Pushing the Sony A7RII's Dynamic Range Using Capture One, Photoshop and Luminosity Masks

Recently, during my annual trek to Las Vegas for WPPI (wherein I arrive in the city of sin and proceed to actively avoid going to the actual expo because I book too many other things), I found myself in the deserts outside of Vegas with a Sony A7RII, a few bits of glorious Zeiss glass, no modifiers or lighting of any kind, and Renee Robyn as my model. Welp, guess it was time to see what Sony's dynamic range claims were truly about then.

I decided to shoot everything more or less with the idea of exposing for highlights. Basically, the sun and sky were all I concerned myself with (mostly) in terms of exposure, and then tried to compose each shot as best I could with minimal to no regard for the unsettling fact that Renee was 1 to 3 stops underexposed in every single shot. Having kidnapped Renee off the WPPI floor immediately after her speaking engagement at the SmugMug booth, we hurriedly reviewed wardrobe in her room and then instructed Ryan Pramik (who had joined me this year for the Vegas shenanigans) to drive us to Nelson, NV as quickly as the law would allow. (I'm sticking to that story, so hush.) I had a workshop to give near the strip that night, and Renee had an orgy of meetings and engagements as well. We simply had to rush if we wanted to do this project, and rush we did.

What could possibly go wrong?

While a full recap behind-the-scenes film of this project is coming up next month (replete with scaling steep mountain grades, exploring abandoned mine shafts and abandoned baby car seats in some boulders), I posted one of my favorite shots from the shoot recently across my social media. It received a very positive response, and curiously, far more questions about how it was lit than most shots I have done. Replying to photographers questions with "No lighting, no modifiers" yielded doubt, laughter, and more questions. 

To that end, I made a quick video tutorial reviewing the methods I used to balance the exposure across the image before settling in to truly retouch it and grade it. Sure, this isn't some new and revolutionary technique, but it was definitely something I hadn't quite done before; certainly not this extreme. As such, I employed Capture One to do the heavy lifting of processing the Sony raw files, and then some of my tried and true luminosity mask noodling in Photoshop to make it all happy.

I had seen many examples of super-hyper-mega-extreme dynamic range editing, where an image was processed way beyond the point of believability as an exercise in showcasing said dynamic range of camera "x", but I wasn't excited about the final results as an overall work. I knew that full natural light and 1 to 3 stops under would require some technical stuff, but I didn't want to produce a token final result celebrating DR and nothing more.

I'd like to think I succeeded, but then I may be partial to my good friend Renee as one of my all-time favorite subjects to shoot. Oh and you can see this video tutorial and dozens more on my YouTube channel any time, and stay tuned for the behind-the-scenes film coming up in April.

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william mitchell's picture

Thanks for the viedos and actions.

Justin Haugen's picture

great video! what i find i love most about this kind of DR performance is how much it has benefited my OCF work. It's been a real pleasure shooting for a final edit in mind. Makes it really hard to show someone the back of the camera and tell them "it'll look better when I'm done with it" lol.

Tom Lew's picture

Wait... did my mind just explode? Yes. It did.

Eric Pare's picture

same. twice.

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

Nice vid Nino. Anyone else find the mountain range bokeh distracting?

Great stuff Bro :D