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Terrible advice?

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by Klorenzo, Apr 26, 2014.

  1. Klorenzo

    Klorenzo Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 10, 2014
    Hi, I just read this article:


    and I found this part quite...well...debatable

    "One of the first things that you should know is that you’ll need to deepen the blacks. This means that you can underexpose a bit because you can always push the exposures as you need to in post. When you actually get to the post production stage you can also use the black levels to make them even darker"

    So they say to underexpose and then to open in post? What about ETTR? Why do not expose right or maybe even a little over and then just fix the black?

    Am I missing something?
  2. mattia

    mattia Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 3, 2012
    The Netherlands
    No. He's wrong. ETTR, because pulling exposure back reduces noise and deepening the blacks (which may or may not be appropriate or necessary) is fairly trivial. Just make sure you don't blow your highlights.
  3. Underexposing is a safe method of exposure because you can push the files from modern sensors albeit at the expense of greater noise and lower overall image quality. ETTR is the better method for better file quality but as mattia mentioned you do have to tiptoe on the limits of overexposure. If you don't occasionally go over the limit then you aren't pushing hard enough :smile:
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  4. dhazeghi

    dhazeghi Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 6, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    Agreed. I'd say that beginners are better off underexposing and pushing for that reason, but more advanced users will benefit from ETTR. Note that many modern cameras are essentially doing what he suggests though - underexposing and pushing in post (the E-M10 is a particularly bad offender here) to protect the highlights. This can make evaluating for optimal exposure rather difficult (camera claims majorly blown highlights even when that's not the case).
  5. shnitz

    shnitz Mu-43 All-Pro

    Expose to the right isn't a real thing, it was just a myth from tinkerers trying to find "the big secret." It helped when you had cameras with much more limited dynamic range, because it would ensure that your photos had less noise, but at the expense of blown highlights. Underexposing is IMO much better than overexposing, because you can as mentioned increase the exposure and often recover detail from the shadows. But when you have blown highlights, whatever is pure white will always be pure white, no matter how you post-process the photograph. If you are going for some dramatic editing, this can lead to some strange-looking artifacts when you end up with white blobs in your photos.
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  6. taz98spin

    taz98spin Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 13, 2011
    Totally agree! During studio sessions, I always underexpose.
  7. ETTR had less effect on cameras with very limited dynamic because you are much closer to the highlight limits anyway with a normal exposure. Rather than ETTR the method would simply have been known as E.
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  8. usayit

    usayit Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Don't think there is one generic method.... what are you interested in preserving.. the highlights or the shadows. You decide. In general, I prefer to expose a little bit to the right.... In part because I find it optimal for digital sensors.

    Decide on what you want to be middle and expose right at it.
  9. Klorenzo

    Klorenzo Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 10, 2014
    I do not think ETTR is "just a myth", you simply register more light, both in the shadows and in the highlights at this means less noise (for a given iso). Of course you NEED to be careful not to clip the highlights in any channel. I'm not convinced that it is practical and worth the hassle (longer exposures, risk of clipping, risk of color shift, etc.) but in theory and in the lab tests it makes sense.

    I agree that underexposing, or exposing right, is safer, but it's not the best option in term of pure noise. And when I try to do some shadow recovery (with darktable or rawtherapee) I always found a lot of noise hiding in the shadows :) 

    What I do not understand is: assuming that the dynamic range is small enough to avoid cutting anything, are there other advantages in underexposing other then to "play safe" on the highlights clipping?
  10. usayit

    usayit Mu-43 Hall of Famer

  11. Fmrvette

    Fmrvette This Space For Rent

    May 26, 2012
    Detroit, Michigan
    I dunno...depends on what you're shooting and what results you're after, does it not?

    In Ye Olden Days of Yore in the days of Tri-X and Kodachrome I sometimes used to do this "bracket" thing when making shots of non-moving or slow moving subjects. And each shot cost money :biggrin:. Now that "film is free" and cameras have "motorized drives" - over expose one, expose one according to the "meter", and under expose one.

