought the
    camera. Not because I take pics sneaky and secretly, but because the noise of a DSLR (and
    certainly a flash going off) is killing any nice mood that people are having. I do not want to
    become the center of interest when taking a pic, and I don't want the people starting to
    "act" and become camera conscious. The leica, or the R1, just take pics, and everybody
    forgets about it fast and igbnore me handling the camera. BTW, flash also kills any nice

    Metering certainly helps, I'm aware of that, thanks for reminding me.

    Correcting exposure until the zebra pattern goes away certainly rescues the highlights, but
    I often end up with the shadows being really noisy when I lighten them up. I'll try RAW and
    the expose to the right method.

    @ Andy: thanks for posting the pictures, I was actually hoping for something like that. I
    will try RAW.

    After all, it may be in part my expectation, after using mostly b/w film and using mainly an
    incident light meter, I almost never encountered any blown out highlights or other
    exposure problem, save for the frames lost because of me forgetting to set the shutter
    speed back from 1sec ack to something more useful in bright sunlight ;-) I see that those
    using slides are used to deal with it.
  33. Allen, with film, one can in fact blow highlights. Of course!

    As for someone mentioning the use of a light meter when shooting digital...this is a big fat waste of time, and money. Why do that when in the time it takes to use one of those film era thingies, one can just shot off a test shot and view the histogram....the histogram is the last word on exposure, so to use a light meter is in digital captue is most peculiar, to be sure.
  34. With an incident meter, you can measure the light falling on your subject and quickly know how to optimize the exposure for that subject (letting the highlights and shadows for the (less important) rest of the scene fall where they may. Histograms are very useful, but there are some situations (for example, a strongly-backlit subject; or the usual suspects that throw off reflective meter, subjects significantly lighter or darker than middle grey, subjects that include specular reflections, etc.), where an incident reading will give you what you need much more quickly.

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