How to avoid highlight clipping on sunny days?

I have noticed that many pictures I took with my Pentax KS-1 on bright sunny days have many clipped highlights on them (on white skin, white hair, bright clothes, etc.) So there is nothing I can do about them now since the details in those areas are lost. Highlights compensation in RAWTherapee or any other software does not work on those areas. The pictures were taken in Camera auto mode. I just scrolled through them and noticed that the ISO is usually either 100 or 200; exposure varies between 1/100s and 1/200s; aperture - between 6.3 and 11.
I was wondering how do you more experience photographers capture in those situations. I guess using the camera auto mode is a bad idea. Would you go to a fully manual mode or you would leave only one parameter to play with for yourself and let the camera do the rest?
I also noticed that such pics are almost always out of focus or bad focus. Is there any connection between wrong exposure / ISO / aperture settings and a bad focus or that is something else I should address.
Any thoughts / ideas would be greatly appreciated.
(sorry I could not upload any samples since they have faces on them. I will upload a sample a soon as I find a suitable one)

Hi Andrius!
No, I am not a “specialist”… just a few thoughts:
now and then, “auto mode” is not a good choice.
You have to override it. Play with the EV Compensation
button and see what happens…

Have fun!

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To avoid that check the histogram and/or overexposure warnings on the shots you took. It can be hard to notice the blown out highlights on the rear screen especially on a very sunny day. If you find out it’s over exposed and you are not in manual, use exposure compensation. There is no need to switch to manual mode just for this reason. Bracketing and possibly going HDR is another option. But the first thing you need to master is exposure compensation.

On some cameras you can also change the metering mode to meter for the highlights not sure if that feature is available in this specific pentax.

I recently discussed that issue with my dad as well. Another issue in his case was that he shot scenes with a very high dynamic range with a camera that was not able to handle them, so sometimes the solution is also to change your angle/location a bit so you are either all in shade or all in the sun.

I hope that helps!


I think there are several things you can do. I’m not familiar with the features of the Pentax K1, so take these recommendations generally/they may not apply to every situation.

  1. Change your metering mode to spot/explore other metering modes.
  2. Bracket your exposures.
  3. Adjust exposure compensation to under expose
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Hi @Claes, thanks for the advise. It is the middle of winter in my area so I guess I will have to wait until late April at least. We have many sunny days in winter to but I have not noticed similar issues on winter pictures. Maybe it is because of the snow is white so the white balance is pretty good SOOC and I just did not notice that. The summer pics are more yellowish colors and the highlights catching my eye.

Based on this, I take it you are taking photos of people. In that case, perhaps you can convince them to get into some shade so that they don’t have harsh sunlight on them. That won’t help for shots you have already taken, but might help in the future. Taking photos in the mid-day sun is tough.

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If you want fully automatic “set it and forget it” shooting but want to be able to influence it, use P mode. It’s automatic but you can tell the camera “make it darker than normal” if you see it overexposing.

Focusing is completely disconnected from exposure itself but not from modes: Auto mode is probably doing whatever the heck it wants and that is really not what you want, so use a PASM mode where you can adjust the autofocus system to do what you want better.

I don’t know what to advise you there because focus varies between companies. Know that AF points are places where the camera can check focus. You need to put the selected one over the subject, focus, and then shoot.

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Hi @Andrius,
No, you do not have to wait until late April to test EV compensation.
Example: in a semi-dark room, light a single candle.
Now, try to get a good exposure of it.
Auto-mode will not work - but using the semi-automatic
modes and/or manual mode of your camera + EV compensation,
you will be able to obtain some useful shots.

Have fun!

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Highlight compression won’t work on areas which are clipped. You may have some success, in fact often quite good results, using highlight reconstruction using color propagation.



If you want to use any auto mode and your auto mode leads to clipped highlights, use negative exposure compensation: -1EV or -2EV.

Click this image twice to view the full thing at 1:1:

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Good advice so far. Personally, I almost never shoot in full auto mode. I prefer aperture priority mode since I shoot with a lot of manual lenses, but I think learning to use A or S modes might be helpful for you because it ensures that you will be a little more mindful of your exposure values. As others said, learn to read your histogram and to adjust the EV dial for correct exposures. Also learn to use your metering mode correctly. I generally prefer center weighted metering, so I can aim at my subject, half press the shutter to lock exposure and or focus, adjust EV with my thumb wheel if necessary, then reframe and complete the shutter press to capture the image.

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Thank you all for the useful tips. Looks like I got some homework to do but at least I know what to do know! I will practice with a candle and will post some results here later on.

This shutter seems unreasonably long for sunny days… unless you stop the aperture down even more. I have tried the auto modes on my canon, but find manual easier to fiddle with.

If you have bright snow all over the background, the camera will make sure to render it grey. It will adjust the exposure so much down that you’re not likely to get any highlights clipped in this case. You might actually want to dial exposure compensation +1 or +1.5 in order to get that snow white again.