    Then process and find that the subject had her eyes closed in all three frames.

    :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin:

    It's an industry "given" that one can pull information from the shadows, while highlights that have been blown into pure white are gone, gone, gone. However sometimes losing the highlights is the only way to salvage the 'important' data in the shadows, sometimes blown highlights can be cropped, etc.

    I don't think there's a "correct" way of exposing a photo (not to disrespect the Kodak engineers who put so much time and effort into the little black and white "how to expose and develop this film" sheets in each and every canister of Kodak film). What pleases me may not please thee atall - it depends upon ones wishes and expectations.

    For absolute beginner photographers I'd advise to shoot "with the meter" - then examine the results to see what one wants to add or subtract from the exposures and experiment from there.

    Most of the time on my E-M5 and Panasonic 20mm (the setup I'm most familiar with) I will underexpose just a bit if limited to a single shot. If time and subject allow I will make multiple exposures at different values.

    That way I get to screw up a whole bunch of photos rather than just a precious few :biggrin:.

    "F8 and be there" still pretty much works for me for a basic setting, letting the shutter speed take care of itself and presetting the ISO for "indoors" (400) or "outdoors" (200). Of course that's hugely simplified and there are times when I put the whole shootin' match into "P" for perfect and enjoy my day rather than suffer angst over exposure settings just as there are times when I spend much time getting the exposure where I want it and chimping the shots. (Those are the times when I'm out and about without the Princess of the Exchequer present :biggrin:.)


  12. Klorenzo

    Klorenzo Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 10, 2014
    Yes, you are right, it was mostly a rant. But I was surprised to hear that others do the same (for different reasons).

    I also do in different ways in different days: sometime it's just "A and shoot", other times like "ok, let's take one as-is because olympus knows better, but let's also try one with a stop less". And other times: "the sky is blue, the grass is green, it's friday, the wind is blowing from the south, so I know that I should compensate for 1 and 2/3 stops, maybe 1.5, but this silly equipment doesn't allow me that" :) 

    In the end "Raw saves" :) 
  13. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia

    First, take a look at the photos in the article. They're all portraits taken in various settings with big differences in lighting. Take a look at the photo illustrating that point. It's the image with the lowest dynamic range and the advice says "…underexpose a bit…". Note the "a bit", It's a portrait with controlled lighting and he isn't saying to underexpose a lot, or as much as you can. What he did works with that image. He isn't underexposing with the other images.

    There are no universal rules. What he's giving you are a number to tricks that can work in the right circumstances and if you do them correctly. None of them work in every circumstance or you'd do all of them together. They're alternative approaches and depend on the lighting situation you're in and the kind of result you want to get.

    It can be good advice, and it is for the photo he used to illustrate it. It's lousy advice for the other images and for other situations. He isn't presenting it as a universal rule and there are no universal exposure rules that work for every situation.

    Yes, it's good advice in the right situation but that isn't going to be most of the time and he does say to "underexpose a bit", not a lot. Go very carefully on it or you'll end up making a mess of the areas you want to look good in the image.
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  14. mattia

    mattia Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 3, 2012
    The Netherlands
    I'll also add that I mostly shoot landscape, where I want clean files and maximum detail. And where possible, to avoid having to do HDR. I never shoot studio, and never shoot in controlled light. I also basically never use flash (don't have one for the A7r, have never mounted on on the E-M1 or E-M5, occasionally use the built-in on the iPhone or the RX100).

    For people shots in poor light I'm less picky and go for what looks pleasing, not for trying to retain all the possible detail ever. As to the 'its a myth', there's simply more information present in the highlights than there is in the shadow areas, and not overexposing isn't too hard if you've got overexposure blinkies (or zebras) turned on. I don't have issues pushing low ISO files, but I'd rather expose a little to the right at a higher ISO than push a lower ISO shot up. Particularly in RAW, details that are only just blown in JPG have plenty of prefectly good info left in them.
  15. Klorenzo

    Klorenzo Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 10, 2014
    Maybe my post was not clear. What I find just nonsense is the procedure, not the result (and I'm definitely not looking for universal stuff).

