I spent a long time thinking about exposure while I was on holiday, and thinking about why we like to avoid blown highlights and shadows.
As a bit of background, in a given exposure, you have highlights and shadows. The highlights are the bit that the light hits, and the shadows are, err, the shadow bits, where the light doesn’t hit. Or hits less.
When we look at a scene it can either seem bright or dark. But our eyes (and really, our brains) can keep detail everywhere. Unless there is a huge difference between the brightest and the darkest parts in our vision (like when you look at the sun), our eyes can usually see detail everywhere.
Camera sensors can’t do this as well as our eyes and brain do, so we need to help the camera sometime by removing very bright parts of the scene, or by adding light (flash) to the darkest parts.
I wanted to show you this photo, taken in Almería, Spain. It’s actually inside the building where my parents in law live.
The dynamic range here is pretty large. Light pours into the top of the building 11 floors up. and bounces around on it’s way down. The exposure here is spot on – any darker and I’d lose shadow detail to the black, any brighter and I’d lose highlights to white at the top.
This is an excellent example because you can see the brightest highlights and the darkest shadows, but more importantly, you can see how that the light falls away as it gets further and further down.
Notice also how you can see some detail in all of the wall stripes.
Next time you take a picture, see how much contrast is in the scene, and if you can control it in one picture.