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How to prevent blown out white areas?

Discussion in 'Panasonic Cameras' started by Empireme, Sep 3, 2011.

  1. Empireme

    Empireme Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 25, 2011
    LA, CA
    I'm new to photography and I own a GH2. When I take pictures where my subject is in the shade but there's sunlight hitting a spot behind them (like the floor or a wall), the picture will have the correct exposure on my subject but the area being hit with the sunlight will be way over exposed where it's just all white. What are some tips you guys can offer so that I can avoid this from happening?

    When I shoot pictures I press the shutter half way while being pointed at my subject then I click away... I noticed that I have a histogram display, but I don't know how to read it. Will understanding that graph help?
  2. usayit

    usayit Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Unfortunately, when you have subjects in frame that are beyond the dynamic range they will either be completely underexposed on over exposed. This is true no matter the camera, film or digital, regardless of the brand although some may have a wider dynamic range to work with. Its a limitation. You expose for the subject that is important.

    The other way to improve on the situation is to bring said subjects into a workable dynamic range. You either make the subjects that resides in the shadows lighter or you make subjects that are brightly lit darker. In your case, you would think of ways to add more light to the subject in the shade; often using fill flash. This will allow you to shorten the exposure so that the highlights in the background (determined by your Aperture and Shutter) are not over exposed while controlling the exposure of the subjects in shade (determined by intensity of flash and Aperture).

    If you ever observe professional work a portrait session outside in contrasty situations (lots of highlights and shadows), you will see that they work with numerous strobes and reflectors. This is one of the reasons; to keep all parts of the frame that are important within a reasonable dynamic range. To avoid darken eyes, blown out skys, etc...

    In recent years, digital has made it easier to increase the dynamic range with HDR but that is an entirely different topic of discussion.
  3. nueces snapper

    nueces snapper Mu-43 All-Pro

    I might add ... regarding dynamic range: Our eyes are much better than present day camera technology. Our apertures, pupils, are really fast and changing constantly as we view different parts of a scene. HDR photography helps us reproduce what our eyes see. :wink:
  4. nueces snapper

    nueces snapper Mu-43 All-Pro

    You can find a really good explanation of exposure and histograms over on luminous-landscape dot com. Search for 'expose to the right'.

    Basically you want your histogram to look like a mountain on the graph and if you want to get perfectionistic that mountain should be as far to the right as possible without a warning ( probably some orange ) which signifies clipping, ie loss of detail going to pure white.
    • Like Like x 1
  5. chuckgoolsbee

    chuckgoolsbee Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 6, 2010
    Bend, Oregon
    Yes, reading the histogram will certainly help you BEFORE you open the shutter. There is also a setting in your camera that makes overexposed areas blink red after you press the shutter. I use both all the time in my shooting.

    As others have said, this is something that can't really be avoided, even with old film cameras, as no imaging technology can come close to the range of the human eye (yet.)

    So how do you avoid blown out areas?

    1. "Don't just look, instead SEE through the viewfinder." (overused quote from every teacher of Photography since Daguerre)

    Get out of the habit of ONLY seeing your subject. Develop the ability to see the whole frame and potential trouble areas within. Move - either yourself/camera or the subject if you can. If you can't move, then learn to use your cameras controls, or objects at hand to minimize your problem areas. This can be done through changing exposure, changing DoF, using objects to bounce or block light, etc.

    2. Learn to read and understand that histogram. In a nutshell it shows the range of shadow and light throughout your frame. Any significant total black or white areas will show at either end of the graph (with, if I recall correctly) blacks on the left, and whites on the right. An Ideal Photograph would show a nice wide bottomed bell curve as a histogram. Of course the "Ideal Photograph" almost never exists, so take your camera out and point it at things and watch how that graph changes as you point it at light and dark areas. Learn to see what affects it, and what makes it display near-ideal conditions. Do some reading. Pick up your manual, or type "Image Histogram" in the search engine of your choice.

    3. Shoot RAW - Get good at post-processing
    I've found that by shooting RAW you can sometimes pull blown out areas back from the brink using "Recovery" in Photoshop. (Or your post-tool of choice.) Again, pick up the manual or start reading up on the tools online.

