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Photography Question 
Janet L. Poole
 

Exposure: Preventing Blown-Out Whites


 
 
I need some assistance with, I think, white balance. I use a Nikon D100, and it seems like when I shoot a picture with white and other colors in the direct sunlight the white details in the picture are blown out. Any suggestions on how to fix? I attached a picture to show what I mean.


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7/2/2006 9:19:06 AM

 
John Rhodes
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/24/2005
  Janet, I don't believe your problem is a white balance setting. Your image appears to have been shot with the correct white balance. When shooting under bright daylight conditions, large expanses of white are going to "blow out" depending on where you meter the exposure. With all the green, I'd probably meter off the grass. Try underexposing in small increments (1/3 to 1/2 stops) until your whites aen't blown out. You might try shooting this under overcast skies or early/late in the day.


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7/2/2006 10:55:21 AM

 
Bob Chance
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/19/2006
  Hi Janet:
Digital is a great medium, but it does have it's drawbacks and limitations. For instance, it doesn't have the tonal range that film does, so it is not capable of faithfully reproducing black blacks and bright whites within the same scene. John's suggestion is right on. Try underexposing the shot till your whites are within the medium range. Other suggestion might be to shoot in Raw, which might give you just a little more leaway than JPEG.


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7/2/2006 2:14:05 PM

 
Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
  Hi janet...
It does not appear that you've blown the whites at all. The concept of "blown" highlights is somewhat misunderstood.
The walls of a smooth surface white house really cannot be blown out as there is no real detail there ... white is white ... Period! .On the digital scale, it is 255. The problem we have is that not all whites are created equal ... often there are shades of color or tint within the white; in that case, it is easy to blow the hilites.
Now, had you photographed a white flower with intricate detail, such as folds in the pedal etc., THAT could be blown out as shadow will gradually meld from black to white.
And, as Bob correctly pointed out, digital capture doesn't quite rival film yet in "latitude" - i.e., the ability to render a broad spectrum of shadow and highlight detail across the full range. Digital IS getting there - latitude and dynamic range wise - but not yet affordable to the average person on a budget.
Your house pic is fine from an exposure point of view. I'm glad you posted this question as I am soon leaving for Washington DC and will be photographing a lot of white buildings and monuments (LOL); so I will have to take extra care and thought into each shot depending on the time of day.
All the best.


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7/2/2006 5:19:06 PM

 
Bryan E. Stark   Hi Janet,
As a D100 owner myself,I've discovered that most of the time shooting in daylight I set my exposure compensation to -.3 or-.7 (aperture priority)and this works well for me.
Play with all the suggestions given to see what works best in your situation.
Bryan S


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7/4/2006 11:15:42 AM

 
Mark    Hi Janet,

All of the above answers correctly pertain to your question (isn't this forum great?).

I shoot with a D1X and have had similar problems and used to solve by shooting for highlights. The problem with this is that you will end up with digital noise in the shadows, especially if you shoot above 200 ASA.

At first I used Bryan S's method of just using EV -1/3 to -2/3, but this wasn't always satisfactory (I shoot aperture priority 98% of the time and would use the "blinkies" in the on-camera display to check for blown out highlights). I read up on the histogram and have been using this for the past couple of months and have more exact results now than ever.

One other thing you can do, if you have a tripod and an inatimate object is bracket your shots, say -1, +0, and +1 EV, then combine them in PS Levels, using the highlights from the -1 and the shadows from the +1 in combination with the correctly exposed shot.

Good luck!


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7/5/2006 7:31:37 AM

 
Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
 
 
 
Hi Janet;

I shot this just for you..Maybe it will help to illustrate a point.
While a VERY boring shot (photo of the day? LOL)..it serves well for this discussion..you might want to try a similar experiment.

This is a photo of a cement driveway around 4 pm..Lots of harsh light and very bright. Notice there is about 50/50 division of light Vs shadow.
I metered (centered) this shot where the shadow meets the bright area.

Specifics: Nikon D-70...Matrix Metering...1/180th shutter...F/16
Manual mode.

The first shot is untouched as it came out of the camera. The meter indicated perfect exposure..Not under or over.

The 2nd photo was corrected with levels in Adobe PS.

Photo 1.
Ok..#1) Did the meter properly record the level of light?
Sure it did! Remember; it was Matrix Metering.
#2) Is the photo underexposed?
Yes it is!
Hmm? How can the two answers both be correct?
In this scene, where you have such a strong difference between light & shadow, the camera's meter had to make a decision, AND DIGITAL, can not expose the entire scene perfectly..You can have one perfectly exposed, but not both..at least not with one shot.
You can get close, at the expense of the other, shadow or light.
This is what was referred to early in this discussion as "latitude", where film still exceeds digital in this regard.The transition from black to white.
Is it really all that bad of an exposure? Not really.

Lesson #1: Expose for hilites and develop for shadows..I prefer to say "err on the side of underexposure with digital." Film is the exact opposite.

