To become an accomplished photographer, you have to develop something that I call the photographer’s eye. That is, the ability to evaluate a scene and pre-visualize how such a scene could be recorded by your camera. Developing such a skill takes time, attentiveness and lots of practice.
When you evaluate a scene you need to remember that your eyes are sensitive to a broad range of light intensity at any given time. In fact, it’s believed that you have a 15-stop range perceiving light while the camera you are using may only have a six-stop latitude. You can NOT reproduce the scene as you see it.
If you have deep shadows, they may go to black. Overexposed highlights may wash out or go white.
The first step in evaluating the scene is to determine the range of brightness for the scene. What is the difference between the highlights and the shadows? If it is only two or three stops, you will have no problem but on a bright sunny day, the difference can be so great that you may not be able to capture the entire scene in the camera. In the scene above, the setting sun is much brighter than the ambient light on the shadow side of the tree, causing the tree to silhouette.
In such a case, you have to decide if you want to lose some detail in the shadows or highlights, or just forego the photograph. True professionals know when not to take the photograph.
If the range of brightness in the scene is acceptable, the next decision is what tone you want to your main subject to be and that we will cover in a future post.