How much detail is enough?

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  • Unprocessed Photo

    Unprocessed Photo

  • Photo processed for Highlights

    Photo processed for Highlights

Take a look at these two photos of the same waterfall. Notice that the water in the image on the left is overexposed. This is a common problem when shooting scenes like this. The brighter water tends to lose detail even though the rest of the scene is properly exposed. The image on the right is properly exposed in every area. Notice the clear details in the water. I used our iHDR manual blending technique to make sure the entire image was properly exposed.

How do you know when you need more detail, and when you don’t? Take a look at the scene you are photographing. Can you see details in front of you? When I was was photographing this waterfall on an overcast day I could see details in the flowing water. However, if I look directly at the sun, I can’t see any detail at all… so if I’m shooting into the sun, I don’t expect to be able to see details in my finished image. The photograph below shows what I’m talking about. You can see lots of detail in the trees and the mountains… but the area right around the sun is “blown out”. In this case, it looks natural.

Enlightenment - Varina Patel


Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that photography is art. Only the artist can decide how much detail is right for a given situation.

About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.

  • Bogdan

    Great observation! The detail losing is a real problem in photography.

  • Just FYI, and it might just be me, but when you read this post in a reader, the images are flipped so the “left” image is NOT the blown out one… Threw me for a loop until this page loaded. Great point though, thanks for sharing.


    • Thanks for the heads-up, Ben. I’m afraid there’s not much we can do about how your reader formats our blog posts, though. Maybe next time we’ll say “the brighter image” rather than “the image on the left.” 🙂 I guess that would solve the problem.