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Tuesday, 20 September 2011


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I am sure that blown highlight was unconsciously intentional. Your purpose was mostly informational, not mostly artistic. Without it, the photograph would provide less information, in this case about the location and strength of the sun.

The "recovery" slider in Adobe Raw/Lightroom can be helpful with blown highlights.

Of course, if you are shooting JPEG this comment won't help.

I tend to shoot everything digital in RAW with -1/3 or -2/3rds of a stop underexposure to avoid this sort of thing.

Mike, that's what fill flash is all about. Sun may light things up, but in reality it's your worst enemy, in digital or film. You need a snapshot lighting assistant.

I'll second you on the blown highlights. On my GF1, when I chimp I'm always scared of losing data to the right; especially for contrasty situations... so I have my GF1 dialled down almost permanently -2/3 EV.

The nightmare for me is that I'm never 100% certain with the inbuilt meter and histogram whether I can recover in RAW or not. I suppose I don't shoot enough with it and should probably study the histogram more...

That doesn't stop the nightmares though...


"...his old truck finally gave up the ghost after a moon trip."

Yep, those lunar landings can be rough, not to mention the splashdown upon return.

Before take pict-cha, photograph-ah must observe lighting upon scene, grasshoppah...

Don't know how many times those bit me before I learned to look for them.. especially with the contrasty range of digital. Drive ins - I used to stay at an out of the way motel off 81 east of Harrisburg on North-South trips, just so i could wake up behind an abandoned drive in - have many pictures.... sounds like a great project.

I've finally been scanning my family's early negatives (35mm) and can say that while most of them are pretty soft when I zoom in to the file (I knew very little about getting sharp shots) very few of the highlights are truly blown. A little dodging and burning in Lightroom does wonders to them.
I've been shooting 4/3 for a number of years now, and have become pretty used to underexposing for shots like that. Still, you'd have to accept a lot of fill light later, and a fair amount of noise. It's one of those trade-offs. I recently ordered some color film to see if I can combine my now better camera skills with film's benefits...

Sigh...forgot to add your asterisk again, Jeff! Sorry.

Jeff's asterisk: "moon trip" is car-guy slang meaning a vehicle has gone a quarter of a million miles, roughly the distance to the moon from Earth (at its farthest point).


I'm sure Carl would not have stopped by if he had known his head was going to be blown out. Looks like you might have blown out the end of that case in the back of the car also. Is this Wisconsin hospitality?

I've been using a technique that may recover some cases of blown-hilights that seemed unrecovable: make raw conversion of a image with the desired adjustments and then make another conversion with a copy of the raw file pushing the contrast down to the minimum and then reducing the exposure gradually until the hilight details start to appear (you may have to increase saturation a bit to compensate the lack of contrast). Then I combine the two images in Photoshop masking the recovered hilights.

Although I've never had the opportunity to use it because it is mac-only, there is a free raw converter that is supposed to do a better job than ACR in this department, it's called "Raw Photo Processor". It uses advanced floating-point calculations to achieve better rendition accuracy and has been gathering quite some popularity with some users claiming it's the most film-like rendition ever produced by a raw converter.

Hi Mike,

When you said 'blown highlight' my eye was immediately drawn to the white box, not Carl's forehead, which I didn't even notice. In the context of this picture I don't see the problem - just shows it's a sunny day. (a formal portrait would be different; obviously). The perils of ETTR (my bete noir is seagulls and sheep).

best wishes phil

ps. Ta for 'moon trip' , not heard that before.

Moon trip - that's cool.

Just sold my 1989 Rangerover after 250,000 miles.

Still see it running around purring - but the guy who bought it does his own welding.

So Carl just left the old truck on the moon?

I read recently that Dominos Pizza (well, their Japanese subsidiary) intends to put an outlet on the moon (true). I bet they'll go out of business there, though. Even if the pizza is good (no comment) there won't be any atmosphere.


If you do not like blown highlights, then simply sell you camera and buy something with Canon/Sony sensor. Blown highlights are the major reason I reject Panasonic/Oly offerings. If you look at DxOMark and compare any m3/4 camera with the ancient Konica Minolta Dynax 5D, you will find a similar dynamic range. D5D was a lovely little camera, but it's DR was a disaster.

Regarding blown highlights, I have always wondered why there is no exposure function that allows for total avoidance of them in digital cameras (or a preset, user defined, quantity say no more than 1%, 5% etc.). This should be quite easy to implement in point & shoot cameras as the exposure reading are taken off the sensor itself. Some of them even display an histogram suggesting that the information is definitely there.

I've always thought of bracketing as a cop-out for people who don't know how to use their camera, but Brooks Jensen argues convincingly for setting AE bracketing of +/- 2/3 stop for every shot. It's a feature I'd want to ensure is supported in RAW on a future camera.

Blown highs are a pet peeve for me, and one reason I still use film.

