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Increasing contrast

edited August 2016 Posted in » Nikon D3200 Forum
Hi, I am trying to photograph the inside of a church. When I photograph using a tripod I find the dark shadows and brilliant stained glass are much more impressive in reality than in my pictures. The problem might be that the metering reduces everything to one bland level. I have moved away from automatic mode but am not sure of best approach to enrich color and light contrasts. Can anyone help? Thanks.


  • edited August 2016
    If you want contrast, one of the things you should do is to make sure that "Active D-lighting" is turned off. ADL increases dynamic range and fills in dark shadows, which can be useful at times, but will tend to make dark shadows muddy and gray.

    Another thing that can help in very high contrast situations like this, where you actually want the dark parts darker, would be to spot meter on the windows.

    Matrix metering will tend to look at the whole picture, and may over-expose, as you note, at the expense of the bright windows.

    You can try bracketing your exposure. The D3200 does not do this automatically, but you can do it manually in P, S, or A mode by taking successive shots with exposure compensation. Try normal, and one stop in either direction, for starters.

    Also, make sure that you set your ISO as low as you can. If you're using a tripod, you do not need a high shutter speed or a high ISO, so turn off auto ISO, and set your ISO at 100. At that point, you can use any of the P, S, A or M modes to good effect. Since you want a fair amount of depth of field and maximum clarity, I'd use A mode, set the aperture at somewhere between f/8 and f/11. Focus on the most important detail you want sharp. If there are several, focus on one of the closer ones, as depth of field is deeper behind a chosen subject than in front of it.

    If you're using a lens with VR, turn the VR off on a tripod. Most modern VR lenses are supposedly able to sense a tripod, and work OK, and you may not notice any difference, but VR is not needed, and sometimes it can add a tiny bit of blur to a tripod shot.

    In post processing, you may be able to increase contrast too, and to adjust exposure, but it's best to try to do it from the start, as blown highlights, such as the brightest parts of a window, will be difficult or impossible to restore.

    If you shoot in Raw mode, you can adjust white balance and color in post processing, using many Raw reading programs including View NX-2 that comes with the camera. If you do this initially on a shot, you may find a white balance setting that works best on the spot. The auto WB, while mostly good, tends to be a little cool in daylight, and you may find that another setting warms up the colors a little bit, and makes them pop better without having to change the color set. You can also try "vivid" picture control, although that can sometimes go just a tad too far. The "landscape" picture control is also just a little more saturated than normal, and leans more heavily on the greens. The formula Nikon uses for these is undocumented, and you may have great difficulty duplicating it precisely in post processing, so try the different picture controls first to see if one suits you best.
  • edited August 2016
    OK thanks. I have heard that spot entering will automatically focus on a spot in the center. Can I get it to focus on a top right area such as stained glass?
  • edited August 2016

    In multi area focus mode you have no choice, but in any of the single area modes you do. For non moving subjects your greatest accuracy will be in Single Servo Single Point mode. In this mode, a single focus point will light up, and you can use the rear control to move that light to any of the eleven focus points that exist. If you're using Single Servo mode, you can also focus, and then recompose while holding the shutter button halfway down, and focus will be retained for that shot. If you wish to focus on some point that is not conveniently close to one of the 11 points, this is preferable, but it resets to the chosen focus point with each new shot.

    In Continuous Servo mode, the focus will begin tracking from whatever focus point you've selected. This obviously is not applicable to stained glass windows (I hope, as if the window is moving, you'd do better to run away fast), but can be handy when tracking a predictable object. For example, if you're at the race track, and you know a car will come over the hill, you can set your focus point at where you expect the car to appear, and AF will, if you're lucky, track it across the frame. For an object that's hard to predict, you're best off centering the focus point, and panning to keep it there.

    The center point is a bit faster, and more precise than the others, but all will work, especially for the kind of thing you're doing.

    If you are using spot metering, the metering spot will also follow the focusing spot in any single spot mode. It will always be on the center when using Multi Area focus mode. Matrix and center weighted metering do not change when focus changes.

