Girl in breaking waves on a beach at sunset with good dynamic range

What is Dynamic Range in Photography/Videography?

Dynamic range refers to the range of brightness levels that can be captured in an image or video, from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights. In photography and videography, understanding dynamic range is crucial for creating images or videos that don't lose details in the shadows or bright areas and which accurately represent the scene being captured.

What is Dynamic Range?

Dynamic range is the difference between the darkest and brightest parts of an image or video. The human eye can see a much wider dynamic range than most cameras can capture. Therefore, it is important to understand the dynamic range of your camera and how to use it to capture the best possible images or videos.

The dynamic range of a camera is measured in stops. A stop is a unit of measurement used in photography and videography to indicate a doubling or halving of the amount of light. For example, if you increase the exposure by one stop, you are doubling the amount of light that enters the camera.

The dynamic range of a camera is determined by its sensor and the processing software. A camera with a higher dynamic range is capable of capturing more detail in both the shadows and highlights, while a camera with a lower dynamic range may lose detail in either the shadows or highlights.

In general (but not as a rule), the larger the sensor, the better it is able to capture a wider dynamic range. Of course, with the constant advance of technology, camera makers are able to achieve greater and greater dynamic range on smaller and smaller chips so, take it with a grain of salt.

Why is Dynamic Range Important?

The dynamic range of a camera is important because it will affects your ability to capture a scene in a realistic or compelling way. If the dynamic range is too low, the image may be too dark or too bright, with lost detail in the shadows or highlights. This can make the image or video look flat and uninteresting.

One of the hardest scenes to capture on camera is a sunset, due to the bright light source (the sun) being so low on the horizon. Most cameras really struggle to maintain details in the foreground while exposing for the bright sky, resulting in really dark, undefined shadows. Likewise, when exposing for the foreground, the sky becomes too bright and washed out and the grandeur of clouds, and sun, and sky are diminished. Maximizing your camera’s dynamic range really helps to capture this sort of scene more accurately.Hands making a heart shaped silhouette against a sunset with low dynamic range

Hands making a heart-shaped silhouette against a sunset. Almost all of the detail in the foreground is lost in shadow.

Girl making a heart shape with her hands against a sunset

Here is an almost identical photo but the details in the foreground shadows are not completely lost.

How to Measure Dynamic Range

There are several ways to measure the dynamic range of a camera, but one of the most common methods is to use a gray scale chart or a color chart with graduated tones. By photographing the chart under different lighting conditions (at different stops of exposure) and analyzing the resulting images, you can determine the dynamic range of your camera.

Most modern cameras can achieve a dynamic range of around 10-14 stops, although some high-end cameras can reach up to 15-16 stops. However, the dynamic range can vary depending on the camera model, sensor size, and other factors, so it's important to check the specifications of the camera before making a purchase.

How to Use Dynamic Range in Photography and Videography

To use the dynamic range of your camera effectively, you need to understand its limitations and how to work within them.

If your camera has a limited dynamic range, you may need to use techniques such as exposure bracketing or high dynamic range (HDR) imaging to capture the full range of tones in the scene. Exposure bracketing involves taking multiple images at different exposures and combining them in post-processing to create an image with a wider dynamic range. HDR imaging involves taking multiple images at different exposures and merging them together, automatically in the camera, to create a single image with a wider dynamic range.

Additional techniques, such as artificially adjusting lighting, or using graduated neutral density filters, can help to balance the exposure between the bright and dark parts of the scene and aid your camera in capturing details in both shadows and highlights.


Dynamic range is an important concept in photography and videography that can have a significant impact on the final image or video. Understanding the dynamic range of your camera and how to use it effectively can help you capture images or videos with rich detail and vibrant colors.

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