Quick Digital Imaging Tip 35/101: Expose for the Highlights. Please!

This is tip #35 of 101 digital imaging tips I plan to post here over the next few months. Stay tuned.

Today's tip: Expose for the Highlights. Please!

"Expose for the highlights." That's one of the chants on my workshops & photo tours, as well as in my seminars.

Sure, in Adobe Camera RAW, Lightroom, Aperture, Canon Digital Photo Professional, etc., we can rescue a little over a stop of overexposed areas of an image. But if the highlights are more than one stop overexposed, we are usually sunk. In most cases, they are lost and gone forever.

That's why it's important to check your camera's histogram. That's another chant on my workshops. :-)

Make sure you don't have a spike on the right of your histogram. Also check your camera's overexposure warning. With these two in-camera features, there is no reason, whatsoever, to blow out important highlights.

I exposed for the highlights when taking the opening picture for this post. Below I simulated what happens when you don't follow this most-important rule. Yuch.

Sure! Rules are meant to be broken. Below I intentionally overexposed the highlights in the background to blur out some of the detail in the background.

So, follow the "expose for the highlights" rule – and break it when it makes sense, but only when it makes sense.

For more info on getting a good exposure, see my book: Rick Sammon's Exploring the Light.

Explore the light,

P.S. Shadows/highlights is a good adjustment for rescuing overexposed highlights, as well as blocked up shadows. Keep in mind, however, that you can only do so much with an incorrectly exposed image.