|Photo Credit: Snowy Egret, Michael Milicia|
Utilize Highlight Alerts
By enabling highlight alerts or “blinkies” on your camera, any areas that have lost highlight detail—the detail hidden in the brightest part of a scene—will blink during image playback. For white subjects, these blinkies are both accurate and reliable and can be used to your advantage. Take test shots in manual mode with increasing levels of exposure until you see blinkies on the subject and then reduce the exposure by one third or two thirds of a stop. You can now use these locked-in settings to get the optimal exposure regardless of the subject’s background or its size in the frame, as long as the amount of light hitting the subject remains constant. If and when the light changes, again take test shots to come up with new settings. This method is not the most efficient or elegant, but it is simple and very effective.
Choose Spot Metering
Even though you are in manual mode, you can still use the camera’s exposure meter to guide you to the correct camera settings. Choose a spot metering pattern, which yields more predictable and consistent results than patterns like matrix or evaluative. Fill the spot metering area with white from the brightest part of the subject and adjust the camera settings until the exposure scale in the viewfinder reads +2. This should be very close to optimal, but you may be able to go one or two thirds of a stop more without losing highlight detail. As with the previous method, you can now fire away with these locked-in settings regardless of background or subject size until the light changes. When this happens, again fill the spot metering area with white plumage and adjust the camera settings to get back to the same reading on the exposure scale. Once you have used the meter as a guide to lock in the correct exposure, you can ignore the exposure scale while you are shooting—it may bounce all over the place as your Spot metering area falls over different parts of the scene.
Fine detail in the plumage of a bright white bird can often be made more visible by reducing the exposure by one or two thirds of a stop. You might want to consider this in the field if you are shooting JPEGs, but if you are shooting RAW, you can and should wait until post-processing time to make this decision. It’s also best to avoid shooting in bright midday sun, when blazingly white plumage seems to become even more reflective, obscuring highlight detail. Audubon Tips and How-To's
Michael Milicia is a Massachusetts-based bird photographer. He also specializes in teaching photography and takes great joy in helping others take their imagery to the next level.
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