Meter is Metering: Or Please Stop Complaining About Dynamic Range

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Fujifilm X70 review color and dynamic range (2 of 2)ISO 16001-60 sec at f - 2.8

In 2008, Canon spearheaded a charge for a major state of innovation that would forever change the industry. The Canon 5D Mk II was announced: and not only could it shoot HD video but it could also resolve loads of details, handle ISO noise pretty well and had great dynamic range rendition. At the same time, Trey Ratcliff’s Stuck in Customs was taking off a bit more than it already had as the world marvelled at his HDR photography. I did it, you did it, advertisers did it, etc. All of that created a world where photographers sit there and complain about the dynamic range on the internet because they have a computer and an avatar. For a while, it made sense; but the year is now 2016: and the truth is going to hurt for many of you still stuck in 2005.

Are you ready?

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 21mm f2.8 Canon EF mount review images street and landscape (26 of 29)ISO 1600

Are you seriously ready?


The only goddamn thing that is screwing with your ability to get the appropriate level of dynamic range from your camera that you need for your images is your lack of wanting to learn how to meter a scene better.

For many years now, cameras have been fantastic. They’ve all had great sensors and so what if you can’t get more details from your photo. No one ever became a better photographer by accruing more gear: they became better by developing ideas and learning how to meter.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A99 Aquarium photos and landscapes edited (6 of 15)ISO 50

Not enough details in your highlights? Underexpose and push the shadows: modern imaging sensors can render fantastic results from pushed shadows.

Not getting enough from your shadows? Raise the ISO or change your settings. If the shutter is too slow then adjust yourself accordingly or use a tripod or a solid, flat surface. If you’re afraid of the high ISO settings then Lightroom or Noiseless Pro (review here) can help you.

Still not getting what you want? Have you considered the use of a flash or a graduated ND filter? Photographers have used them for years and created some of the best and most memorable images ever with them. The fact that you’re complaining about it vs trying to do something about signals laziness. So what you’re secretly exclaiming to the world is that you’re a lazy photographer.

Nikon 24mm 2.8D 20130606Gservo-4301

Can’t get it in one shot? These days we’ve got memory cards that can hold literally thousands of images.

Still not getting the results you want? Shoot multiple images: Lightroom and Aurora HDR (review here) can do a fantastic job for you.

And again, if you’re against doing anything in post-production because you’re too lazy, there are in-camera methods that can accomplish this: like metering and using extra tools. It’s simple. It makes sense.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Rokinon 24mm f1.4 review images (2 of 4)

Photography is an expensive hobby, but using the tools that get you the results can help. Even more importantly, using the knowledge that can get you the results help to a greater degree. For what it’s worth, the photography community would be a heck of a lot better if there were less lazy folks and more determined folks looking to actually become better. That isn’t to say everyone is lazy, some people just genuinely don’t know any better.

But sitting there complaining instead of doing something about it isn’t going to make that image any better.

  • Tim
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Calling some of your readers lazy before suggesting HDR is laziness. Kinda sticks in the craw 😛

  • C.P.
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Great energy, but it’s misplaced. DR is the ability of the sensor to capture a range of tones, metering is simply the amount of light you expose for capture.
    I rely heavily on the dynamic range of sony’s sensors to pull pack highlight and push shadows in my images. The same shot taken with a canon sensor would look terrible, I know because I’ve owned a 5DMKII and III for years. All the metering and technique and effort in the world won’t fix that.

    I like your attitude though. You sound like a NY’er as am I. Getting people to get off their ass is a good thing. Laziness isn’t the problem, it’s ignorance. The goal is to work smarter, not harder. I’m lazy but I’m smart. For instance, I don’t need to bracket multiple images, process in HDR, wrestle with tone mapping, alignment, etc. if I simply used a camera that had more dynamic range in the first place.

    Having said that, embracing limitation is a great way to grow as an artist. Shooting with just my iphone has opened my eyes creatively.

  • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    High dynamic range is a powerful photographic tool.
    Not having it from sensor level is just making life harder even if you do know what you’re doing with your camera and post process.

  • Turbofrog
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    To be blunt, most of those shots actually demonstrate limited dynamic range, and are aesthetically impacted by it. In the sunset shot in particular, large portions of the sky are totally burned out, clipping to white with a harsh transition. Our eyes are still better are perceiving dynamic range and transitions than camera sensors, so while ISO capabilities of cameras have long since surpassed our ability to see in the dark, the same is not true with dynamic range.

    It’s one thing if you want to incorporate limited dynamic range into the aesthetic of your image and make it specifically contrasty, but some landscape images work best as a “window into the world” and natural tonal gradations are a big part of that.

    I use Micro Four Thirds as my main (digital) system, so I am definitely familiar with all the ways to preserve dynamic range that I can. Mostly I have to underexpose at least a couple stops to protect highlights, and at base ISO there is usually enough latitude to pull up the shadows. But HDR, Grad-NDs and circular polarizers all have limitations.

    If I could get another couple stops of DR with no compromises associated, you better believe I’d gladly take them.

  • michael young
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    Awesome post. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment of the article. Great photography, like most things, comes down to mastering the basics. Composition, exposure and representing your subject in the manner for which you see it are always most important. Simple.wins.always. Technique beats gear when the one with the gear lacks technique.

  • bt1138
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown

    This is a great post.

    I’ve been doing photography for a good 40 years, and for the first 25 or so did all my own darkroom work.

    Today’s camera’s are so much more capable than what was state of the art in the past. The software tools that can pull details out of the deep and dark depths of a negative (using an old term) are simply astonishing.

    Today’s bog standard $500 dslr with crap lens produces images on par or better than a full blown pro 120 film rig from days of yore. AND you get to take like 750 shots in an afternoon, for a cost of $0. In the day, a 120 roll was good for like 10 or 12 exposures, then you had to do thing called developing it to learn whether any of you shots didn’t suck.

    People will always bitch. Other people will use the tools on hand to get things done. And will appreciate them.