03/25/10 251 W, 2 I - + 6 - 10 Light and Dark

Two versions of the same shot from Tuesday night. Rejects, not posted. Poor composition, by my eye. One is darker, one is lighter. The darker photo shows better fire detail. The lighter photo shows better surrounding detail. This perfectly demonstrates the challenges of shooting into very bright light at night. The camera often captures only the light and little else. Everyone reading has certainly experienced this. Giant fire at night. Take a picture. Nothing shows on film or in the digital image except a big mass of flames. To work around this problem, one technique is to "meter" the shots.

In the first photo, the darker photo, the photographer (moi) likely focused on the fire in the center of the frame. The camera thought the scene was "lighter than darker" and adjusted by not allowing as much light into the camera. The result is a darker image, and with less of the surrounding details. In the second photo, the lighter photo, the focus was likely locked on a darker area. Maybe the firefighters in the foreground, with the frame then adjusted to fill the composition. The camera thought the scene was "darker than lighter" and adjusted by allowing more light into the camera. Thus a bright shot, but also fewer details in the flames. That's the trade off.

The dark areas could be "filled" with a flash, but that presents a different set of challenges. Click to enlarge either:

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