My ETTR Journey

When I first started shooting digital on my mirrorless camera in 2007, I only shot JPEG. And what I discovered was that in very bright and high-contrast scenes, there was the potential to lose some highlight detail. So my default setting for exposure compensation became -⅔ stop.

The next year when I transitioned to a DSLR, and only after I became more confident in my understanding of how to work with RAW data, I started shooting RAW + JPEG. Old habits die hard, and so to my folly, I continued to shoot at -⅔ stop.

Only after I took my understanding of RAW to the next level did I come to realize that this was hurting me more than helping me. So, I set my exposure compensation back to +/- 0. And moved on.

Then I read about ETTR, and it seemed to be the way . So I tried it, and found that even though it does result in less noise, it can be a lot of work. Plus, it results in overexposed JPEGs, and I like the ability to get usable JPEGs right out of the camera. But I found a partial solution.

Nikon has a feature called Picture Settings (Canon calls this Picture Control) and it has a 3-step setting for brightness. I set this brightness to -1, and turn on Auto ADL (Active Dynamic Lighting) which Canon calls “Auto Lighting Optimizer”. This creates a darker JPEG than the corresponding RAW image, preserving highlight details and opening up the shadows. More usable, and I can expose the RAW image one stop to right.

Today even though I know about exposing to the right I don’t think about it too much while I’m shooting. I would much rather spend my time thinking about the subject matter and composition of the image I’m taking. So this is what I do…

Under cloudy, dim, and/or low-contrast conditions, I set the exposure compensation between 0 and +2 (+1 usually works well, especially when used with the JPEG settings above.

Under sunny, bright, and/or high-contrast conditions, (think noonday sun), I set the exposure compensation between 0 and -2 (-1 usually works well) and set my JPEG brightness to +1.

These two setting combos are easy to remember, and also easy to program into your user banks. Plus they let my camera do most of the work, which it seems to do quite well. So if you like creating both RAW and JPEG images, give this a try and see if it works for you.

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Dreux Sawyer

Dreux Sawyer

Thoughts on user experience, product design, photography, cameras and life in general