What is dynamic range?

Dynamic range describes the ratio between the brightest and darkest parts of an image, from pure black to brightest white. The best digital cameras capture only half as much range as the human eye.

Dynamic range photograph looking down the coast at sea level.

Explore the dynamic range of your camera.

Finding the right balance between light and dark will lead to better images, so test your camera’s limits. Try to capture highlights and shadow detail in various lighting conditions. Use the luminosity histogram, which you can view on your camera’s LCD, to help. It graphs the pixels you’re capturing at each intensity level. If the graph has spikes on the left or right and a valley in the middle, the image exceeds the dynamic range of your camera.

Nature landscape picture of a lush, jungle valley.
Beautiful capture of dynamic range in this photo of a rock at sunset.

Stretch your camera’s dynamic range with High Dynamic Range photography.

HDR photography involves taking multiple exposures of the same image while adjusting the f-stop on your camera. (The f-stop regulates the amount of light that passes through your lens.) It’s best to use a tripod so that the image composition is identical in each shot. Take a photo with your f-stop at a normal setting, then take one underexposed by one or more stops and one overexposed by one or more stops. 


Discover how to capture HDR images.

Learn how much to vary your f-stop, how many exposures to use, and how to merge to HDR.

Rocky island grows dark as the sun goes down.

Merge multiple exposures with this step-by-step tutorial.

See how to use the HDR tool in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to combine multiple exposures.


Try focus stacking in Adobe Photoshop.

Explore how taking multiple exposures allows you to switch your focus from one object to another, sharpening every element in the photo.

Rolling farm land before snow-covered mountain peaks.

Shoot in a raw file format.

The pixels in modern cameras’ image sensors can capture a wide range of light, but if you shoot in a format like .wmv or .avi that results in compression, you may lose a lot of that dynamic range. “If you’re shooting raw, you have a ton of information in that image,” Duchesneau says. “When you pull it into the computer, you can get back a lot of the image that you could see with your eye.” 


Post-processing is your friend.

Tools abound to help you get the images you want after you’re done shooting. As for adjusting the dynamic range of your video in post-production, you can learn to do your own color correction and balancing with tutorials and experimentation.

Title frame of a Color Grading tutorial in Adobe Premiere Pro.


Explore color grading.

See how to set up a color workspace, then learn how to do color correction, apply different looks, and use the Curve tool to make color and brightness adjustments. 

Individual making edits to a photograph in a photo editing program.


See how to improve contrast and brightness in still images.
Watch this video to learn how to use Levels in Photoshop.

Film effect being applied to a video of a young man hiking.


Learn how to make your video look like film.
Discover the Lumetri Color panel and Scopes and see how they can help you adjust your footage.

Remember that great images usually begin with good lighting. “It all starts on the front end,” Jensen says. “There are colorists who can save a bad bit of footage, but it’s a lot easier to give a colorist a good bit of footage that they can make better.” 


How do you know when your lighting is right and when your camera is capturing the range that you want? Continue to practice, experiment, and learn from your mistakes to improve your skills.


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