Is your shot ruined by bright white spots?

Lighting is about the balance between contrast and intensity.

Lighting is about the balance between contrast and intensity. The camera does not have the same range of light tollerance as the eye.

Lighting only works if the camera can cope.

To retain all the detail in a picture, light levels must be within the capability of the image sensor. Eyes see detail in a wider range of light intensities. The camera is quite limited in its range.

If you want to be able to see, for example, detail under the trees in shadow, and detail in the cloud, you need to take two exposures. One for the sky and one for the shadow. Then you can combine them in post processing. This is because a bright sky and a dark shady area is too much of a range of contrasts for the sensor to cope.

The image sensor can see the detail in the shadows perfectly well. It can see the brightness in the sky perfectly well. If you expose your shot for either you will get a great shot. Expose for both and you will get either a blown out sky or a black shadow. The dynamic range is too large.

In the photograph above the artists dummy is unlit directly. The orbs it holds are self-lit. This was a difficult photo to take. The dummy was too dark and the lights too light. The light intensity between the two was too great for the sensor to cope with. Without independently lighting the dummy I had to rely on post processing to fill the light on the dummy without increasing the light in the orbs. Easy enough in PhotoShop. But how do you do it in camera?

If the contrast between the lightest part of your scene and the darkest part of your scene is too large you simply cannot take the shot and keep all the detail. You have to find a happy medium. The way to do that is use the blinkies!

Look up in your camera manual how to turn on the blinkies (often associated with the camera histogram). When you look at the back of the camera after a shot the blinkies will show. They blink-to-white if the detail is lost in very bright spots. They blink-to-black in the very dark spots. These are the areas of your shot that the detail is lost. They are also the most distracting part of the shot. If a shot has large areas of blown out white you will draw the eye away from your subject to the white spots. Your shot immediately loses impact.

The answer is ‘chimping’. Take the shot you want to take. Take a look at the shot (Chimping). If it has blinking areas you need to find another way of doing it. Try to find a way of taking the shot so there is no blinking (either black or white). What you are looking for is to reduce the contrast. Take the shot in a brighter place altogether, or take it in darker place. The aim is to reduce the contrast between bright and dark. Then the sensor can cope.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
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