Old School techniques for dealing with high contrast lighting.

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Charley123 Senior Member • Posts: 1,054
Old School techniques for dealing with high contrast lighting.

I'd like to share some old school photography techniques I learned in college 30 years ago and have used ever since. These techniques are from the film days. I later found they still work well with DSLR and mirrorless digital cameras too.

In high contrast scenes outdoors on sunny days, sometimes you may want to reduce the contrast of the scene to be within the dynamic range capabilities of your camera to record. I do this by using a linear polarizer with rubber lens shade screwed into polarizer and +0.3 EV exposure compensation.

I use the rubber lens hood to rotate my linear polarizer. My camera uses contrast detect AF, which works with linear polarizers. Linear polarizers works better than circular polarizers. However, phase detect AF does not work with circular polarizers. So if your camera has phase detect AF, use a circular polarizer. If you are using a circular polarizer, then you don't need a rubber lens hood screwed into polarizer. If you are using a circular polarizer you can use any type lens hood whether hood mounts to lens body or screws into polarizer. You do need a lens hood for best results.

The polarizer reduces glare, which tones down highlights so no highlight details are lost. Adding +0.3 EV brightens the shadow areas to increase details in shadow areas. This technique works very well for reducing the dynamic range of the scene to within what your camera can record.

Polarizing also increases color saturation, especially of the sky.

To take things a step further, I like to use exposure bracketing in 0.3 EV increments, 5 frames. This pretty much guarantees a perfect photo out of camera. Usually the +0.3 EV photo is perfect, but if not, one of the other 4 frames will be. I shoot jpg + raw. The raw is my security blanket backup plan in case needed, but it's rarely needed. These techniques work so well that usually one of the 5 jpg is perfect out of camera.

Also, I have my camera setup to size my jpg at 1280 x 960 OOC because that's the size I publish online. If I ever need larger, I have the raw to work from. I have my jpg compression quality setting on superfine (best quality jpg).

Your jpg size preferences may differ, or you may be shooting raw only. Regardless, using a polarizer, lens hood, +0.3 EV exp comp, and exposure bracketing is a winning combination to tame high contrast outdoor scenes.

I find the above techniques works so well that no post processing changes are needed for exposure, contrast, or color.

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Another old school technique is squinting while viewing the scene (before looking through camera). With an SLR or DSLR camera, this is the old fashioned live view. When you squint, the dynamic range your eyes see is reduced to (approx) the dynamic range of what film or a modern sensor can see. So this gives you a visual preview of what the photo would look like without a polarizer and 0 EV exp comp.

Squinting was very useful in my film and DSLR days. I no longer bother to squint at outdoor scenes because my mirrorless camera has live view, which is even better.

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