    Really it will be a full mix of all the above that will get you to where you want to be, but likely weighted more toward #1 &#2 than #3 - if you were to draw a histogram of my advice. ;) 

    Good luck, and enjoy the discovery!
    • Like Like x 2
  6. Tom Swaman

    Tom Swaman Mu-43 Veteran

    You owe it to yourself to read Bryan Peterson's Exposure. If you master this, you will not encounter problems that you cannot beat. All you need to know is the approximate dynamic range of your sensor under a given light and at a given ISO. Remember that dynamic range is not a sensor constant, but a variable. With the GH2, I recommend you consider your dynamic range to be about 4 f-stops, i.e. a factor of 16 in light intensity from the lowest captured light to the highest captured light(intensity). The dynamic range tends to be less than this effectively at high ISO values and a tad more than this at low ISO values. If you need to fake your shots to contain a higher dynamic range, you can bracket your exposures and shoot HDR.

    Best regards,
  7. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    Using a flash to balance out the shadow with the highlight will work (setting the power of the flash closely equal the f/stop of the shadows to the f/stop of the highlights), but typically the resulting image look very artificial.

  8. flash

    flash Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 29, 2010
    1 hour from Sydney Australia.
    Some good advice above. I'll add that in the digital age, if you're subject isn't moving you can take two exposures, one for the background and one for the subject and blend them in post processing. If you can't then fill flash is useful. Go to manual mode and get a good background exposure and then boot some flash into your subject on top of that.

    The GH2 live histogram is an awesome feature. I'm not going to get into the "expose to the right" techniques often pushed hard because with everything there are times when ettr is good and also times it's not so good and its useless for jpegs. But reading a histogram is easy. The left side is detailess black. The right is detail less white. If you have a large shoulder at either end then you've got data beyond the abilities of the sensor. So, if you have an average scene with lots of normal tones or a wide variation of tones then you'll want a hump towards the middle. If you have a high key scene (a scaene where most of the tones are very light - eg. a white cat against a white wall) then you'll want a histogram where the data is more toward the right but not blown out. A low key scene (black cat against a black wall) will naturally have a histogram where the majority of the tones are on the left, but not pressing up against the wall of the histogram. Skin tones of caucassian people will naturally fall a bit above the half way point. Darker skinned people will have tones falling anywhere between right in the middle and one quarter from the left.

    To use the histogram to your advantage you'll firstly look to see if you can capture the whole scene in one capture or whether you have to let some data go. Then you look at the scene and decide it's high key, normal or low key. Then you just use your exposure to make the histogram match what you want, high, low or normal.

    If you know your going to loose something, because your histogram tells you you can't capture the scene in one go then you have a few choices. You can meter for your most important part of the scene and then ignore the rest, you can blend more than one exposure or you can expose for the highlights and add "fill" light to lift the shadows into the DR of the sensor (flash or reflector are the most common).

    If you have an Olympus body then you'll also get a really good idea of exposure in live view. The Panasonics are not good at this. But you should have the live histogram enabled and then it's not so critical.

  9. starlabs

    starlabs Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 30, 2010
    Los Angeles
    If you don't want to use a histogram, you can turn on the blinky feature. This will blink areas that the camera senses will be overblown or underexposed.

    The Olympus cameras have a feature for high contrast scenes - Auto gradation. Panasonic has something similar, I believe it's I.DYNAMIC. (Note this will only affect the JPEGs - at least that's the case for Oly).

    I also second Tom's recommendation regarding Bryan Peterson's "Exposure" book. It's not expensive, and it's not an overly long book. Worth a read for shutterbugs starting out.
  10. Ned

    Ned Mu-43 Legend

    Jul 18, 2010
    Alberta, Canada
    If your subject is correctly exposed, then what's the problem? You want to expose for your subject, and not for your background. Any other metering on your camera that does something else will give you incorrect exposure. If you have to shoot your subject with a bright sky behind, then blowing out the sky to expose for your subject is the correct thing to do.

    However, if the blown background bothers you there are things you can do in setting up your scene to avoid this. One of the most important things is to simply shine some light on your subject. Use fill flash or a good studio strobe to overpower the sun and even out your exposure. Secondly, you can change the angle of your shot. Don't let the sun hit your subject in the back, turn your subject to the sun and let the sun shine on him/her, moving the shadows AWAY from you instead of towards you. Thirdly, just change the time of the shot, to when the sun is in a better position or on a day which is clouded. Lastly, you can also use a Neutral Density or Poliarzing filter to help even out the exposure by darkening the scene and forcing a longer exposure. A Graduated ND filter can also be used when you have a landscape type scene with bright sun in the sky and dark land below.

    Depending on the type of photography you're doing, you should ideally be using a combination of all of these. With outdoor portraits, proper artificial lighting is generally your best tool. It will take out all the shadowing on your subject and give a nice sharp image. With landscapes however, artificial lighting won't do anything, but the angle of the sun will do a lot.
  11. Ned

    Ned Mu-43 Legend

    Jul 18, 2010
    Alberta, Canada
    Auto Graduation works by boosting the shadow areas with greater sensitivity, like brightening in post-production. This is what Olympus calls "Shadow Adjustment Technology".

