So far, our discussion of highlights has been limited to our work in the field. This makes sense. It's best to control just about any process in its early stages—this is true for most things in life, be it health care, home maintenance, manufacturing, or photography. If we manage exposure we pretty much set the stage for a good photograph. But, the real world moves fast and we sometimes don't have the time or energy to get a perfect exposure. Sometimes lighting is just tricky. Sometimes we forget the basics.
It's not a sin to have to fix images in post-production. But, we shouldn't rely upon post-production as a crutch. Exposure fundamentals are important. Yet, sometimes things simply go wrong and we're faced with saving a photo that has blown-out highlights. If highlights are truly lost there's nothing that will bring them back. But, there are things we can do. Here's a list:
1. Shoot in RAW: If we shoot in RAW there is more image information in the file. It's that simple. We can coax out every bit of highlight nuance and sometimes save the photo. While a JPEG image is pretty much set, you can always get more out of a RAW file than what you initially see.
2. Use a Good RAW Processor: Each RAW image processor is different. Lightroom will give you a different result than will Aperture. And both are different that Nikon Capture. Each editor will recover highlights differently and you should try a few just to see which one works the best for you. These processors improve with time so be sure to stay current. One advantage of shooting in RAW is that you can use today's imaging technology on yesterday's images.
3. Practice: The development sliders on today's RAW processors can be deceptively simple. But, mastering them takes lots of practice. Coaxing out highlight detail might seem straightforward but doing it well takes experience. Take the time to learn about your software and try to understand what each slider does and how they all interact with one another. There is no substitute for practice. It's like playing a piano.
4. Curves Rule: We'll spend lots of time in this blog discussing specific tips and tricks. Photoshop has lots of moves and processes that can recover highlights. Highlight recovery in the LAB color space is particularly effective. Yet, the most important tool in your arsenal is the curve adjustment. Curves rule! If you are serious about photography you need to know your curves. Curves are so important, we'll devote lots of time to discuss them. Proper curve adjustments can turn good photos into great ones and, yes, they can rescue those sad highlights in your badly-exposed photos.