How to Apply Active D-Lighting on Your Nikon D5300 - dummies

How to Apply Active D-Lighting on Your Nikon D5300

By Julie Adair King

One way to cope with a high-contrast scene is to turn on Active D-Lighting on your Nikon D5300. The D is a reference to dynamic range, the term used to describe the range of brightness values that an imaging device can capture. By turning on this feature, you enable the camera to produce an image with a slightly greater dynamic range than usual.

Specifically, Active D-Lighting gives you a better chance of keeping highlights intact while better exposing the darkest areas. In the seal scene, Active D-Lighting produced a brighter rendition of the darkest parts of the rocks and the seals, for example, yet the color in the sky didn’t get blown out, as it did when the image was captured with Active D-Lighting turned off.

The highlights in the seal and in the rocks in the lower-right corner of the image also are toned down a tad in the Active D-Lighting version.

Active D-Lighting does its thing in two stages. First, it selects exposure settings that result in a slightly darker exposure than normal, which helps to retain highlight details. After you snap the photo, the camera brightens the darkest areas of the image to rescue shadow detail.

Symbols representing the current Active D-Lighting setting appear in the Information and Live View displays. The symbol that you see represents the Auto setting, which tells the camera to select the amount of exposure adjustment.


In Auto, Auto Flash Off, Scene, and Effects exposure modes, you’re stuck with Auto Active D-Lighting; you can’t disable the feature or vary the extent of the adjustment. In the P, S, A, and M modes, Auto is the default Active D-Lighting setting, but you can choose from five other settings: H* (extra high), H (high), N (normal), L (low), and Off.

It’s a good idea to keep this option set to Off so that you can decide for myself whether you want any adjustment instead of having the camera apply it to every shot. Even with a high-contrast scene that’s designed for the Active D-Lighting feature, you may decide that you prefer the “contrasty” look that results from disabling the option.

To select the setting you want to use, you can take two paths:

  • Control strip: Press the i button to activate the control strip, and then use the Multi Selector to highlight the Active D-Lighting option. Press OK to get to the screen shown on the right, where you can specify the adjustment level.


  • Shooting menu: You also can change the setting via the Shooting menu.


A few pointers about using Active D-Lighting:

  • You get the best Active D-Lighting results in matrix metering mode.

  • Active D-Lighting doesn’t work when the ISO Sensitivity is set to Hi 0.3 or above.

  • Although Nikon doesn’t recommend that you use Active D-Lighting in the M exposure mode, it’s worth taking a test shot anyway if you can’t get the results you like with the feature turned off.

    In M mode, the camera doesn’t change the shutter speed or f-stop to achieve the darker exposure it needs for Active D-Lighting to work; instead, the meter readout guides you to select the right settings unless you have automatic ISO override enabled. In that case, the camera may instead adjust ISO to manipulate the exposure.

  • If you’re not sure whether the picture will benefit from Active D-Lighting, , try Active D-Lighting bracketing, which automatically records the scene once with the feature disabled and once at a level you select.

If you opt out of Active D-Lighting, remember that the camera’s Retouch menu offers a D-Lighting filter that applies a similar adjustment to existing pictures.