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Dealing With Highlight Problems (Clipping)

One potential problem we have to keep an eye out for is highlight clipping. That’s when some of the highlights in an image got so bright (either when you took the shot, or here in Lightroom when you made it brighter) that there’s actually no detail in those parts of the image at all. No pixels whatsoever. Just blank nothingness. This clipping happens in photos of nice cloudy skies, white jerseys on athletes, bright, cloudless skies, and a dozen other places. It happens, and it’s our job to fix it so we keep detail throughout our image. Don’t worry, the fix is easy.

Step One:

Here’s a studio shot, and not only is our subject wearing a white coat, but I overexposed the image when I shot it. That doesn’t necessarily mean we have clipping (see the intro above for what clipping means), but Lightroom will actually warn us if we do. It tells us with a white triangle-shaped highlight clipping warning, which appears in the upper-right corner of the Histogram panel (shown circled here in red). That triangle is normally black, which means everything’s okay—no clipping. If it turns red, yellow, or blue, it means there’s some clipping but only in a particular color channel, so I don’t sound the alarm for that. But, if it’s solid white (like you see here), we have a problem we need to fix.

Step Two:

Okay, now we know we have a problem somewhere in our image, but exactly where? To find out exactly where the image is clipping, go up to that white triangle and click directly on it (or press the letter J on your keyboard). Now, any areas that are clipping in the highlights will appear in bright red (as seen here, where her arm, hand, and other parts of her jacket on the left side are clipping badly). Those areas will have no detail whatsoever (no pixels, no nuthin’) if we don’t do something about it.

Step Three:

Sometimes just lowering the Exposure amount will do the trick and the clipping goes away and, in this case, the photo was overexposed a bit anyway, so let’s start there. Here, I dragged the Exposure slider to the left to darken the overall exposure and while that looks decent now, the clipping problem is still there big time. Now, because the photo was already too bright, darkening the exposure actually helped the photo look better, but what if your exposure was okay? Then, dragging the Exposure slider to make the image darker would just make the image too dark (underexposed), so that’s why we need something different—something that just affects the highlights and not the entire exposure. We want our clipping problem to go away; we generally don’t want just a darker photo.

Step Four:

Let’s put the Highlights slider to work. When you have a clipping problem like this, it’s your first line of defense. Just drag it to the left a bit until you see the red onscreen clipping warning go away (as seen here). The warning is still turned on, but dragging the Highlights slider to the left fixed the clipping problem and brought back the missing detail, so now there are no areas that are clipping. I use this Highlight slider a lot on shots with bright skies and puffy clouds.

TIP: This Rocks for Landscapes

Next time you have a blah sky in a landscape or travel shot, drag the Highlights slider all the way to the left. It usually does wonders with skies and clouds, bringing back lots of detail and definition. Really an incredibly handy little tip.

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