By Jim Zuckerman
Contrast is an ever-present challenge in photography. It is especially a problem when you include in a single composition bright daylight seen through a window with the much darker illumination inside a building or home. There are two main problems: (1) the exposure is tricky because meters can be fooled by so much contrast, and (2) the loss of detail in both shadows and highlights result in poor images. Digital sensors (as well as film) can't capture the range of detail in those areas as well as our brain can.
The photo you see reproduced below was taken recently in Kenya. I stayed at a place called the Giraffe Manor, and on the grounds of this 1930’s-era estate are many Rothschild giraffes. The staff personnel at the manor add to the giraffe’s diet by feeding them corn pellets, and the gentle giants frequently stick their heads in through the windows hoping to get lucky. I photographed them mostly in the very early morning and around sunset because I wanted the contrast between interior and exterior to be as low as possible. Even so, you can see in this wide angle shot how the exposure isn't balanced between the daylight with the interior. It can't be. If I exposed for the light outdoors, the room and the giraffes would be hopelessly dark. Therefore, I had to expose for the room and the animals, and this meant that the outside became blown out – meaning grossly overexposed.
An alternative was to use fill flash, but I tried that and didn’t like the pictures. On-camera flash is the least attractive artificial light photographers use. It gives a flat, pasty kind of illumination that lacks dimension. In this instance, I opted for the loss of detail in the windows so that the breakfast room with the two unique guests could be correctly exposed. I took a spot reading on the neck of one of the giraffes to determine the exposure you see here.