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Thread: Dark Foregound/Washed Out Skies

  1. #1

    Dark Foregound/Washed Out Skies

    So my Canon is set to 'P' I am in my back garden, take a shot of the shrubs, fence and the image is fine, apart from the sky looking washed out and over exposed. Next I raise my camera to take a shot of the distant roof-line and sky, but the foreground is now so dark. This happens at during day light and also early evening. Can anyone help explain what I am doing wrong here or could it be a lens issue as this has only recently started. Thanks

  2. #2
    Administrator Manfred M's Avatar
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    Re: Dark Foregound/Washed Out Skies

    It would be best if you posted an image for us to see, but I can proably guess at what is happening.

    Your camera "sees" the scene completely differently than the way your eyes (or actually your eyes in combination with your brain processing what you see). When you look at the scene, your eyes only see and focus on a very band of what you are looking at clearly. They dart around and your pupils open up or close down to adjust to the brightness of the area that you are looking at and then your brain stitches everything together as what you see.

    The camera, on the other hand, records exactly what is there is, and adjusts the exposure to an overall average, and that is what you get. If the camera exposes the foreground properly, the sky will often be blown out. If the sky is the predominate feature, it will be set to the average and will be considerably darker (usually too dark) and the foreground will be too dark.

    There are a number of options, but using P mode is not one of them, You have to override what your camera is telling you and get it to expose differently using either the exposure compensation controls or shooting manually. Some fixes can be done in post-processing (using software like Photoshop or Lightroom to adjust the images to get the to look right), Sometimes the lighting in the scene exceeds the ability of your camera's ability to record the lightest and darkest areas in your image. This is know as exceeding the dynamic range of your camera, then very special technique are required to record and process the image.

    I hope I haven't confused the issue too much. I think you will find that most of the photographers here on CiC usually shoot with something other than P mode.

  3. #3

    Re: Dark Foregound/Washed Out Skies

    Thank you very much for sharing your insights on that, I am grateful for the ideas and helpful explanation. I take your points as they are entirely reasonable, what foxed me about this was that previously this issue was not apparent, even when using P mode. That is what made me wonder as to the cause/sudden onset. As you may see from the attached images on links below the difference is very dramatic.


    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sliabhn...in/photostream

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sliabhn...in/photostream
    Last edited by sliabhnacailleach; 28th September 2012 at 02:42 PM.

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    Administrator Manfred M's Avatar
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    Re: Dark Foregound/Washed Out Skies

    Those two images confirm what I wrote previously. Cameras use something called an incident light meter, and that frankly is not quite the way that these devices work Calling it a gray meter would be a bit more accurate.

    The camera's metering system assumes that an average scene, as reprensented by a black and white image consists of 18% black values and 82% white and is usually referred to as an 18% gray scale, and that is what your camera's exposure is adjusted to. When the scene contains a lot of light colours, like your second shot, that primariy clouds and sky, the scene isn't typical, but the camera doesn't know this and the resultant image is significantly underexposed. It's not just the sky shots, but any scense where the tones are brighter than average; a white sand beach or a scene of a snow covered landscape will have the same problem. You have to change your exposure to compensate. If your camera has a histogram display option, this is the best tool to figure out if you are getting a good exposure.

    Your first picture shows a different problem, and here the sky is taken to be so bright, that you have lost all of the highlight detail. This is called a high dynamic range image, where there is a lot of difference between the brightest part of the sky and the darkest part of the shadow. Your camera's sensor is just not capable of recording all of the data in the scene.

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    Re: Dark Foregound/Washed Out Skies

    The primary problem with your shots is that you have the light source in your image.

    On overcast days, the entire sky acts as the light source. It doesn't matter if it's the sky and ground or a lamp lighting objects on your desk, you cannot take an image of a light source and the items illuminated by that source, and get them all to be properly exposed. Either the light source is overexposed (as in your first image) or the scene illuminated by the source is underexposed (as in your second image.) There is no traditional exposure setting on the camera that you can use to correct this problem.

    There are a few ways to address this problem. The traditional methods are to reframe to eliminate the sky, or use Graduated Neutral Density filters to bring the two areas into balance. Processing in the darkroom was also used to address this issue (film has the same problem...this is not a digital issue.) I don't know which Canon you have but some cameras now have Dynamic Lighting and HDR modes that can help. Processing on the computer is the solution most would take...either by correcting a single image or combining several images to make the final product.

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    Glenn NK's Avatar
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    Re: Dark Foregound/Washed Out Skies

    Good call Manfred:

    If the OP isn't shooting RAW, then I would suggest they do so - so much more can be retrieved in an image of high dynamic range with a RAW file.

    The other suggestion I offer is to use a good RAW converter program in which shadow recovery can be done. The latest version of Lightroom (4.1) has really improved in this respect.

    Unfortunately there is no EXIF data that I can find in the images, so diagnosing is difficult:

    First image - I would guess (without having EXIF) that the sky is blown out. Using a histogram, I think I could get a recoverable image with a single shot without a ND filter in this situation. I would expose so the sky just started to clip on my RGB histogram.

    Second image - Pretty much the same approach - expose so that the histogram is just starting to clip. This doesn't appear to have the dynamic range of most of the sunsets I shoot, so I think that in LR I could pull the shadows of the foreground out.

    Glenn

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    Re: Dark Foregound/Washed Out Skies

    It is all a question of tricking the camera's sensor into giving you the result you want. Even with film one had to be aware of this and depending on the subject one would have the exposure meter's needle above or below the middle 'correct' position on occasions.

    To get detail in the sky, avoiding burnt out sky, one raises the camera when taking half trigger to include more sky, then holding HT you lower the camera for the shot. The ground detail maybe too dark but you should have an editing programme to adjust that.[ a good editor not the average simple programme ]
    In the case of the sky and roof you have to decide which you want to be correct. If you want the buuilding then you point the camera to include more of it when taking HT. For the sky then as the first para.

    There can be problems that the camera will focus at a wrong spot when doing the above but these days many cameras have AF/AE lock buttons so you can lock the exposure say on the sky and then lower the camera and focus on the lower subject matter ... that would be AE lock ... or you could work the other way around using AF lock. You could read your manual to see if your camera has this feature.

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