Avoid blown out highlights

If any photography rule should not be broken, it is that you should avoid blown-out highlights, except when they are unimportant to the subject or you want them for creative reasons. A blown-out highlight occurs when you use exposure settings that make part of the image pure white where there should be details.

The problem with pure white is that you cannot bring detail into a photograph where no detail exists in the image file. An annoying bright area that has no detail cannot be fixed by using the computer. No magic

bullets exist for this condition in image-processing software such as Photoshop Elements.

If your camera LCD has a histogram, it probably also has a highlight alert, which is a feature that shows blinking patches on bright white areas in the photo. These blinking patches mean that you need to decrease the exposure until no more blown-out highlights exist. Watch your histogram, though, because you do not want a gap at the right, either. A histogram clipped at the extreme right also indicates that you need to reduce your exposure. 


When shooting with a digital camera, most of the time you should choose exposure settings to properly expose for the highlight area of a scene. Using image-processing software such as Photoshop Elements, you can often bring details back into an underexposed area; you cannot, however, bring detail back from an overexposed highlight area where all the details are blown out, because there are few or no details in the near-white or pure-white areas. 

One place that pure white is acceptable is in spectral highlights. A spectral highlight is a bright spot from a shiny, highly reflective surface. Generally, spectral highlights are small and limited in size.