Earlier this month some friends and I got together in San Francisco, as we do every month, to share prints and talk photography. One friend shared prints of some beautiful night photographs he had made of a San Francisco subject. As we looked for little things that could make excellent prints even better we got to talking about highlights and how to control them. There are quite a few ways to do this, and I drew a little picture on a napkin to illustrate one technique I sometimes use to get a bit more detail out of areas that appear to be nearly pure white. The drawing looked a lot like the following.
It doesn’t look like much here, but trust me when I say that it made sense at the time. My friend picked up the napkin and took it with him as a reminder… and then a few days later contacted me to say he had lost the “napkin notes” from our conversation. He asked if I would mind describing the technique again. I said I’d do it — and three weeks later I finally got around to writing it up in this article!
Photographers using digital cameras have to watch out for over-exposing highlights. While we can recover a lot of detail from dark shadows, especially with current digital cameras, there is much less headroom at the bright end of the spectrum. When the exposure is too bright it is easy to end up with lost details in high luminosity areas. Go a little too far and you end up with that bane of digital photography, blown highlights, where the bright areas are simply pure white, leaving little or no hope of recovering the lost details. Continue reading Controlling Highlights (A Napkin Drawing)