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Make Your Portraits POP by Using Dynamic Range

Sometimes our gear does let us down in photography
Photo of portraits that pop

Sometimes when we take a bad picture, we tend to (unfairly) blame our gear. Often it’s simply our skills (or lack thereof) as photographers. But there are times when your photo gear can let you down, particularly when it comes to shooting portraits with poor dynamic range, as pro photographer Miguel Quiles explains in the below video tutorial.

“Your portraits might not be coming out as good as they could be and it’s not entirely your fault,” Quiles says. “It may actually be your camera’s fault. You see, there’s a bit of a hidden feature in most modern digital cameras that can really help you improve your portraits and your photography overall. It’s not something you’ll read about or find in your camera manual but understanding it can really help you take better pictures. It’s called dynamic range.”

According to Quiles, if you can harness the power of dynamic range, it will help you shoot portraits that truly pop.

“If you’re unfamiliar with what dynamic range is, essentially it’s a camera’s ability to expose for the brightest parts of an image all the way down to the darkest parts of an image,” he explains. “The goal with dynamic range is to ensure that you’re not under or overexposing your shots so that you end up losing so many details in your photograph.”

Dynamic range can be tricky, however. If you expose for the brightest part of an image, aka the highlights, it can cause your subject to be underexposed. If you expose for the shadows, or the darkest part of an image, it can make your photos look too bright and completely overexposed. And overexposure is something you want to avoid in portraiture because it’s very difficult to fix later.

“When you’re taking a portrait, the goal is going to be to make sure that you don’t overexpose your subject as you won’t easily be able to recover those bright pixels if you happen to blow them out and make them pure white, Quiles advises. “With digital photography, most of the detail is in the shadows of the image and today’s modern cameras do a fantastic job of allowing you to recover those shadows in an almost magical fashion.”

In the video at the bottom of this post, Quiles shares his simple tips that you can use in both natural light situations and in the studio to help take your portraits to the next level.

In general, it boils down to this: try not to underexpose your portraits by more than four stops because of problems that can arise with noise and color shifts in the shadows. Also, he adds, it’s ok to lose some details in the highlights if it adds character to your portrait and doesn’t include anything that is vital to the image overall.

If you’re looking for more help with your portraits after you watch his video, check out this tutorial with seven ways to pose men, and this story with the “simple secret for portrait lighting success.”

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