Highlight Phobia

There's a difference between blown-out highlights and distracting blown-out highlights. Is the light on her hair more compelling than her smile? I don't think so.

Digital photography has brought a slide-shooter’s traditional fear to the masses: blown-out highlights. Because our cameras and computers can show us areas in an image that have exceeded the camera’s dynamic range (portions too dark or too bright to show detail), many digital photographers become obsessed with blown-out highlights and blocked-up shadows.

Sometimes these things matter, especially when you are printing your images.  Blown-out areas carry no data, so nothing prints there. The complete absence of ink can definitely degrade the quality of an inkjet print.

But people take this fear too far.  If you try to manage every highlight, you end up underexposing every image.  Specular highlights can be charming and add a playful zest to your images.  While it’s true that our eyes are drawn to the brightest area of an image, you have to judge for yourself when a highlight is truly distracting.

A few months ago, caught up in the grip of highlight phobia, I would have tossed this image because of the bright shoulder and errant clothespin on the music stand. But you know, I like the picture. And he's wearing a cool hat.

2 Comments

Filed under Lighting, Post Processing

2 responses to “Highlight Phobia

  1. myrna

    agree on highlights … i often print b/w on fine art paper or washi type paper … the highlights just add to the image drama and impact

    sometimes we get caught up in the technical … some of my images with flaws are also the ones folks like the best!

    p.s. … on the lovely violinist … what bothers me a bit is that you cannot see all of her fingers and more of the violin … yes, i realize it was about the smile!

  2. Tina Horton

    Z, I like these, because they represent a slice of life (for lack of a better term). They are not manipulated. What you see is what you get. Just my take. 🙂

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