Black and White Photography – Highlight Tone Priority

One thing that is crucial in black and white photography is making sure your highlights don’t get completely blow out in your quest for great contrast. Luckily the EOS 40D and 50D cameras include a Highlight Tone Priority setting that “extends” the dynamic range so that gradations between highlight tones becomes smoother. It also helps recover blown-out highlights but in my experience, the effect is subtle. Since enabling this mode limits your ISO setting from 2oo – 16oo (it also changes how the ISO looks in the LCD from 200 to 2oo so that you can easily tell it’s set), you may find this feature creates slightly more noise than you would see at ISO 100.

In my own shooting I’ve found this setting can really help out in high contrast landscape work where the highlights like these clouds below, tend to get blown out. This isn’t a fix for every situation but it will help if you’ve forgotten your neutral density grad filter. The Canon Professional Network site even includes a video “Masterclass” on this feature and it’s a great presentation to watch.

Victorian Grape Arbor

Victorian Grape Arbor
Copyright © 2008 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 40D set on aperture priority (Av) with highlight tone priority enabled, using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM hand-held. The exposure was taken at 22mm, f/11 for 1/100th of a second at ISO 200 on Sandisk digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 and Photoshop Elements using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro filters. Click on the image above for a larger version.

4 thoughts on “Black and White Photography – Highlight Tone Priority

  1. Pingback: Travel Photography - Breaking the Rules « Serious Amateur Photography

  2. Jeff,

    I see that you used Lightroom to process the image, so I’m assuming it was a raw file. It was my impression that highlight tone priority had no effect in improving the tone curve of the raw image unless you use Canon’s DPP software.

    Do I have this wrong?

    • Steve,

      Thanks for reading.

      You can use Lightroom to process JPEG files but I always shoot in RAW these days. Canon’s Highlight Tone Priority custom function extends the upper tonal range of the sensor by slightly shifting the entire tone curve during analog to digital conversion. That’s why is sets the low end ISO rating from 100 to 200. The change affects all images taken by the camera whether they are in JPEG or RAW format, unlike Canon’s High ISO Noise Reduction setting which only applies noise reduction when converting from RAW to JPEG (either in-camera or via DPP).


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