    So, in short, if you want to focus on, and expose, a stained glass window, your best bet is probably to use single point, single servo focus and spot metering, compose your shot, and then move the focus point to the window. If you're very precise about composition, you can focus and recompose, but chances are good one of the 11 points will be close enough, and it will then be more convenient to take several shots in a row. The D3200 has lots of pixels, and a little cropping afterward can fine tune the composition without visible loss.
  • Excellent advice from Bruto as usual, however also try HDR. Now this is interesting. It will achieve what you want. Paintshop pro might help.
  • @haggis, I think actually that the problem in the original post is one of too much dynamic range. @maison_de_verre is, if I am reading correctly, seeking the higher contrast that one might once have gotten from a color slide, whose dynamic range was challengingly low.

    Of course I might be wrong on this, and look forward to clarification. In any case, the D3200 does not have in-camera HDR, so the only way to achieve it would be in post.

    A quick way to figure out which way to go on this might be to load an image into the freeware program "Faststone Image Viewer," which has a fairly broad capacity to adjust dynamic range even in a JPG image. The final result might be less than perfect but it can provide a very quick way of manipulating the various lighting and contrast parameters to see what the various changes will get you.
  • edited August 2016
    HDR is the answer. Now when you read about HDR it is recommended that you take lets say 3 shots of different exposure, one for camera settings auto and one of each above and below stops.
    Or in photoshop or paintshop, or even capture nxi, you re-do shots to the perfect exposure you want for every aspect of the perfect shot.
    Now remerge the 3 shots or exposures to form 1 perfect one.
    Have fun, try this it will astound you.
  • edited August 2016
    Indeed, if you want maximum dynamic range from a scene in which the light exceeds your camera's range (a church interior being a prime example), HDR is probably the best way to do it. But you do need the right software, and you do need, on the D3200, to take some extra care getting your three or more shots as closely registered as possible, since you cannot automatically bracket shots, and it's easy to jiggle things when readjusting.

    Some of this can also be achieved in a single shot by underexposure alone. Although the Nikon D3200 is not entirely "ISO invariant," it has come some of the way, enough to experiment with. The idea here is to take a single shot that is exposed properly for the brightest highlight you wish to have correct, and disregard the shadows. Within a surprisingly wide range, the shadow information exists in the Raw image even if what you see looks black. View NX2, and other programs that can read a Raw file, allow post processing shadow recovery, and in the case of Nikon programs, post processing addition of Active D-Lighting. Both these options can open up dark shadows and increase the dynamic range a great deal. Not, perhaps, as much as good HDR, but quite a bit, and often as much as needed.

    I should add, for my own point of view, although HDR is very interesting, and often dramatic, I find it often misapplied, and many of the images one sees on the web at least look to me dull and muddy. It's a real challenge sometimes to get wide dynamic range without losing the zing of contrast.

    This is much a matter of taste and expectation. For most of my photographic life, I've been shooting black and white that I printed myself, and slides. I always liked, and aimed for, the high contrast of light and shadow, and like the black shadows you get in a slide. While this and HDR are not entirely incompatible, and I often find myself needing to do some post-processing lightening of shadows, I favor some restraint.
  • edited August 2016
    Sorry can you explain a bit more about spot metering? You point the camera at the point you are using as the basis of your exposure, manually expose, and then press the key button and then recompose and shoot? Incidentally, what does Ae-l and Af-l normally do, and should you leave those settings untouched?
  • edited August 2016
    If you have your camera set to single point AF, one single point will be lit up in the viewfinder. If you use the rear control, it will move the lit point to one of the 11 available AF points. AF will then occur at that point, and if you have spot metering set as well, so will the spot metering. If you have multi-point AF on, numerous points will light, and the spot metering will always be at the center point regardless of focus.

    If you have a chipped lens that operates the meter, and it is set to manual focus, moving the focus point will still determine the spot metering spot.

    If you're hand holding you can also point the camera at the point you're using as your exposure spot, and hold the key button and it should hold the the meter setting you have already set. Depending on menu settings, you may get the same result by holding the shutter button halfway down. If you are using manual mode and manual ISO, you will need to hold no buttons. Your setting will persist until you change it. If you have Auto ISO on, the meter may still change ISO unless you use the key button.

