How many times have we shot a picture of a great looking scene only to discover on looking at the picture which resulted from the shot does not quite match what our eyes saw the scene? I am not talking about a poorly composed image, or a blurry one or one which suffers from a technical defect. A picture can be very nicely composed, in good focus and be well exposed but there will be a difference between what our eye sees in the scene and what the camera can capture.
The camera is an amazing device and over the history of photography great strides have been made in the advancement of the technology and the art. In spite of that there are limits to what the camera can capture as compared to that of the human eye. The biggest weakness is in the ability to handle differences in light. It is a question of “dynamic range”. What the camera is able to do to properly present images which contain both very bright areas and very dark (shadow) areas. The human eye handles such scenes very well and thus “evens out” the scene so that they do not look as extreme to us as they do when viewing a photograph of the same scene.
Consider the following photograph. This scene was shot mid morning. The sky is bright. Yet the valley area and the surface area such as the face of the rock to the right side looks like it might at about dawn. It is heavily in shade. In truth, it was shaded but it is not realistic for the time of day. It is not what any shady area will look like on a bright sunny day.
So you ask, “what’s so bad about the picture?” Nothing really. Ok, it is not the most stunning photograph one could shoot of the scene and it is a little flat and yes, I could have gone to greater lengths to spice it up a bit. There is no rule that says a photograph is required to look exactly like the eye sees the scene. Often times we don’t want it to look exactly like the scene is in real life for we like to apply artistic imagery.
For this scene, I wanted a little more. I wanted the valley to come out of the shadow and for the affects of the light of the day to wash over the rock wall to the right. I wanted color to be vivid and not just that of the already almost too blue sky. I wanted the view to look like it did the day I shot the photograph.
It’s not as simple as upping the brightness using our photo editing software. Simply increasing the brightness with the intent of brightening up the shadow areas will result in also brightening those areas which are already at their proper brightness and may in fact be at the edge of how bright they can be made before they saturate. The highlights in the clouds on this one are already very close to the limit. Any brighter and they will wash out. And, that won’t really make the shadow area look any better. Brighter, yes but not better.
If I expose the image to make the valley brighten up, the already brighter areas of the scene are completely washed out. The camera simply cannot handle extremes of light and dark in the same image.
Next: Some ideas on correcting the problem.