Sol Duc Falls, Olympic National Park, WA

How do you deal with extreme tonal range?

Capturing a broad tonal range in landscape photography often poses a challenge – even for the most experienced photographers. Today, a lot of us deal with the problem by bracketing and using HDR software or manual blending techniques to blend images later. But, there is a simpler way to eliminate the problem entirely… wait for the right lighting conditions. Mid-day light tends to be harsh – so you have to deal with harsh shadows and blown highlights. Early morning or late evening light produces a much narrower tonal range – and overcast skies soften light even further. In many cases, your camera can easily handle that compressed tonal range. If you want to capture an image in-camera… and avoid using software to blend images… wait to take the photograph when the light is soft and even.

Sol Duc Falls, Olympic National Park, WA

I took this photo of Solduc falls (above) in Washington’s beautiful Olympic National Park early in the morning – well before the sun was high in the sky. The very soft light allowed me to expose every part of the image properly without having to resort to bracketing or targeted blending to bring out the details in the water. I could have created an equally effective image under overcast skies.

Sol Duc Falls, Olympic National Park, WA

Notice the highlights and shadows in the second photograph. Harsh, direct sunlight creates harsh highlights in the bright areas, and the dark shadows lack any detail at all. Although the rainbow is pretty, the unappealing light is more than the camera could handle… so the image doesn’t work.

About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.

Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams


Free Landscape Photography eBooks

Build a stunning portfolio with Free eBooks, Photo Tips, Inspirational Stories, & Discounts from InFocus Newsletter.

Please check your email to confirm your subscription

2 replies
  1. jeff fedor
    jeff fedor says:

    Can’t wait til there is a camera with a huge dynamic range.To many great photo opts that get away because of the conditions are not met because of the limitations of the camera.

    • Jay Patel
      Jay Patel says:

      They will help is some situation while make the images look rather flat in other situations. And even if you get camera to capture fantastic dynamic range you need to have a device (monitors) to view them.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please prove that you are human by solving the equation * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.