    Exactly what the button does depends a little on how you set the button in the menu. It is normally set, I think, to hold both exposure and focus when you hold it down.

    You get the following possibilities:

    AE/AF both - in this, you point and when you hold the button you can recompose and both your focus and meter settings will remain. If you also have shutter button AE lock on, then holding the shutter button halfway down will also hold exposure readings, and will hold focus if your focus mode is AFS, but will continue to focus if it is AFC. If you are using AFA it may do either.

    AE only - the back button locks exposure but not AF. AF servo choice will determine whether the shutter button locks AF.

    AF only - It will hold your AF setting regardless of the shutter button, but will re-meter if you have let go of the shutter button, or if you have decoupled AE from the shutter button.

    AE hold - When you push the button AE is locked until you push it again, or fire a shot. As with AE only, the back button does nothing for AF.

    AF ON - AF is decoupled entirely from the shutter button, and the AE/AF button operates AF only. AE lock is provided only by the shutter button. A matter of personal taste, some people really like back button focusing, which gives some extra control. But it takes some practice.

    On the menu below the button assignment is the option for "shutter release AEL." If you have this on, then your AE will always be locked when you hold the shutter release halfway down, regardless of how the back button is assigned. If you want to decouple AE from the shutter button and have it only done by the back button, turn this off. If you are using back button focusing, shutter button AE is the only way to get any AE at all.

    For most purposes, it's probably best to leave the setting as is, providing both AE and AF lock from the back button. The shutter button will lock AE and AF in single servo AF mode, and AE only in Continuous Servo mode.

    Somehow I have a feeling my explanation sounds complicated, but it actually is not very complicated. Remember you can experiment a lot and erase lots of pictures. Try various settings and see how they behave. For example, if you're home watching TV in a darkened room, you can duplicate many of the issues you'll face with a rose window in a church. Try different settings, aim and shoot and erase.
  • edited August 2016
    OK thank you. Once you have spot metered, can you lock and then take your finger off the key button? You can recompose but really need two hands on the tripod to do this.
  • edited August 2016
    Bruto, you really should make a video of this and stick it on YouTube. Show and tell is the best learning experience.
  • You can lock and take your finger off the key button if you have set the "buttons" menu for the key button to "AE HOLD." When you do this the button will no longer hold AF, so if you want to hold AF you'll have to hold down the shutter button.
  • edited September 2016
    Thanks for all help. Just need a little clarification. Suppose you edit settings, not through menu, but thru info display (i.e. lv off). Why is it that focus seems to be controlled by two sets of options not one, for example Focus mode and AF-area mode? Are these when and where options? Also, I don't really understand the whole issue of matrix entering. When digital cameras were invented they were designed to basically imitate film cameras. Images would be created with the basic triad of settings - aperture size, shutter speed, iso setting. So when a digital camera creates an image, the triad of settings are repeated across the whole image, which begs the question - how is matrix entering an improvement on spot entering?
  • edited September 2016
    I hope this helps. On my D3200, my settings on the back screen are
    from the top right.

    ISO 200
    Dynamic area af
    centre weighted metering
    exposure comp 0.0
    flash comp 0.0

    I don't have many contrast issues, but using HDR from a single raw file on paint shop pro x6 works well, if you need a quick fix.
  • edited September 2016
    I will try to answer here.

    First of all, for the two different focus settings, there are two different issues involved. The first, AFA and AFC, is a separate issue of whether or not focus hits once and is completed, or whether the focus motor continues to operate. This is an important distinction, because Single Servo focus will find focus once in a shot, and then will not change focus if you recompose, or if the object you have focused on moves. Continuous servo focus will continue to adjust focus if the object or the camera moves, and will thus track a moving object, but will not allow you to recompose without refocusing.

