The Great Journey in Photography

Bright White Fright

White Pelicans at Bolsa Chica

I often hear things about how to handle bright white scenes in digital photography. In particular I hear that one should increase exposure compensation to make a proper exposure. The rationale being that the digital camera is trying to make a medium grey exposure and compensating upward will make the whites nice and bright. I am not sure if that is still true with newer camera bodies but in any case that dog just does not hunt in bird photography. In order for that rule to be true the scene really needs to be all white and by that I mean about 90-100% white, like a snow scene. In bird photography you will need to take a different approach, almost always in the direction of negative exposure compensation. One way is to change the metering mode. You can always switch to center weighted or spot metering mode and that will get you in the ballpark shooting white birds but I think I have a better way. Since you should always be mindful of any exposure compensation you have dialed in to the camera, it is a lot less confusing to change the exposure manually with the compensation wheel. The camera isn’t going to do any of the work but with time and practice you will do a much better job of making the exposure correct. Shooting white birds I will almost always start at a compensation of -0.7 (“two-thirds of a stop under”).

Now you need to verify your settings. For that you will need to set your camera display in highlight mode. Reading the histogram is actually better but I think it tends to be distracting and scanning for the “blinkies” or “marching ants” in highlight mode is most efficient.
Blinking areas are over exposed. Or are they? Not necessarily.
Most camera displays show the histogram or highlights based on the .jpg preview image. That preview may also have some effects applied to it like a “vivid” setting that adds saturation and contrast and might not be an accurate representation of the image being transferred to your computer. If you shoot in a RAW type format your computer will have a lot more data to work with and can recover some of those over exposed areas just fine. A good rule of thumb is to turn off in camera enhancements and give yourself  about a half stop of lea-way on the exposure highlights.

Well that is it for today. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you will stop by again next week.


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