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.
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.
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.