    The AF area mode is a separate issue, because whether or not you use AFA or AFC, you may wish to choose among options. For example, the Dynamic Area focus mode for AFC will follow a moving object if it moves out of the initial focus area. If you're trying to keep track of a bug or a bird, this can help. Single area AFC will not track outside the initial area. But within the area, it will continue to adjust focus. If you are panning an object or it is coming toward you, this can work. 3D does a job similar to Dynamic area, but uses more information from the camera's processor, including color, and can thus track a fast moving object well, but can lose one whose color is difficult to pick out. Multi area will use the processor to try to figure out what is the most appropriate thing to focus on, based on various parameters, including face recognition I think. It can guess well sometimes, and miss entirely sometimes. Each of these modes can be useful, and can be chosen to suit your circumstances. In AFS mode, you do not get dynamic area or 3D, but you can still choose between single and multi-area. AFA mode allows the camera to decide whether or not to be in AFS or AFC mode. It guesses right much of the time, but cannot, of course, get it right every time.

    The two menu settings are separate but interdependent. If the functions were combined into a single setting, it would have to be a very long list to cover all the possible combinations.

    As for the matrix metering, this is a matter only of meter reading, not of how the camera sets itself. As always, the shutter speed, ISO and aperture are applied across the entire image. The difference is only in how the camera's meter reads the scene and recommends that setting. Matrix metering, which by the way was used in some film cameras too (My f/4 has it), though it's gotten more sophisticated, reads various parts of the scene, and uses the processor to try to figure out what is in it, and to modify the metering accordingly. It often does a very good job of this, as the number of metering spots increases, and the processing power of the camera improves. Will it give you a better meter reading than a skillful use of the spot? No, but it may give you as good, quicker.

    Each metering pattern has its advantages. A plain, simple, averaging meter looks at the whole scene, and calculates what settings will render that entire scene at an average 18% gray tone. If the scene is distributed in an average way, it will be perfect. But that's rarely the case.

    The next level of sophistication was the center weighted averaging meter. In this setup, a center section, usually 20 or 30 percent of the total, is read (still averaging) and given a disproportionate weighting in the total, of about 70 percent. The remaining 70 or so percent of the scene is metered and its average is weighted at about 30 percent of the total. The result is that most of the meter reading is done on the subject. Outlying sky, windows, etc., are counted, but for less. The result is often better. This, or a version of it, has been around a very long time. Starting in the 1960's or so, Nikon and Minolta among others have used center weighted averaging to great advantage. My old Nikon FTn had it and it was pretty good. The F3 had an unusually narrow version - 20 and 80 percent - and was very good. Minolta had a somewhat odd pattern, wider at the bottom than the top, more like an archway than a circle. Much of the time this was superb. But a good photographer would always second-guess a center weighted reading if the light was odd.

    Following this, comes matrix metering, in which a number of different points are read, dealt with by the camera's microprocessor, and weighted according to its secret protocols. It's usually better than the others, though it can still be fooled.

    A sort of side-ways outlier is spot metering. In spot metering, a small area of the image is metered (the size of the spot can vary, but it's usually about the same area as the center focusing spot). All the rest of the image area is ignored, and not metered at all. Used right, spot metering can be deadly accurate, and used wrong, it can be a mess. To use it right with a digital camera, you must aim at a desired area, and meter hold if you recompose. ideally you want to find some area in the image whose exposure you wish to be right in the middle, the equivalent of the "gray point." Doing this right will effectively remove impossible areas such as sunlit windows or dark cellar stairways from your exposure. What you are aiming at will be exposed right, and those impossible areas will be lost - blown out or black. Another way to spot meter, when you have time, is to take multiple readings. Find a spot you want to be black, meter that, then a spot you want to be white, and meter that. The midpoint between the two is gray. Spot metering can be very good, but takes some time to get right, and if the light is not too odd, and you're in more of a hurry matrix will almost always get it right faster.

    But remember, if the matrix meter says something like 1/30 at f/5.6 and ISO 100, then that's just a meter reading. If you make a manual exposure at 1/30, f/5.6 and ISO 100, it will be exactly the same. It's only a matter of how the camera's meter "looks at" the scene and guesses what's right. Use whatever method you think gets you the best exposures the most often.
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