June 6, 2007

I had someone email me regarding this image, which is one of the images I posted of a recent wedding :

Hi Neil.
I’ve just had a look through this weeks wedding favorites and noticed your image of the bride stood in the window. Would you mind letting me know how you produced this shot as I just love it and was wondering if you have used HDR on it as it looks like it has a massive dynamic range.
Many thanks, Charles.

Hi there Charles,

The key here is correct exposure – and then trying to capture as much of the range of tones as I can, by controlling the contrast during the image capture.  Lots of words there .. but what it means is that I used (on-camera) flash to control the contrast. So I was able to get that image pretty much as you see it there, directly out of camera without having to resort to HDR (High Dynamic Range) in post-processing.

What did help here is that the tree outside, wasn’t lit by direct sun. Of the four windows looking outside in this room, I chose the one where the entire frame would be filled with the tree, and not have bald sky appear

My specific settings are also important to note: 1/250th @ f5.6 @ 400 ISO,
- and specifically, the 1/250th shutter speed.

In using the maximum flash sync on my camera, I was able to
1.)   better control the available light outside, since below the max flash sync speed, shutter speed has no effect on the flash exposure.
2.)   and indirectly, get better range on my strobe (which translates to getting more power out of my strobe for a specific scenario

Point 2 needs some careful consideration.  If the outside area is well exposed at 1/250th @ f5.6 @ 100 ISO, then it means that it would’ve been well exposed at other shutter speed / aperture combination’s, such as 1/60th @ f11.  BUT, that small strobe on my camera has a better chance of pushing out enough light for f5.6 than it would for f11 … especially since I was bouncing my flash there.

OK, so the 1/25oth shutter speed is dictated to me by the high-contrast situation.  I have the best chance of my strobe pushing out enough light, at my max sync speed. The reason for this is the most efficient setting for my strobe, would be max flash sync speed, since this is the widest aperture I can use with flash and thereby getting maximum output from my strobe.

(That last paragraph might need some mulling over to let the implications of it sink in. :) )

I then bounced flash into the room, upwards and to the left of me, to throw enough light on the bride’s dress.  The dress is partly lit by available light from outside, and partly lit by my strobe pumping out a lot of light. In this case I had my flash exposure compensation dialed up high, to force the strobe to throw as much light as it could.  I could also have used manual flash output, but sometimes it is easier just to ride my flash exposure compensation to the max.  Either option would’ve worked here.

Here are two images:
left:  The image on the left is from the raw file, directly converted to a JPG through Canon’s DPP software. This is what the JPG would’ve looked like directly out of the camera.  As you can see, there is a some highlights on the dress that are slightly blown out.
right:  The image on the right is as I edited it slightly in Adobe Camera Raw (using Bridge CS3).  I corrected the white balance a bit, and pushed the Fill-Light fader a touch in ACR.


The image on the right is the one I then edited further in Photoshop to add a soft glow and a vignette – producing the final image I posted at the top.

So, no HDR techniques where used (or needed). This was partially just luck in having a scene where the dynamic range wasn’t excessive, but this is also partially due to me using (on-camera) flash to bring the scene’s dynamic range within what would still look great directly out of camera.



{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David Queenan July 29, 2007 at 7:17 pm

Just wondering how you metered to arrive at the exposure of 1/250 @ F5.6?
Thanks David


2 Neil July 31, 2007 at 4:04 am

Hi there David
I just posted a lengthy explanation of how I use the histogram to determine exposure.

Exposure metering for me is an iterative process of:
- checking my camera’s meter,
- checking the histogram
- and blinking highlights display,
- checking the image on the LCD, (although this isn’t an accurate assessment of exposure),
- experience.

There is no fixed recipe in approaching metering in all kinds of situations. It’s a mix-n-match of different techniques – all used to make sure I get optimum exposure for my images.

Of these methods, the histogram is the way I most often determine exposure when shooting under a constant light source, whether it be the sun, or studio lights.


3 Trevor Simpson October 30, 2007 at 9:48 am

Hi Neil,

I have looked in a lot of places, but nowhere in any information, tutorials, tips, do I see mention of “which” Picture Style to use in Canon SLRS for optimum results, particularly weddings.

I have stuck to ‘Standard’ but sometimes too contrasty.

Out of curiosity, which Picture Style do you use and do you modify it at all via Menu.



4 Neil October 30, 2007 at 1:35 pm

Hi there Trevor ..

I keep it to Standard. Since I shoot in RAW, every aspect of image quality that you can set on the camera, can be changed afterward – contrast, saturation, sharpness, white balance, etc.

It is easier to change these things on the Monday morning with my feet on the desk, drinking a cup of coffee .. than stress about it during the shoot.

Neil vN

I mostly use Adobe Camera RAW (hosted in Bridge CS3) for my raw editing. But I also sometimes use Canon’s DPP.


5 Ulf Thausing March 27, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Great photo.
If you had used a nikon would you have shot in BL Mode or not?
Yes, because it’s a typical fill light situation.
Not because you need maximum power.

I’don’t understand when using BL Mode completely. And on your website it is not so clear to me.
Do you use BL?
Did you write it to your pictures when you used it? You just write i-TTL. Is it always Standard TTL or do you mean i-TTL BL too?

Thnaks a lot.


6 Neil vN March 27, 2010 at 1:35 pm

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