Make the Most of Your Blown-Out Highlights

And I’m not talking about your hair

Mark Ali
Full Frame

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Spanish moss in a Charleston-area tree is lit up by the sun
“Spanish Moss” (© Mark Ali)

Clipping is to be avoided at all costs. That’s a “rule” that photographers are taught, anyway.

Though, I suppose we’re first taught what “clipping” means. If you don’t know, clipping refers to the complete loss of detail in an image in overexposed or underexposed areas.

Underexposing can often be acceptable, for areas of shadow that look natural. It’s still not ideal, but it can work, and it can also help to emphasize the brighter portions of an image, which is usually where you want the viewer to look anyway.

Overexposing an image, on the other hand, results in the dreaded “blown-out highlights”.

Blown-out highlights are to photography what distortion is to a musician. Signal overload. A bright, white, featureless blob in your photograph. It’s unrecoverable — at least not without using some sort of AI-driven, content-aware, auto-magic Photoshop feature that fills in the area, enhances the image, applies sharpening, and files your taxes, all with one click.

But assuming you don’t want to do that, I’m here to tell you that all is not lost — some images can work with blown-out highlights.

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Mark Ali
Full Frame

I’m a writer, a photographer, a music lover, and a professional ice sculptor. I’m kidding about that last thing. (View my portfolio at: markaliphotos.com)