Thursday, September 24, 2009

Exposing For the Highlights is For the Birds!

Take a look at the leading edge of the bird's wings in these two versions of the same image.

Bottom image: leading edge is overexposed. Top image: ahhhh, that's more like it!

I simulated the overexposed highlights in the bottom iamge to illustrate what will probably happen if you shoot in an automatic mode w/out any exposure compensation in a situation like this one - where you have a small area that is brighter than most of the scene.

The solution: set your exposure compensation to – 1/2 (for starters) and shoot RAW. With RAW files, you can recover areas that are overexposed up to about one stop.

Just added (because I was reminded of the point by reader Scott Thomas - who probably does not have jet lag as I currently do): Always check your histogram and overexposure warning on your camera's LCD monitor).

Explore the Light,


Scott Thomas Photography said...

Not all cameras are like that. I have an older Nikon D70 which needs to have exposure compensation set at +0.3 as it tends to underexpose. I've used a much newer Nikon D700 and found it did need some negative EV.

Just wanted to point out that people should test to see how they like their cameras setup. Alos, don't be afraid to change it based on what the historgram or blinky screen is telling you.

Dalantech said...

Hey Rick,
In a lot of the macro photos that I shoot the problem takes an odd turn -I have to expose for the red channel in the primary colors histogram. I've found that blowing the red channel will wipe out a lot of the texture detail in an image and it cannot be recovered in post. In fact I'd argue against recovering blown highlights in post since the computer can't recover data that I don't capture with the camera.


Kitty said...

Thanks for the hints!

I used a lot of neg. exp. this past week and I shot everything in raw. I learned a lot and I think my photos show it.

I hope your jet lag gets better. And I hope the "birds" don't come after you like in the Hitchcock thriller for spelling their name wrong! ;)

Rick Sammon said...

Actually, I meant for the Byrds.. as in the 60s musical group :-) But thanks. Fixed.

G Dan Mitchell said...

I often go to manual mode for such shots after getting the initial values in aV.


Paul said...


I take quite a few pics of birds in flight (mainly birds of prey against the sky) and often shoot at +.6 to force the camera to over-compensate for the bright sky. I shoot RAW in aperture priority (f5.6 with a 400mm) and hope the camera can give me the best shutter speed. I am also prepared to adjust depending on the bird and lighting conditions. For example, an adult Bald Eagle head in bright light can often lead to the dreaded blinkies...

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