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• pictureperfect.co.za DIY photo newsletter

The merits of overexposing

I really like high-contrast studio photographs. I'm happiest when I can paint everything black in the background, using dark cloth to soak up the light, with only a sliver of light "painting" my subject to give an inkling of the whole. The brain does the rest - it completes the picture, even though you're only seeing part of the subject.

All very clever. But then they invented digital cameras. These handy gadgets, you see, cannot see black - which is essentially the absence of light. Film, however, considers black as a colour, not the absence of light. So film will paint the black, while digitals try to interpret the black. And not always well.

Next time you take a high-contrast digital picture, open it in Photoshop and magnify it to 100%. Inspect a dark bit of your image. Chances are you'll see lots of ugly noise and artifacting. These are random bits of info inserted in the darker bits of the image in the absence of real information. It's a real bummer - especially if you want to submit this picture to an image bank. Artifacting is a complete no-no. So how do you avoid it?

With digitals, by pumping in light. Use a flash meter to determine the correct exposure, then err on the brighter side of that exposure. Use the histogram in the camera to check this - the exposure curve should lean over to the right, or be on the right side of the middle, but just short of blowing out your highlights.

If you overexpose slightly like this, you record more detail in the shadowy bits without blowing out your highlights. Which means you can darken your image in postproduction, and increase the density of blackness in the dark areas of the picture without introducing noise and artifacting. It took me about 40 years to work this out.(-: And thousands of hours in Photoshop to try fix it! So don't make the same mistake. Remember that correct exposure is your best friend in avoiding costly post-processing. Use it wisely!