Detail in Sun and Foreground


Today’s Question: Was the photo of the sunset in Rome that you shared on Instagram an HDR? How did you get so much detail in the shadows while still having detail in the sun?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, the Rome sunset photo in question ( was a high dynamic range (HDR) image, consisting of seven exposures separated by one stop each.

More Detail: When you include the sun in the frame, you can count on either losing detail in the foreground shadow areas or losing detail in the sun (or both). By capturing multiple exposures and blending them together into an HDR result, you can retain considerable detail in both the highlights and the shadows and then determine how you want to interpret the scene.

My general approach to capturing the exposures for an HDR image is to determine exposure settings that will retain highlight detail for the brightest areas of the image, and then increase the exposure from there to cover the full range of shadow values.

In the case of including the sun in the frame, I don’t generally go to the extreme of including full detail in the sun. I will typically allow the red channel to get blown out to some extent, for example, so that I’m retaining reasonable detail but not capturing a huge range of images.

You can use automatic exposure bracketing to capture the sequence of images, or use the Manual exposure mode to adjust the shutter speed for each capture. I usually start with a dark exposure that retains highlight detail, and then continue increasing the exposure in two-stop increments until I have an exposure that retains full shadow detail. (And yes, in this specific example I was only bracketing in one-stop increments, only because I didn’t need more range for this specific range and prefer to adjust the increments rather than change the number of exposures).

The images can then be assembled into an HDR image using a variety of different software tools. In the final tone-mapping step of the workflow you can choose how to interpret the final scene. At this point I recommend applying adjustments that preserve detail and yet retain a natural look to the image.