Mark is correct, if you expose too strongly with "spot" meter for hilites, you may not like the "noise" in the shadow areas.

In the "corrected" photo, I simply "pulled in" the sliders with levels until shadow AND hilites began to appear.
By the way, to my Adobe friends,
"Auto Levels" did not handle this shot well at all.

In a real world scene like this, it is not an easy shot to get perfect. I also had to decrease the amount of "blue" in the shadow area..The whitest parts of the scene are of course untouched by this correction, but the shadows did benefit from this correction.

Many people who know how to use layers properly might cheat a little. We shoot two shots (tripod mounted)..expose one for shadow and one for bright light..sandwich the two together in Adobe or whatever you use, erase one part of the photo and Shazam!..a perfect exposure.

Your question is a great one with plenty of discussion and debate on how to properly expose a scene..Probably one of the most important technical aspects of photography..exposure.

Experiment a little. Shoot something similar..spot meter, try center weight and matrix, you'll be amazed at the many different results.

All the best,

Pete


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7/5/2006 4:44:34 PM

 
Bret Tate
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/12/2005
  Pete:

As you said, getting the correct exposure of a scene can be difficult and the question does inspire debate. With that said, I'll throw in my 2 cents(for whatever it's worth!). If you really want accurate color and exposure in the digital world, there are a few things you should think about. The half light/half shadow scene that Pete photographed as an example will never be properly exposed by the camera meter alone. It will always be underexposed by nearly 1 stop. Why? The camera meter believes that the subject has the same reflectance as an 18% gray card. Pete's scene looks like it is lighter than that. Therefore, the scene is actually a Zone VI rather than Zone V so you would need to overexpose the scene by 1/2 to 1 stop to record it accurately. In most cases you should spot meter the part of the scene that is lit, not the shadow side, then determine what Zone tha area falls in. Increase or decrease the exposure from the meter reading as needed to reach the proper Zone. Also keep in mind that some scenes have too much contrast to record detail in the highlghts and the shadows so you must determine where you want to keep detail and expose accoringly. As far as the color cast goes, if you shoot on daylight white balance, in RAW, and take a shot of a neutral gray, gray card(not all 18% gray cards are neutral) you can easily correct the color with the eye dropper tool in the Adobe Raw Converter. Janet, I hope that this helps you with exposure and gives you something to try.


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7/5/2006 6:00:22 PM

 
Janet L. Poole   Thank you all for the overwhelming response. I really appreciate all your help. This forum is great and helps me become a better photographer. You all have given me much to think about and try the next time I take this type of picture.

Pete have fun in DC. That is my home town and all the monuments are great. Do go to the air and space museum if you get a chance. My favorite!!!

Happy shooting!!!

Janet


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7/5/2006 6:33:02 PM

 
Allen M. Aisenstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/3/2005
 
 
 
Hi Janet, Shooting in direct sunlight is indeed challenging whether shooting digital or film. If you underexpose a bit to capture the highlight areas, you risk darkeneing the shadowed areas with resulting loss of detail there. It's a compromise. I determine exposure manually by spot-metering on a neutral area of the image and then recompose and shoot. You can also take two exposures, one for the highlight areas and one for the shadowed areas and then merge the images digitally. Good luck!


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7/5/2006 6:50:46 PM

 
Allen M. Aisenstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/3/2005
 
 
 
Hi Janet, Shooting in direct sunlight is indeed challenging whether shooting digital or film. If you underexpose a bit to capture the highlight areas, you risk darkeneing the shadowed areas with resulting loss of detail there. It's a compromise. I determine exposure manually by spot-metering on a neutral area of the image and then recompose and shoot. You can also take two exposures, one for the highlight areas and one for the shadowed areas and then merge the images digitally. Good luck!


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7/5/2006 6:53:00 PM

 
Allen M. Aisenstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/3/2005
 
 
 
Hi Janet, Shooting in direct sunlight is indeed challenging whether shooting digital or film. If you underexpose a bit to capture the highlight areas, you risk darkeneing the shadowed areas with resulting loss of detail there. It's a compromise. I determine exposure manually by spot-metering on a neutral area of the image and then recompose and shoot. You can also take two exposures, one for the highlight areas and one for the shadowed areas and then merge the images digitally. Good luck!


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7/5/2006 6:54:09 PM

 
Allen M. Aisenstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/3/2005
 
 
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© Allen M. Aisenstein
Nikon F100 SLR Cam...
 
 
Hi Janet, Shooting in direct sunlight is indeed challenging whether shooting digital or film. If you underexpose a bit to capture the highlight areas, you risk darkeneing the shadowed areas with resulting loss of detail there. It's a compromise. I determine exposure manually by spot-metering on a neutral area of the image and then recompose and shoot. You can also take two exposures, one for the highlight areas and one for the shadowed areas and then merge the images digitally. Good luck!


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7/5/2006 6:55:21 PM

 
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