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Exposure, Dynamic Range and RAW

When setting the exposure parameters for a picture, unless it is an active artistic decision, it is best not to clip lights or shadows of the image: if there are lights brighter than what the camera can capture, and you don't close the iris a bit, increase shutter speed or lower the ISO, you'll get clipped highlights. The same logic applies to shadows too.

The problem with clipping is that:
* it is not possible to recover information from these areas of the image: 100% white or 100% black is completely uniform, no matter how much postprocessing we apply to the image
* that clipping, with electronic sensors, is usually ugly: 100% white is, generally, quite nasty; 100% black sometimes too

The image on the left has no clipping; the one on the right does (both in the highlights and the shadows):

In any case, sometimes clipping is unavoidable: the camera cannot record at the same time the brightest highlight and the darkest shadow in the universe without clipping one or the other, or both. Because it has a limited dynamic range: there's a limit to the relation between the brightest highlight and the darkest shadow it can record (without clipping) at the same time.

Also, if you don't use the camera optimally, you won't even be using all the dynamic range that it offers. If the camera allows that option (and it should), this means that you should generally shoot in RAW instead of JPG.

When shooting RAW, a file is saved cointaining all the information captured by the sensor. Later, in the computer, the image is developed, choosing specific values for contrast, brightness, white balance, curves, etc., in order to obtain the best possible result from that data captured by the sensor. If, instead of that, we shoot in JPG, the data captured by the sensor is processed by the camera, with some specific options (set up before taking the picture); this process eliminates a lot of information, which can't be recovered later (that's why the file is smaller; in partucular, there will usually be bright or dark areas where detail could be recovered if you shoot RAW, but which will show clipping if you shoot JPG).

Developing RAW files in the computer to get JPG images takes time. That's why most people shoot RAW+JPG, which stores both files: a RAW file with all the information, and a JPG that doesn't require developing. If you shoot this way, you won't have to spend time developing uninteresting images, but you can improve your images by devoting a few minutes to each one that looks promising (if you're not willing to spend three minutes of your time to each one of those promising images that you shot, you probably also didn't take enough time when taking the pictures... and in fact probably didn't eve read this far into the tutorial).

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