    It will give the results the OP is looking for, but at a great expense - very noisy shadow areas. I personally think this should be avoided, and a conscientious setup of the scene (with awareness of light and shooting angles) should be used instead. Auto Graduation will lead to a poor quality image, though it will look more evenly lit from a distance. Actually making the scene evenly lit in the first place will provide proper exposure in all areas of the photo, resulting in a high quality photo.
  12. drd1135

    drd1135 Zen Snapshooter Subscribing Member

    Mar 17, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    Taking a different approach: Even with film, some times of day can give better shots because the light was better. Flatter light, such as dawn, dusk and overcast skies can give better shots. Sometimes you can't wait, of course, but when you can try shooting this kind of light.
  13. New Daddy

    New Daddy Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 24, 2011
    I'd generally second Ned's suggestions, with a couple of caveats though.

    A ND or polarizing filter will not do any good in this situation, because the light transmission will be reduced across the board - not only from the sunlit backdrop but the underexposed subject as well. (I nonetheless use ND filter extensively when I use fill flash in daylight, because Panny's maximum flash sync speed is only 1/160, which limits the availability of large apertures without an ND filter.) A GRADUATED ND filter, however, can be of help in certain circumstances, when, for example, your subject is located below the horizontal skyline.

    I agree that you need fill light (be it from your flash or a hand-held reflector) for outdoor portraiture. For outdoor landscape, I think HDR is also a viable option, since fill flash won't do any good like Ned said and ghosting effect from a non-still subject is not an issue.
  14. ~tc~

    ~tc~ Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 22, 2010
    Houston, TX
    To clarify a couple of the above posts ...

    The book is "Understanding Exposure" by Bryan Petersen and it is, indeed, fantastic.

    A CP gan help with blown out areas if the lighting causing it is polarized - for example reflected off water.
    • Like Like x 2
  15. Empireme

    Empireme Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 25, 2011
    LA, CA
    I appreciate the advice, I'll try both learning and using the histogram as well as seeing if my panasonic has the "blinky" feature. I have read the book before I purchased my camera because I knew there wasn't a point in having an equipment I had NO knowledge about. I read it cover to cover for a few weeks before the EP3 was released.... a long story but I've since returned that camera and couldn't be happier with my Panasonic. I appreciate all the help on this forum. One last question however, I've been using "spot metering" versus a small "area" metering - does this effect my exposures at all? To be specific, I'm not talking about focal length and the auto focus function...
  16. Ned

    Ned Mu-43 Legend

    Jul 18, 2010
    Alberta, Canada
    Yes, spot metering is very specific. The biggest problem with that is that your exposure can be thrown off wildly by landing on one small highlight or shadow in the image, whereas Center-Weighted gives a broader area leading to more consistent readings.

    I prefer Central-Weighted as a "general purpose" metering pattern, but both will give you personal control over how your exposure is met (as long as you're picking your AEL area).
  17. New Daddy

    New Daddy Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 24, 2011
    I totally agree with Ned about spot metering often throwing you off. I also prefer center weighted metering to matrix, because, in my experience, you get a better exposure overall.

    My workflow is like the following:
    • put the metering target in the center (your metering target doesn't have to be your subject; to the contrary, when the subject is back-lit, like in the OP's case, I'd use the bright backdrop as the reference area and compensate for the underexposure of the subject with fill flash),
    • meter,
    • lock in the exposure with the AEL/AFL button
    • recompose for focus (at this stage, I put the subject in the middle for focusing),
    • get the focus by half-pressing the shutter release button,
    • recompose while keeping the shutter release button half-pressed (this time, I put the subject out of the middle, because it's aesthetically not a good idea to have your subject in the dead center), and
    • finally shoot by fully pressing the shutter release button.

    In my experience, spot metering is only good when you have a 18% gray card and meter off of the card.
  18. New Daddy

    New Daddy Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 24, 2011
    Does anyone know if more recent Pannys have the "blinky" feature? My GF1 and GH1 don't. I think that feature would come in handy.
  19. starlabs

    starlabs Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 30, 2010
    Los Angeles
    My GF2 does: Custom -> Highlight (ON)
  20. benjie

    benjie Mu-43 Regular

    May 17, 2010
    You're in luck! I have both GF1 and GH1, and both have the blinkies. In each, go to Setup, then to the second screen, and it's there as 'Highlight'.
    • Like Like x 1
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