Yep, the old blown digital highlight, usually compounded by the channels blowing separately to give you some nice colour fringes too. Go buy some Portra 400 and be happy:)


Like Carl, I have a dedicated place in each case for gear, and a dedicated place in my vehicle for each case. It really helps the workflow!

As for the HHR -- How does anyone that's 6'6" fit into it?!? I've been issued a few HHRs at rental facilities, and each time found them terribly cramped. Is there a seat adjustment or some other trick that I didn't discover?

Looks like the hilights are out of reach even for RPP.
I like the color rendition in your example though :)

"I've always thought of bracketing as a cop-out for people who don't know how to use their camera, but Brooks Jensen argues convincingly for setting AE bracketing of +/- 2/3 stop for every shot."

Impractical for film, of course, and not immediately appealing to people trained on film, but with today's cameras it's actually not that bad an idea, except of course it's useless when you're capturing fast-moving subjects. It would have worked here.

My basic problem was that I just guessed wrong. Even being nearly totally unable to see what I was shooting (the viewing screen of the GF1 in daylight being more or less invisible), I knew I was pointing the camera directly at the dark maw of the opened back of the truck, which would of course result in too much exposure by AE. I guessed--wrongly--that that bright white equipment case would offset that.

You know what they say: Oh well.

Mike, who has egg on face and had eggs for breakfast with Carl, although the two things are unrelated.

Good pic.

That said, who cares if the hilights are blown?

this isn't fine art, right? (Sorry Carl)
It's a perfect snapshot of your old buddy in a moment that will live on until your harddrive dies.

If you're not getting paid it doesn't have to be perfect.

(And if you are getting paid, you get to convince your clients that the imperfections are wonderfully artistic!)

more pics please :]

Do you have the camera set to show you the "blinkies"? The histogram is fine, but when you get a blinkie on your blown out highlights, you just know to dial down a bit. I usually shoot one to make sure and then I can bang away.

Except I haven't shot any digital in 9 months or so...

6' 6"! Wow!

There I was wishing we could have such a cool small MPV in Malaysia. LOL

Quick fix, cut out the non-blown side of his head in photoshop, reverse it (or flip it, you know what I mean) and then paste it over the offending portion. A little Photoshop metaphorical duct tape and it'll look great. That gray stuff you have now sort of looks like duct tape, actually.

I agree with those who said the highlighting was barely noticeable, though Option 2 always exists: convert the whole thing to black and white and call it Art...

Must admit I got what you meant by "moon trip" right away. Might be because out of all the cars I've owned in the last 5 years, two left us with over 150,000 miles, two more were sold on with over 200k each, and the most recent was traded in with 270k miles behind it.

As for blown highlights I've been shooting and scanning a lot of B&W film (mostly Fuji Acros 100, and some Tri-X), I'm amazed by how *hard* it is to truly blow out all the detail in the highlights. I've had skies so overexposed that they bled into the space between frames and still was able to pull some cloud texture out of them.

Has Carl found the local drive-in theater in Earlville, Illinois? Still operating on weekends after all these years. I just moved to Earlville last year and have been meaning to take in a flick there but haven't got around to it. It's just off US-34 eight miles east of Interstate 39.

@Paul, remember with negative film, its shadow detail that's the equivalent to highlights in digital (or transparency film).


What was that old tip for film. "With black and white expose for the shadows and let the highlights take care of themselves. With colour expose for the highlights and let the shadows take care of themselves."
Paul Mc Cann

maybe it is already mentioned, but you could try RawTherapee. This converter has a mode in which the higlight restoration can be cloured as an extention of the srurounding color. should work well in this case.
It is a noce converter for the sony a900, with deconvolution sharpening you can pull out all the details present in a file.

Hans van Driest

First, your forehead blown highlight doesn't look that bad, and as others have said, if you truely needed to, you could patch it.

But, in general i too hate blown highlights in digital (especially on skin). There's a simple way to avoid it, though: stay at base iso and use only manual exposure. I haven't had an unintentionally blown highlight since i bought my 5d; i just expose for the brightest (important) region. For street shooting, which is a lot of what i do, this basically means sunny 16 exposure even when there're only small patches of direct light. With the 5d, then the 5d2, and now the m9, i have established by trial and error where the limits are in raw recovery, and there's very little guesswork involved. Its kind of like shooting slides, only you can very easily pull the shadows up later. Especially with the m9, the results are extremely natural looking. You have to ignore what you're seeing on the lcd, however.

I admit that this predilection is one reason i am not sorely tempted by various facinating cameras with smaller then ff sensors.

An even wider latitude is one of my top hopes for future cameras.

Scanning negatives is not likely to lead to finding many cases of blown highlights. Try scanning a pile of slides, though!

Mike, if you DO get that shot of Elvis getting into the flying saucer, nobody is going to complain about the highlights.

Your other commenters covered most of my suggestions: blinkies, RAW and so on. The one I haven't seen was spot metering.

Maybe it's because I shoot a lot of gigs but I shoot 90% of the time with spot metering and put the spot on the brightest part of the scene. Easy.

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