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Mastering Your Digital Camera

Lesson 29 of 51

High Contrast Lighting

Chris Weston

Mastering Your Digital Camera

Chris Weston

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Lesson Info

29. High Contrast Lighting
Capturing an image in even lighting is easy -- but what about scenes with a large amount of light or high contrast lighting? In this lesson, learn why your camera can only capture a certain dynamic range and what to do to capture high contrast scenes.


Lesson Info

High Contrast Lighting

a cameras dynamic range is its ability to retain detail in white and black tone. Simultaneously seen dynamic range refers to the difference in stops during the brightest part of seen the darkest areas in a scene, an example being the white and black pieces on a chessboard. Now the importance of knowing your cameras dynamic range and it varies across camera models comes in dealing with high contrast lighting. If seen, dynamic range exceeds camera dynamic range, then in a photograph. Either the highlights will be burned out, where the dark tones will be blocked. And in extreme situations, you may lose detail in both. Now you'll find your cameras dynamic range in the manufacturer's specifications sheet, which you should be able to download from the Internet. Seen dynamic range is constantly changing, varying with the light and the weather, so you have to measure it on. If it's very close to or exceeds camera dynamic range, which means a high contrast scene, you need to know what to do to ...

deal with it, and to give you some guidance, I'm going to play chess. Most of what I've been talking about so far relates to having a single tone within the scene. But of course that's not realistic. The question is, what do you do when you have multiple tones within the scene? And in particular when there's high contrast to answer the question about how do we deal with high contrast in photography? I'm going to use this chess set now. The first thing I've got to do is to work out what is the brightness range of the scene that we're photographing. What's the dynamic range of the scene? And to do that, I'm going to take a spot meter reading of the brightest part of the scene. So, for example, my white knight here and follow that with a spot meter reading of the darkest part of the scene. So the genocide of the King, I'm going to calculate the brightness range of the seen or seen dynamic range. I've got the camera set in spot metering mode. I'm going to position the spot sensor over the brightest part of the scene that's the part of the white knight, is lit by the sunlight and take a meter reading. And that tells me that I've got at Lens after F eight, a shutter speed of eight thousands of a second. Now I'm gonna take a second spot meter reading this time of the darkest part of the scene, which is the shadow side of the Black King cameras still in spot metering mode on the spot sensor over that shadow area. That's telling me that still, at F eight, I have a shutter speed off 15th of a second, so that equates to a dynamic range Racine dynamic range of nine stops, which is more than the cameras ableto handle. So what are we going to do about that when we have a high brightness range? Or in other words, when there's too much contrast for the camera to be able to record detail in both highlight and shadow simultaneously? Then we have some options. First of all, we could, for example, use flash to fill in light in the shadow areas, and that would reduce the scene dynamic range. But of course, flash isn't always feasible. Another option is that we could use graduated filters in order to reduce the brightness of selected areas of the scene. But again, that isn't always on option, particularly in a scene like this. 1/3 option is to wait for more appropriate lighting. And to be honest, that is something I do do a lot, which is wait for the right lighting in order to create the composition and the image that I want. Now, if all that fails, then it comes down to you have to make a decision. And that decision is. Do I retain detail in the highlights, or do I retain detail in the shadow areas? Now, most of the time, in digital photography, it is best to retain detail in the highlights. In other words, the whites have it, and that's checkmate.

Class Description


  • Set up your camera with confidence
  • Better understand shutter speed, aperture, and ISO
  • Capture perfect exposures in camera
  • Get sharp, focused images quickly
  • Understand white balance and the difference between RAW and JPEG
  • Quickly and confidently capture images “in the moment”
  • Become a better photographer by building an understanding of basic photography techniques


CreativeLive is partnering with Chris Weston to offer you his Complete Photography Master Course.

Turn terms like aperture, shutter speed and ISO from a bunch of obscure photography jargon to a toolset that you can easily manipulate to capture great photos. Led by landscape photographer Chris Weston, this class covers everything beginners need to know to master photography basics from exposure to focus.

Turn that camera dial off of auto and learn how to properly expose a photograph. With a few basic camera settings, get the most image quality and the best colors from your mirrorless or DSLR camera. Then, master focus modes and techniques for sharp photographs.

Learn the basics of photography in a series of short, memorable lessons. Chris' straight-forward teaching style is great for newbies that find the task of learning photography daunting, while the to-the-point lessons make it possible to spend just a few minutes a day mastering your camera with easy photography tips and techniques.


  • Beginner photographers
  • First time DSLR or mirrorless camera users
  • Any photographer that wants to get off automatic mode to shoot better photos


Named one of the world's most influential wildlife photographers, Chris Weston takes a contemporary approach to photography. After launching his career in 2001, the Fujifilm ambassador's images have graced the pages of top publications like BBC, The Times, Outdoor Photography, Practical Photography, and Digital Photography. As a photography educator, Chris has written over 20 photography books, along with leading photo tours and online workshops.


mark jacobson

What a marvelous course! What a marvelous teacher! When I went to college, my father would always ask me about my professors, more than the courses themselves. He was passionate about learning and although too busy with earning an income to go beyond an undergrad degree, continued to read 50 books a year. I still remember how he'd get almost visibly excited when I'd tell him about some special professor who taught with such enthusiasm and, more than just passion, evident delight and joy in the subject. 'Ah they're the best, son. How wonderful you have such a teacher." Well, he passed away decades ago but if he were still around I'd get a kick out of telling him about Chris Weston, the 'Prof' of this course. He's one of the very special ones: a teacher who's loved and lived his vocation--his avocation--since he was a boy--and still is as excited about it now as he was then. The result: a course that seems to be more a labor of love--of pouring far more energy and thought into the details then one typically finds in these courses--than anything else. Bravo Chris! I'm already on to your next one.


Chris is an amazing instructor who dissects theory giving amazing analogies that bring concepts to life. I have rarely been able to sit through most video course for more than a half-hour but watched this one from beginning to end. A good refresher course if you've been away from the camera for awhile or there are some concepts that still illude you. I highly recommend this course and look forward to watching his others. Thank you for the clarity and great explanations.

Sky Bergman

This was an amazing class. I have looked at a number of basic photography classes. This one was by far the best I have seen. Chris is an exceptional teacher. He breaks things down into digestible information and then inspires you to be creative. Thank you!