dynamic range exposure question


Feb 9, 2017
I'm getting more interested in photography and I had a question about dynamic range. Most of my pictures I take backpacking include the sky. In order to get the correct exposure for all the parts of the picture, it seems like I have a couple options:
1. split ND filter
2. in camera HDR/DSO, etc
3. post processing HDR of multiple exposures
4. expose for the sky and bring out shadows in post processing.

Are there other options? I've never had much luck with the split ND filter, since the horizon is seldom even all the way across. And the in camera stuff seems to work, but also does other stuff I don't want it to do. I'm looking at lightroom or something similar, but I wanted to get an idea of how other people solve this problem.

What kind of camera are you using? My sony (a7r2) usually has sufficient DR to just expose for the highlights but for really extreme scenes I use sonys smooth reflections app. It stacks identical exposures in camera which eliminates basically all shadow noise and is way easier than messing with hdr in my experience but not sure if something similar is available from other manufacturers.
I expose my photos so there is no highlight clipping and then bring up the exposure and shadows in post processing....so #4 on your list. Obviously, this system only works well if you have a sensor that can handle bringing up the shadows without creating too much noise.
Look for a camera with the widest dynamic range possible in your budget. That is why I stayed with DSLRs. Use DXO Mark to explore the qualities of specific camera sensors and that includes dynamic range, very important. They test and rate glass too for all levels of quality.

The histogram is your light meter, use it after a shot to determine where the light levels fall and adjust exposure appropriately. Then process from the RAW files.
Graduated ND is more useful than the hard edge ND (if that is what you were initially referring to). Otherwise bracketing is the way to go, just practice blending exposures. YouTube has a lot of good examples ('exposure blending', 'luminance masking' good terms to search for).
I think most people would recommend your #4 for a "natural look". Basically, I do what Randy mentions in the 2nd response.
My take as well is that newer digital cameras have enough dynamic range that you probably don't need multi-exposure HDR very often.

Also I think the HDR look (when made obvious) hasn't aged well. It really isn't attractive. For example this guy pushes waaay too hard on it:
Agree 100%. Way overdone. HDR makes my eyes hurt. Real estate agents love it.
Wow! Thank you everyone. I guess the first step is to shoot RAW. I'm going to check out some software. I like to get to camp early, and I find it really fun to take pictures and scout out sunset/sunrise locations in the down time during the day. Thanks again, everyone is so generous with their knowledge.
Wow! Thank you everyone. I guess the first step is to shoot RAW. I'm going to check out some software. I like to get to camp early, and I find it really fun to take pictures and scout out sunset/sunrise locations in the down time during the day. Thanks again, everyone is so generous with their knowledge.

In addition to shooting raws, it probably makes sense to just get Photoshop/Lightroom/Camera Raw. I can get these cheaply through my employer though so ymmv.
In my experience just shooting in RAW makes HDR and ND filters unnecessary for the most part. I shoot almost exclusively landscapes. Every image I like is post processed. The simplistic view I keep is that there is so much data captured in a RAW file, even in the apparent full blacks and full whites viewed pre-post-process, you will be amazed at the detail brought out in the shadows/highlites, levels and haze controls that you will be amazed. For this reason and many others buy either a M4/3 or APS-C or full frame camera that shoots in RAW and then experiment and learn in post. I won't ever go back.
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Why would anyone choose to not create RAW files?

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Why would anyone choose to not create RAW files?

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I know you mean that as a rhetorical question, since you have a world of photography experience and know the answer, but the in-camera s/w for creating jpegs is so good anymore that a lot of people just go with it and don't care about fiddling with white balance or pixel peeping. I usually shoot both but will often just keep the jpeg to save space since I'm too lazy to fiddle with hard drives unless I really need to. Of course, I'm not a pro.
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I don’t have a world of experience. I just have way too much antique hardware.
The only real digital camera that I owned had 2 card slots and I sent RAW files to one card and JPEGS to the other. That was a nice arrangement. Then the cost cutting and dumbing down set in. A single SD slot is the norm. And I volunteered for unemployment. So it’s kit lenses and one SD card slot if I buy another digital camera.
Or film and a scanner.
In the meantime, for pocket change, LR/Enfuse is the exposure and focus stacking bargain of the decade.

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That's one of the big complaints about the new Canon 6DM2 is that it only has one card slot.
That's one of the big complaints about the new Canon 6DM2 is that it only has one card slot.

I had a first gen 5d, and it only had one slot. Two slots was a 1-series pro level feature. Ten years, never lost an image. My 6d had one slot. I ended up getting a 4th gen 5d which has two slots, but I still only use one lol. Then again neither Nat Geo or a newlywed couple are paying me to deliver...

OP what are you shooting with? Pushing shadows is easiest/less chance of resulting in a technicolor horrorfest ala most hdr plugins, but it also tends to add a ton of noise to the shot depending on the camera/sensor.
It might be helpful to review the basics of a histogram for photography. I picked a couple random sites to illustrate


Also, it might be helpful to think about which point your camera is metering off of. I have my camera to meter the center point and I can move the camera around to see how the exposure changes from bright areas to dark areas. If you expose properly for the bright areas, there is almost always enough detail in the dark areas that you can recover a lot of detail with post processing. It is a lot harder to think this way if you let your camera pick the metering point.
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