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How to get the best out of Nikon Active D-Lighting

The Active D-Lighting system within your Nikon D-SLR allows you to manage the exposure of your images more precisely when faced with challenging lighting conditions. With Active D-Lighting you are able to control high contrast lighting to maintain shadow and highlight details that are often lost.

When you are shooting in strong lighting conditions, the contrast between bright and dark areas of an image can be quite extreme. Active D-Lighting allows you to control this to ensure that your resulting exposure has detail across both the shadow and highlight areas.

If you compare the two images, the one on the left is when Advanced D-Lighting is turned on. The image on the right was taken with D-Lighting turned off.

You can see that Active D-Lighting has balanced the lighting in the image. Notice in the image on the left that the dark areas have been reduced as well as more detail being retained in the bright areas of the image.

In essence, Active D-lighting adjusts the contrast in the image to increase the shadow and highlight detail resulting in a more balanced image.
The image processing undertaken by Active D-Lighting takes place in the camera, at the moment the photo is taken. It only applies processing to the areas of the image that require it. This still enables you to photograph subjects with a wide dynamic range and retain an image that has natural levels of contrast. In Low contrast situations, Active D-Lighting uses localised tone control technology to prevent images from looking flat.

​Using Active D-Lighting

Depending on which Nikon digital camera you own, you have various options with Active D-Lighting. Some only have the option for 'on' or 'off', however the more advanced cameras offer settings such as Off, Auto and then a range from Low to Extra High.

Active D-Lighting can be set to operate automatically or manually and depending on your camera can also be set up to bracket pictures enabling you to get one with Active D-Lighting and one without.

On most modern Nikon D-SLRS, set Active D-Lighting by accessing the Shooting menu (the menu option represented by a camera icon) and scroll down until you reach 'Active D-Lighting'. Highlight this, press OK and from the selection on the menu, choose how you want Active D-Lighting to work and press OK.

​Back Lit Exposures - Solved

When you photograph a subject that is heavily backlit, you often end up with poorly exposed images. With strong light behind your subject, you may often try to add additional lighting such as fill flash to balance the lighting conditions. However, in many instances, this is not possible. In certain situations like such as this, large areas of bright light can lead to the camera producing an exposure that is less than optimal. Active D-Lighting addresses this issue by reducing the loss of detail in highlights and shadow areas. As a result the lost highlights and shadows are restored whilst maintaining correct contrast.

​When to use Active D-Lighting

Selecting the right amount of Active D-Lighting in relation to the lighting conditions you are shooting in.In general,the stronger the contrast of light you are photographing with, the higher the Active D-Lighting setting you will need to use.If you are unsure about the setting you should choose, it's best to select Auto and allow the camera to apply the correct level of Active D-Lighting based upon the scene.

The use of Active D-Lighting is most noticeable in Landscape and Sports photography when you often have complex lighting conditions to contend with.

​Active D-Lighting and D-Lighting differences

Active D-Lighting is different to D-Lighting which can be only be applied in-camera via the retouch menu or in post production.Active D-Lighting is applied at the point of exposure and therefore takes account of camera settings to produce the final image. Active D-Lighting is set from the shooting menu and is applied before shooting and recording. This feature not only increases brightness in under-exposed image areas but also applies localised tone control making the dynamic range of images appear wider.D-Lighting is applied after an image is taken and does not use information from the cameras exposure to apply the correction. D-Lighting is available from the retouch menu and can be applied to individual images after they are saved. This feature automatically corrects contrast and brightness across the whole image. You should use D-Lighting on images that have already been saved where you wish to balance out the light and dark areas.