How to Get Perfectly Balanced Image by Overexposing

All the new cameras with updated sensor tech, new color profiles, different metering modes, and countless other settings make exposure a difficult subject to understand.

It isn’t as simple as getting your light meter to say you are spot on. One technique can help you squeeze a little more out of your footage and minimize the impact of noise.

Exposing to the right is not a new technique, but it may be a technique that is unfamiliar to a lot of videographers, especially when overexposure is considered to be a big problem with digital imagery.

Filmmaker Blaine Westropp has a good video that explains what it is, how it works, and how to work with this footage in post to get the cleanest video.

Exposing to the right is dangerous. Overexposure on digital cameras usually results in a complete loss of information in that area. Shadows are generally a strong point for digital sensors and are more recoverable, but if you blow a highlight you are often out of luck.

Normally, even Blaine wouldn’t do it all that much. However, with some new tools and a better understanding of how to work with the footage, he will push all the way to the edge to get cleaner footage.

The simplest explanation for why is works is that camera sensors want light. The more light the less noise. This relates to how more light usually allows you to use a lower ISO setting.

Image Credit: Blackmagic Design

He will push the exposure until just underneath clipping. Then, he will bring that footage into post and bring down the highlights and bring up the shadows a touch. Often the shadows are darker than what you recorded at which, again, means less noise and more detail.

As long as pushing to the right doesn’t result in losing the shadows, this is generally a good technique to reduce noise. You have to be careful and know your camera well. Having a good monitor where you can be certain of when you will clip is critical here.

If you are working in a fixed lighting scenario and are able to expose carefully then you can push right to the edge. If you are outside or where light can be unpredictable this might be dangerous and result in unexpected clipping.

Clean imagery helps in a lot of ways, especially if you are handing off the footage for additional work with someone else or sending it off for VFX.

If you are using a monitor with proper monitoring tools a good option is using false color to make sure you aren’t clipping. Then throw on a LUT that accounts for how overexposed you are normally working at. Having a LUT for +1 stop, +2 stops, and more can be essential for making sure things will look good.

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Image Credit: Blackmagic Design

Noise isn’t actually purely a result of your ISO setting. It depends on how much light is hitting the sensor. Even at the same ISO setting, which he tests, the one with the greater exposure is going to be cleaner.

To do a lot of this grading, Blaine works with the HDR color wheels in DaVinci Resolve. These actually handle this type of shooting very well and give you a bit more control as you work.

The key reason to do this is flexibility. Exposing “correctly” will often result in footage that looks great. If you want more precise control over how much detail you pull out of the shadows or highlights then exposing to the right will help. It’ll be more work later on, but it is a good technique to know.

Do you expose to the right for your shooting workflow?

[source: Blaine Westropp]

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