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What's an acceptable amount of overexposed highlights?

Hey all,

I've been playing around with my camera and have a question. Is there always going to be some overexposed highlights? Such as the brightest glare on a cup, or bright sky shining through trees.

My camera has an option that makes the over-exposed spots blink so they're easy to find.

For the purpose of taking a photo to paint from, what we want is no over-exposed spots other than those few highlights right?


  • Just be sure that the color in the  photo is extremely close to the natural.  Remember that photos will generally have the darkest dark, to dark.  Take into consideration the temperature of the darks that you are looking at and adjust to that when painting the picture.  This is why painting outside is so important.  You just can't get away from the importance of experiencing the real thing.  Thumbnail sketches and notes are crucial, especially when you are new to something.
  • Hi @movealonghome, yes, I expose for the highlights just as you suggest - pushing it to the limit without over-exposing. I find the main problem with photos is that usually the shadows are flat and lifeless. But depending on your experience (and camera) shooting in the camera's native raw format can help a lot, as within a raw file there is often lots of hidden detail & variation in value, even in what looks like empty blackness. For example in this photo of my son on the beach ( Panorama.jpg) the waves just show a touch of over-exposure, but straight out of the camera the rock wall on the RHS was a mass of black - the detail only popped out after adjusting the exposure of the raw file later on the computer. That is just not possible with jpg.
  • That's very good to know. Can you recommend a program other than photoshop to open and edit raw files? My version of ps is too old to open them. I have a program that can open them amd convert to jpeg but i dont think i can use it to alter the exposure.

    Crazy that rock wall was totally black!
  • Did your camera come with a software CD? I have a Canon camera and I do all my raw editing and conversions (to jpg) using the free Canon software that came with it (Canon DPP4). I then use a program called ACDSee for any photoshop-type adjustments like sharpening, cropping etc. These things come down to personal taste but I much prefer ACDSee over photoshop, for a whole range of reasons. ACDsee does raw processing too, but I've not used it for that. The raw files ACDSee supports are listed here (, and you can also download a trial version and have a play (though it may be windows-only). Its not too expensive to purchase either, especially compared to photoshop. Others may have alternative software suggestions.
  • Try,  the GIMP, @movealonghome. It's free and you can do lots with it.

  • edited May 2017
    You may want to consider Adobe Lightroom, it's very simple and easy to learn and use, also processes raw and create proofs of your photos for exceptional quality. It may be expensive though? I've had Adobe Photoshop 6 years now never learned to use it yet.
  • You can download Gimp for free.
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