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Great Minds

August 11, 2009

The other day I was smacked in the face with the old adage “Great Minds Think Alike”. A friend and I were out taking photos together and I noticed that we’d both independently come up with the same answer to a common photographic problem. The problem is how to handle low light shooting. I’m not talking about nighttime. In this case it was mid afternoon and the sun was high in the sky but we were under a dense forest canopy where the light was far more limited.

When faced with low light, there are several different ways of responding:

  • Increase your camera’s ISO (sensitivity to light)
  • Supplement the light (typically by using flash)
  • Live with longer, slower shutter speeds

Usually that last one, longer shutter speeds, ends up being the cause of blurred pictures. That prompts people to ask how it’s possible to get low light pictures without using flash.

Ultimately, everything is a trade-off. In our case, we both knew that digital cameras and digital editing programs such as Photoshop have a wonderful ability to recover ‘lost’ data from underexposed images. In general, it’s easier to recover data from dark shadows than it is from blown highlights. The results are usually better too.

So, in our case, we both opted to deliberately force our cameras to underexpose by about 1-1.5 stops with the intent of adjusting the exposure on the computer after the fact.

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