Photo Tip Tuesday – Any good photographer must know what their camera can NOT do?

Don’t worry, it’s not just your camera, but all cameras. What the camera can’t do is see as well as the human eye. You may be saying “well ya, I know that”, but here’s why it’s so important.

I’m going to spare both of us the nitty gritty scientific details (and there are tons of them), it doesn’t need to be that complicated. The human eye, according to some, can see a range of 15-20 f/stops in a given scene. For this example we’ll say our eyes see a range of 15 f/stops. Most cameras can only see a range of around 8 consecutive f/stops in a given scene. Translation – our eye can see more light and darks in one scene than our camera.



As a photographer, it is important to keep this limited value range in mind while shooting. Think of a bright sunny summer day. You’re at the park and some kids are playing. You decide to take a picture. Bam, the sky is completely washed out and the shadows under the trees are totally black. You’re asking your camera to do something it can NOT do. While our eyes see the puffy white clouds in the blue sky and the squirrel under the tree at the same time, the camera can not. We can not realisticly expect our camera to capture this scene as we see it. This is like sending 5 year old little Johnny into an NFL game and expecting him to score the winning touch down – not going to happen.



The camera’s light meter is looking at everything coming in through the lens. Together with the the camera’s onboard computer (in auto/program mode) it averages out an exposure that makes everything sort of look OK in the photo, minus the sky and shadows oh well. The highlights are recorded as pure white with no detail, otherwise known as blown out. The shadows are recorded as filled in black with no detail. We’ve all seen countless images like this. The camera has no idea what the subject of the photo is, it’s just trying to capture an average image based on what’s in front of it.


This is were you, the photographer, come in to set the camera straight. Some decisions need to be made, like “what is important in this photograph?” Knowing the limited light to dark range of your camera, you need to work within that range as close as possible. Here are several available solutions that you should consider in your creative decision making process:

SHOOT AT A DIFFERENT TIME – This is usually going to yield the best results. Early morning light or late afternoon light will give you a softer more colorful light in a smaller range that your camera can “see” from light to dark.

CONSIDER A DIFFERENT ANGLE – Walk around your scene and see if  there’s a different view with a smaller range of light, with little or no extreme lights or darks. Be sure to squint to see the scene better. Squint to “see” better.

Over exposure solutionELIMINATE NON-ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS – A good example is the sky, if it’s not an important element in the photo, eliminate it (in the camera) by cropping it out, zooming in, or moving your position. See the example to the right. This will take the bright portion of the exposure out of the equation for the light meter and your camera will recalculate an exposure that will add more details in the mid-tones and shadow areas.

EXPOSE FOR WHAT’S IMPORTANT – Say you’re taking a picture of a person with a really bright sky behind them. For this example we’ll say you can’t move them, crop in, or shoot at a different time. One thing you can do is walk very close to your model. In program mode hold the camera to the person’s face, with no sky showing in the view finder. Press halfway down on the shutter release and make a mental note of the reading (ex. 1/200 at f/8). Return to the original position you want to shoot the scene from. Change your camera to manual mode and enter the previous settings, 1/200 at f/8. Your camera is now exposed for their face, not the background. The background will blow out, but the person will be exposed properly. This can also give you some cool effects, if you experiment.

RESORT TO MAGIC – HDR High Dynamic Range photography is quite popular. If you have a scene with more lights and darks than your camera can capture in one shot, you can try HDR. In order to produce an HDR image you need to capture (usually on a tripod) multiple images of one scene exposed from extreme lights to extreme darks. Then, using various software (i.e. Photoshop , Photomatrix, etc.) the images can be combined to include all the areas of the scene properly exposed.

Photography Tip Tuesday –– If you have a photography tip or would like to have a photography question answered, send me an email. Also be sure to subscribe, for FREE, to this blog to receive ongoing great photo tips and inspiration!