Best settings for Active-D Lighting on Nikon

Active-D Lighting (ADL) in a Nutshell

What is Active D Lighting? Should ADL be on or off? What is the best Active D Lighting setting? When should you use it?. 

Here’s everything you need to know, and the best settings I use…

Best settings for Active-D Lighting

1. If your camera has an active D lighting option for auto, use it.
ON (Auto)

2. If your camera model only offers on or off, set it to off.

What is Active D-Lighting?

Active-D Lighting typically helps avoid blowing the highlights by affecting your cameras metering and so reducing exposure slightly. It reduces the need to ‘go ape’, chimping on the histogram for highlight clipping (that’s when the histogram graph touches sides) and so reduces the need to worry so much about “expose to the right”. 

  • What does ‘blown highlights’ or ‘Clipped Highlights’ mean?
    Effectively a bright area, a typically white or reflective part that is capture as just white, no data, no details, a blank pixel, if you did that at a wedding shoot the bride’s dress would lose all details in bright places. Not good. Photographers especially hate it. Active-D Lighting (ADL) watches the highlights and reduces the exposure to ensure the highlights are closer to the cameras sensor’s limits, but there still can be tiny areas blown out, which is fine.

The exposure changes made by ADL are subtle, unless you have it cranked up to Very High and also the scene contains extreme dark and light elements. Active-D lighting affects images in playback (which is effectively a tiny JPG representation of the RAW) you see when playing back your shots. 

How Active-D Lighting Affect Images

The photo preview will be slightly lighter, have very subtle recovery in the shadows. So, in effect Active-D Lighting does two gentle functions:

a) Affects metering and might adjust the exposure a little at the point of capture.

b) Moves the histogram in the preview image on your back screen. 

NB: It’s essential to know it does affect exposure slightly; many people don’t know that part.

Active-D lighting and RAW files

Yes.  It does affect the raw file because it works with the cameras metering system and therefore, can affect exposure slightly. Unless you are shooting in fully manual mode.

When to Set Active D-lighting to Low, Normal, High, Very High or Auto?

ADL does not edit a RAW file but rather affects exposure at the point of capture. So the result of using Low, Normal, or High Active-D Lighting will mean you will get different images, different RAW files, even under the same controlled test conditions. 

Testing ADL

I did a test at home, set on a tripod, fixed subject, fixed light source, trying each setting for Active-D Lighting on Aperture priority. You will notice it is subtle; the camera is adjusting the exposure slightly to preserve more details in highlights, which also affects the shadows. There was slightly more noise in the shadows. Naturally, this depends on the scene. In my tests, I used my living room because I have a dark grey armchair against a duck egg wall with a bright white table lamp turned on, a bulb slightly visible for this test, and a grey shadowy wood burner with glass, so it could reflect something. So we have a sort of real-world of extremes and plenty of scope for some shadow noise and highlights to blow out, especially on the now slightly exposed bulb and white base of the lamp. I would always expect the bulb to be blown in a scene light this with the subject being the chair.