The rainforest understory is surprisingly dark. Most of the time, we were shooting at ISO 3200, 6400, or 12800. As the sun passes overhead, occasional sunbeams shoot through holes in the canopy, briefly illuminating small areas of the forest floor. The “sunflecks” spark surges in photosynthesis and as a result are extremely important for plants growing in the forest understory. These sunflecks also present challenges for photography, as they create extremes of contrast and often fool the camera’s exposure meter. Bracketing can address the metering problem but doesn’t alter the contrast problem. Creative use of HDR (high dynamic range) can help with the contrast problem, but may result in a photograph that looks over-wrought. Additional post-processing, such as adjustment of highlights and shadows, individual colors, or split-toning in Adobe Lightroom, as well as dodging and burning or working with individual objects (within separate layers) in Adobe Photoshop allow for finer control of the final image.
Here are a three basic examples. Each of these illustrates the dramatic contrast and pinpoint light created by sunflecks. Minimal post-processing was done on these three images.
Click anywhere on the mosaic below to start a slideshow. Within the slideshow, there’s a click-box at the bottom right of each image for viewing the full-size photograph.
I also experimented with HDR and finer-scale post-processing. These three images below were were created in three different ways. The leftmost image has HDR derived from five bracketed photographs (each separated by a shutter-speed of 0.7x). The center image has HDR derived from the software built into the Nikon Df. Because the Nikon’s on-board HDR software does not operate on bracketed or raw-format photographs, the center image was shot in TIF format at the speed suggested by the camera’s exposure meter. The rightmost image was adjusted manually, starting from the photograph taken at 70% (0.7x) of the shutter-speed suggested by the camera’s exposure meter. Which do you prefer?
Click on the triptych to start a slideshow. Within the slideshow, there’s a click-box at the bottom right of each image for viewing the full-size photograph.
All photographs are © 2016 by Aaron M. Ellison, all rights reserved. For permission to use or reproduce any of these images, or to purchase a print, please contact me.
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