Why Exposing to the Right (ETTR) is BAD!

Started Mar 30, 2013 | Discussions thread
MarkInSF Senior Member • Posts: 2,237
Re: (ETTR) is BAD! But saying so is going to get you a lot of flack

apaflo wrote:

MarkInSF wrote:

apaflo wrote:

drh681 wrote:

As you have found.

ETTR was a good Idea back in the early days of digital imaging.

I was there. It was a fair solution.

But that was then, this is now.

And imaging sensors and the accompanying Processing Engines are many, many times better. There has also been an equal improvement in noise reduction capability in our editing programs.

All that adds up to ETTR being a technique that has outlived its practical life.

It has exactly the same significance today that it did with earlier DSLR designs.

No matter how good the precessing is for noise reduction, it does better when there is less noise to start with!

I think drh summed it up perfectly.   No, it can't possibly have the same significance because cameras have improved so much.

It has greater significance now...  better cameras have made it more useful.  But also it is even more complex.

When noisy images were the norm it was important, even essential, to use that limited dynamic range effectively.  Now it's typically inessential, enough so that few bother with it.

It just means that the camera will allow even more benefit to getting it right.  Greater dynamic range is not just a matter of eliminating noise, it's also a case of providing more detail where it could not be recorded previously.

An obsession with barely visible detail is a common symptom, I agree.   I'm remarkably unimpressed by that which can't even be seen under normal viewing conditions.

A recent example posted was a JPEG a woman with a dark complexion and very black hair in a beach scene that included white sky and breaking waves in the distance.  The problem with the image was the tonal distribution made the subject appear very drab. The solution was to use a curves tool to brighten up the subject while not changing the overall contrast.  But because the image for editing started with a JPEG there was no way to pull up the blocked shadows in the hair, which necessarily remained a simply black blob with virtually no detail at all.

Yes, there still are plenty of scenes with meaningful detail that can't be easily captured by a modern camera.   However, in most of those cases the dynamic range is so great that changing the exposure still can't capture all the important detail.   And most people wouldn't be starting with a jpeg, now, would they?   With a RAW of tge same scene it's quite possible an attractive image could have been made.

Anyhow, I did note that there are times where I would try to eke out everything possible?   This is the kind of scene that calls for whatever techniques you need.   Maybe including ETTR (though that is more a general way of working than a specific technique).   Maybe even multiple multi-exposure HDR techniques.   Whatever gets you the image you want is fine with me.   But this is a scene with significant detail spread across a dynamic range beyond what most cameras can capture.

If the RAW file were available, and if and only if the image had been originally shot with the highlights very close to but not quite clipping (i.e., ETTR), it would be possible to process it to provide tonal compression that would then allow generating a JPEG that did show detail in the hair.  It would have significantly improved the image.  (And granted that using fill flash or a reflector when taking the shot would also provide the same effect.)

That's speculation.   It could have improved the image, but there may still have been a lot of detail lost at one extreme or the other.   Cameras do still have limited dynamic range, no matter what you do with the exposure.   Black blacks will still be featureless if you've had to expose for a bright sky (or sand, sparkling waves, whatever.)

I do in specific, very limited circumstances where the payoff is noticeable, but most of the time the camera gives me a clean enough image without messing around.  There are more productive uses of my time.   I could spend that time looking at a painting or reading instead of fiddling with my camera.  Either one would probably do just as much to improve my photography (which is pretty rusty right now.)

If it isn't easy for you, I agree that not doing it is reasonable.  Just don't claim that it is a fault with the process, because others do it without a hitch in the blink of an eye.  They don't waste time and they do get improved results.  (And if your photography is rusty, maybe practice at photography would do more to improve?  Things like practicing how to read an histogram and set exposures quickly... )

Don't be rude.   I have an art degree and I'm not exactly a kid.  I can read histograms just fine, and find them enormously helpful (wish my old film slr had them).  I just think there are very few photographers whose work wouldn't benefit more from a broader exposure to other arts than it does from eking out a trivial amount of shadow detail out of scenes where there is ni importance to the shadows.   If you're shooting a raven in the snow most of the significant detail is in the shadows and extraordinary efforts to capture that detail are warranted.   Next time you shoot a raven in the snow, let me know.  My life does not consist of such moments.

I'm rusty because I'm disabled and spend most of my life in bed.   I'm up for a few hours every day.   I'm getting bored of photographing my feet. (yes, I'm kidding -  not about spending most of my life in bed.   But my feet are endlessly fascinating.)

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