The Beauty of Low Dynamic Range

Non-Fiction, Central Library - Austin, Texas

Non-Fiction, Central Library – Austin, Texas

I think it’s typical for photographers to push for the most dynamic range as possible. That’s a big reason serious photographers shoot RAW and post-process — to pull as many details from the shadows and highlights as humanly possible. The HDR craze that I was certainly a part of was also a technique to increase dynamic range. Finally, buying the latest gear with the highest performance sensor also helps in this regard. But, there is a beauty to low dynamic range too when used properly.

I’ve talked a lot about my recent experiments with the InstantFlex TL70. The Instax instant film that it uses is notoriously lacking in the dynamic range department. You can see this from the example I posted yesterday. But, I also learned something.

I’ve instinctively known this, and the TL70 experiments have also proven that the effective use of blown-out highlights can be a good thing. My favorite photo I made, in fact, with the TL70, was one at home just shooting my living room. It produced a soft overexposed glow out the windows that add a rather magical look. Something that I would have never created or considered with digital.

I simulated this effect at the Austin central library with the addition of some nice leading lines down the stack of bookcases. The reality is, pulling in details from outside the window adds no aesthetic benefit. In fact, it detracts from the image. Overexposing these areas simplifies and makes the picture stronger. The same simplifying technique can be used for dark shadows, too, with the added benefit of adding mystery to an image.

I encourage you to embrace and even emphasize the shadows and the blown-out highlights when it suits the style. Seeing all the details throughout the image can lead to a dull and weaker photograph.

For my US readers, a very happy Thanksgiving. I hope you spend quality time with family and friends. Thank you for continuing to visit the blog.

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5 thoughts on “The Beauty of Low Dynamic Range

  1. Very nice shot! Thanks for your daily contributions Andy, every day it’s fun to see your creativity come to life.

  2. Agreed. Some of my better digital compositions were rendered in PS or LR with the clarity and contrast pulled back. This usually gives me a film look that at times look more organic.

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