Basics of High-Contrast Shots on the Canon Rebel T5/1200D

By Julie Adair King, Robert Correll

When a scene contains both very dark and very bright areas, achieving a good exposure can be difficult. If you choose exposure settings on the Canon Rebel T5/1200D that render the shadows properly, the highlights are often overexposed, as in the left image in the figure below.

Although the dark lamppost in the foreground looks fine, the white building behind it has become so bright that all detail has been lost. The same thing occurred in the highlight areas of the green church steeple. Your camera offers an option that can help produce a better image in this situation — Highlight Tone Priority — which was used to produce the image on the right in the figure below.


The difference is subtle, but if you look at that white building and steeple, you can see that the effect does make a difference. Now the windows in the building are at least visible, the steeple has regained some of its color, and the sky, too, has a bit more blue.

This feature is available only in the P, Tv, Av, and M modes. It’s turned off by default, which may seem like an odd choice after looking at the improvement it made to the scene in above. In order to do its thing, Highlight Tone Priority needs to play with a few other camera settings, as follows:

  • The ISO range is reduced to ISO 200–6400. The camera needs the more limited range in order to favor the image highlights.

  • Auto Lighting Optimizer is disabled. This feature, which attempts to improve image contrast, is incompatible with Highlight Tone Priority.

  • You can wind up with slightly more noise in shadow areas of the image. Again, noise is the defect that looks like speckles in your image.

The only way to enable Highlight Tone Priority is via Custom Function 6, found on Setup Menu 3 and shown in the figure below.


As a reminder that Highlight Tone Priority is enabled, a D+ symbol appears near the ISO value in the Shooting Settings and Live View displays, as shown in figure below. The same symbol appears with the ISO setting in the viewfinder and in the shooting data that appears in Playback mode. Notice that the symbol that represents Auto Lighting Optimizer is dimmed because that feature is now disabled.