Canon PowerShot G12, Taming Bright Skies with Exposure Compensation

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Balancing the exposure in scenes that have a wide contrast in tonal ranges can be extremely challenging. The one thing you should try not to do is overexpose your skies to the point of blowing out your highlights (unless, of course, that is the look you are going for). It’s one thing to have a clear sky, but it’s a completely different and bad thing to have nothing but white space. This usually happens when the camera is trying to gain exposure in the darker areas of the image (Figure 7.6).

The one way to tell if you have blown out your highlights is to check the camera’s Highlight Alert, or “blinkies,” feature (see the “How I Shoot” section in Chapter 4). When you take a shot where the highlights are exposed beyond the point of having any detail, that area will blink in your LCD display. It is up to you to determine if that particular area is important enough to regain detail by altering your exposure. If the answer is yes, then the easiest way to go about it is to use some exposure compensation.

With this feature, you can force your camera to choose an exposure that ranges, in 1/3-stop increments, from two stops over to two stops under the metered exposure (Figure 7.7).

The building’s exposure is fine, but the sky is blown out and the leaves in the foreground are pale.
Figure 7.6 The building’s exposure is fine, but the sky is blown out and the leaves in the foreground are pale.
A compensation of 1 stop of underexposure brought back the color of the sky and detail in the highlights.
Figure 7.7 A compensation of 1 stop of underexposure brought back the color of the sky and detail in the highlights.

Using Exposure Compensation to regain detail in highlights

  1. Turn the Exposure Compensation dial counterclockwise one notch to reduce the exposure by a 1/3-stop increment.
  2. Take a photo and review the result.
  3. If the blinkies are gone, you are good to go. If not, keep subtracting from your exposure by 1/3 of a stop until you have a good exposure in the highlights.

I generally keep my camera set to –1/3 stop for most of my landscape work unless I am working with a location that is very dark or low-key. That helps avoid blown-out highlights, and often increases the saturation slightly.

High-key and low-key images

When you hear someone refer to a subject as being high-key, it usually means that the entire image is composed of a very bright subject with very few shadow areas—think snow or beach. It makes sense, then, that a low-key subject has very few highlight areas and a predominance of shadow areas. Think of a cityscape at night as an example of a low-key photo.