What do you mean when you say “clipping”?

We have compiled a list of the TOP50 questions that we hear on our workshops. From gear, to settings, to composition, and shooting styles, we have decided to post three questions and answers a week till we get through them all.

We hope they answer some of the questions that you may have. Here is today’s question.

Question: What do you mean when you say “clipping”?

Today's answer from David Topping: When highlights in your image are so overexposed that they become solid white, they are considered “clipped” or “blown out.” Looking at your camera’s histogram, you would see a spike on the right side of the graph, which represents areas in your image where detail has been lost.

That’s why it’s so important to understand how to use your camera’s histogram (turning on your camera’s highlight alert function, if you have that option, can also be helpful). Each vertical line on the histogram represents a brightness value from black (shadows) on the left to white (highlights) on the right. The higher the line, the more areas in the image that have that particular brightness value. If your histogram is pushed up against the right side, it’s likely that clipping will occur and detail will be lost.

If this happens, there’s still a chance that you may be able to recover some detail from a RAW file, but it is always best to monitor your histogram and expose correctly to ensure you aren’t sacrificing detail in important areas of the image.

One thing to keep in mind as you are looking at the histogram is that sometimes a little highlight clipping is acceptable. Specular highlights in a scene, such as reflections on water or metal, and direct light sources, such as street lights, all look completely natural when clipped.

If your histogram is showing peaks at both ends (detail is being lost in the highlights and shadows), then the scene can’t be fully captured by your camera and a decision needs to be made. Either expose to maintain detail in the highlights or expose for the shadows. Alternatively, graduated neutral-density filters can be useful to compress the tonal range and capture the scene in a single exposure, or HDR techniques can be used to capture the full tonal range of the scene.

If you want to learn this first hand, contact us and we will get you out to one of our composition workshops.


Kevin A Pepper

Kevin is a photographer and educator based in Waterloo, Ontario. His first love is photographing nature, regardless of the season or weather condition; the Ontario landscape and its wildlife are his inspiration. But you will also see other styles of photography in his portfolio. From street photography to urban exploration of abandoned buildings and architecture, he loves to capture it all with his camera for his corporate clients and his growing personal portfolio. Kevin’s images have been featured in Canadian Nature Photographer, PHOTONews Canada, Photo Technique Magazine, The London Free Press, The Weather Network, and National Geographic Online. His diverse client list includes the City of Cambridge, Olympus, GORE Mutual, TVO, and African Lion Safari. Kevin also operates “Northof49 Photography”, a company launched in 2012 dedicated to teaching amateur photographers through International and Canadian-based workshops. In the coming year, Kevin will be leading workshops in Iceland, Mongolia, Tanzania, Venezuela, Provence, and numerous destinations across Canada. Website: www.kevinpepperphotography.com