For all our modern conveniences, there is one major trap digital shooters must beware of when attempting to create a correct exposure – that lying LCD on the back of the camera. It is important to remember that they are never to be trusted.
They’ll lead you astray faster than a night on the Las Vegas strip if you let them, but there are three ways that we let this devil in the front door; three cardinal sins that digital photographers commit that lead to their own demise, or at least to the demise of their free time as they waste extra hours of their lives fixing their exposure mistakes in post, and professional reputations when they can’t fix it at all.
Though the LCD preview is never going to be completely reliable, committing these three sins is a sure way to give yourself an unpleasant surprise when you go to process your images.
LCD Set To Auto Brightness
Whatever brightness you set your LCD to, it’s going to be better than auto. Setting your LCD’s brightness to a constant, manual setting gives you a more reliable way to judge what you see. If you leave it on auto, your camera will change the brightness on its own based on ambient lighting and that can be confusing as you review images.
If you 100% trust yourself to remember to change it between different shooting scenarios, you can manually adjust it so that you know exactly how your image is meant to look and the LCD is optimized for different ambient light levels, but for most of us, a static setting will be best.
Not Using The Histogram
Even with the LCD set to manual brightness, we are still relying on a JPEG preview on the back of a camera using our fallible human eyes. Enabling your histogram at all times gives you a concrete, mathematical representation of the tones in your image and can quickly and easily tell you if your scene is too bright or too dark, and most importantly if you are losing detail, with a quick glance (keep in mind this is typically a reflection of the JPEG and not the raw).
If you are new to reading histograms, they can appear a bit daunting at first, but really they’re simple and with a little research, reading histograms will become second nature. If you need help understanding histograms, check out this short video.
Not Using Highlight Alerts
Highlight alerts are a flashing overlay that can be enabled to alert you to clipped highlights. This means that if you take a photograph with portions of it so bright that no detail is recorded at all, the portions with the missing detail will flash on screen.
With highlight alerts, it’s important to recall that what we are looking at is, in fact, a JPEG preview, so if you’re shooting raw and only a tiny bit of image flashes, you will probably not actually lose that data when you open the image to post-process. But, if a large portion of the image is flashing, watch out, because your camera is alerting you that you may not be able to recover most, or any, of that data.
Sometimes it’s ok to lose highlights. For example, if you’re shooting a backlit natural light portrait, often some of the background will blow out, but it fits the aesthetic and what is lost is not important to the final image. If you’re shooting a bride and her white gown is flashing at you on the back of your camera however, you’re in trouble and need to dial back your exposure ASAP or face a very, very angry bride when she sees her wedding photos and her multi-thousand dollar gown is reduced to a wash of pure white.
A final tip regarding highlight alerts – they are a prime candidate for addition to a custom quick menu if you are in the habit of showing clients the back of your camera, because they don’t need to see the flashing detail and unless they are a photographer themselves, it will confuse them and you’ll be set to explain camera technicalities when you’d rather be shooting.
For much more content like this where we’ll tackle just how to get the most out of any shoot and shot, check out our Shoot To Post workshop workshop, or stream it along with a plethora of photography and post-production education as an SLRL Premium member.