Blown-out highlights. Nothing is uglier in digital photography. Capturing wide, dynamic ranges in original scenes has always been a challenge. Working with Kodachrome, for example, was never a picnic when it came to proper exposure. But, at least Kodachrome (and its brethren) would fade to white in a somewhat elegant way. If you overexposed the film it might look washed-out, pale, and faded. At its best, it might even be labeled as a high-key shot and be praised for it. With analog overexposure, the overexposed areas might be lacking in detail but there would be no gaping, abrupt and white holes in your images. Sadly, with digital photography, ugly gaps are exactly what we find when we lose control of our highlights.
Yes, overexposing highlights in the digital realm sends you tumbling off the cliff. Most likely the picture is shot. That guy with the big lens and khaki photographer's vest over there (you know him, he's the loud guy in the camera club) is laughing at you. He told you to pay attention to your histogram. You should have turned on the camera display's blinkies (overexposure warning). You should have bracketed your shots. The game's over. Or is it?
It turns out that there are things that we can do, tricks we can learn. It need not be hopeless. Of course, exposing properly is the true solution and we'll discuss that within the next few posts. But, even that can be elusive. Knowing which highlights are important and how to deal with them is a complex subject. Metering technique, camera setup, file format, and editing workflow are all important to keeping your highlights happy. It turns out that there's a lot to this, a lot more than most people think.
So, we're going to treat this topic with care. We'll be delving into image highlights with great depth. There will be tips and tricks but also some thoughtful discussion on the what's under the hood. Over the next couple of weeks we're going to deal the shot, over-the-edge, blown-out highlights: how to prevent them, and how to deal with them once you have them. The fist topic will be Specular vs. True Highlights. It's coming up next so stay tuned. And please subscribe to The Geek's Lens.