    If he only wants to "deepen the blacks" why don't just do that in post? Just move the black slider as he suggest in the next sentence.
    Instead you underexpose first and in post you pull the exposure back except for the dark parts? This to me means more work, more noise, less shadow details, risk of cutting the shadows.
    He does not do it to avoid clipping, use a lower iso, etc. he just wants deep blacks.

    Also notice that he's not saying: "some pictures are better a bit underexposed" but "to have more strong/contrasty/pop pictures you need deep blacks". And I also agree with that, it's the "underexposure" part that I do not get.
  16. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    I never remember reading about blowing highlights as a part of ETTR. One may do so by accident, or on purpose, but I do not recall it being part of the technique. IIRC, may of the folks who have writtne about ETTR have come up with methods of adjusting their cameras to specifically avoid blowing highlights. Did I miss something in my reading when I spent time learning about the technique (which I respect, but do not necessarily practice)?

  17. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    Take a look at the photo in question. We have a woman with light skin in a red dress of around the same luminance value as her lips. The face is close to half in shadow. The background is basically black, no detail showing, and the brightest highlights are a couple of out of focus bright points behind her.

    Light skin tone is zone 6 in zone system terms, around one stop brighter than the mid-grey that light meters are calibrated for. The red dress and lips are probably around zone 5 and there's nothing in the scene between them and the blackness.If the face is the most important thing, and if I wanted to guarantee no bright highlights on the face, I'd underexpose a bit for this image. I'm not going to lose usable shadow detail because there obviously is none in that scene to lose. On the other hand, if I give more exposure I run the risk of ending up with a highlight area on the face with one or more blown channels, and that could result in a less than ideal rendering of skin tone in that area. Overall it's a low key image and even the highlights are not being pushed to the limits. It's actually a pretty ideal scene in which to give "a bit" of underexposure because "a bit" of underexposure isn't going to lose any useful detail, will still result in adequate exposure for the less well lit skin areas, and guarantees that you have no chance to blow the brightest skin tones which would probably end up being placed on zone 7. For that image, "a bit of underexposure" in camera seems like ideal advice to me. There are actually some lighter skin areas on her right side (the left side of the image) which, will not really bright, are relatively featureless but the sense of her skin tone is well maintained in those areas. I think risking clipping in those areas would be a bad idea and the more conservative approach of "a bit of underexposure" is actually the best way to go in this case, simply because of the range of brightness in the woman's skin and her clothing.

    I think the "bit of underexposure" is good advice for this image. It's the sort of setup where a bit of underexposure actually works and may yield benefits while losing nothing at the shadow end of the scale. You need to guarantee that you lose nothing in the brightest skin tones in this image and that's what "a bit of underexposure" does. I'm not certain I'd make the same recommendation for any of the other images in this article, all of which have more contrast than this image does.
  18. Klorenzo

    Klorenzo Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 10, 2014
    David, I agree with every single word you wrote. But IMO the original article does not say anything of that. The title is "How to Get Sharper Images" the paragraph is "Deepen the Blacks" there is no mention of highlight clipping anywhere.

    I would agree with this tip: "Often there is nothing interesting in the shadows, so play it safe and keep it down a bit. You'll probably choose to cut the blacks anyway". Maybe they just tried to pack too much in too few sentences.
  19. MichaelShea

    MichaelShea Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 27, 2011
    Algarve, Portugal
    Eighteen posts and seventeen of them seem to completely miss the whole point of the published article, which as someone has now obligingly pointed out, was to give advice on how to give the illusion of sharpness in an image. Nothing to do with obtaining a 'correct' exposure, whatever that is. It's absolutely true that pictures generally do look sharper when there is more contrast in them, which is why deepening the blacks is generally a pretty good idea.
  20. The OP quoted a part of the article and asked a question about how that particular part relates to the theory of ETTR, which is what we were responding to.
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