Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Highlight Tone Priority - Image Salvation!

It's the "Whip cream and cherry on top" for the new Canon cameras. Highlight Tone Priority - it's one of those new features that get listed in the specs but receive little"real world" discussion as to how it applies to the wedding shooter. Well, let's change all that right here. This is the hottest feature of the new Canon (and Nikon) cameras just announced last month. It makes JPEG shooting pretty darn easy - almost full proof in my opinion. Even if you are a RAW shooter the benefits are unbelievable. My buddy, Denis Reggie shoots RAW but still has Highlight Tone Priority enabled all the time.

I was shooting a wedding two weeks ago with Canon's MarkIII with Highlight Tone Priority enabled. The bride came out of the house on this super bright, not to mention hot, cloudless day. I had the camera in "P" - for Professional mode - and shot away. I "chimped" the shot and could see no "blinkies" on Canon's new "all screen" "blinkie" mode. I know they call it "Highlight Alert" - but it's still the "Blinkies" to me. The full screen view of "Highlight Alert' is the second best thing about the new cameras.

Now any good wedding photographer knows that when shooting the bride leaving the house or limo or any other "inside" location moving into full sun is a bit of a problem. Shooting JPEGs in any "auto" mode always results in the dress highlights being "blown out". As a JPEG shooter, we always make the slight adjustment to exposure before she makes her exit. This is fine when we have the time, but it can be an "exposure" hassle when things are really moving. Now I know the RAW guys are going to say they don't have the problem - granted - but the RAW vs. JPEG issue for photographers is another whole discussion saved for another day.

For the JPEG wedding shooter especially, a camera with the "Highlight Tone Priority" feature (it's called Active D-Lighting on the Nikon side) is just about a must and a life saver. This feature alone will save a large percentage of the possibly overexposed images in the course of the day's coverage assuming, of course, you are "in the ball park" to begin with - and the "auto" modes get you in the "ballpark" fairly easily.

Let's take a look at some of my "hands on" shooting during last week's Master Class. I asked our bride to step out of the shadows into the sunlight. The camera was in "Program" mode. Look at the first image - the image and the histogram shows it is clearly "blown out".

Next I "enabled" the "Highlight Tone Priority" feature on the MarkIII, had the bride step out of the shadows into the sunlight again as I continued to shoot away. Check out the second image - the exposure is just about "nailed". Look at the histogram - it's right where it needs to be.
Now look at the third - full length - and fourth - close-up - images. Look how the dress detail is preserved beautifully with the the "Highlight Tone Priority" feature enabled - Amazing!!!

So just how far can you go before you go beyond the range of this "safety net" feature? I'd say about one stop. Take a look at the fifth image, which I published in my newsletter a few months ago. the difference between exposures was one stop. The overexposed photograph was still saved by the "Highlight Tone Priority" feature.

Imaging Resource had a brief discussion on Highlight Tone Priority right here. Bob Atkins Photography, a nice site to follow too, also has a more in-depth article, although not wedding related, on Highlight Tone Priority right here. Bob's site also covers some positive ISO considerations on the new Canon 40D as well.

Don't overlook these additional benefits too. When doing the "cocktail candids," we are sometimes in fairly tight quarters. We may be shooting a group only a few feet in front of us with the 17mm-85mm lens at 17mm range. The on-camera flash may over expose about 1/2 stop. We've known this and (most of the time) make the necessary adjustment, now HTP saves the day and takes the worry and "exposure fiddle" out of the picture - no pun intended. Here is a further benefit too - hot August day, outdoor shoot, bride and groom and wedding party a bit "shiny" from the busy day's activities. HTP even reduces the facial shine. This saves us in the post-production work. This is actually demonstrated in the fifth image of this article. Wedding day shooting is aways fast, uncertain, changing, and exacting. I'm glad I have one less thing to worry about. Let me say that HTP is not an excuse for sloppy exposure but, the new "Highlight Tone Priority" feature does a marvelous job! Happy Shooting!


  1. Agreed, Hilight tone priority has its value and is a useful feature. But before you talk about it, guess you must read the manual - Oh please....

    Firstly, If you want to see the blinkie.. you have to enable the same in custom functions. Once enabled, it does not matter whether you shoot Hilight Tone Priority or not - it will blink!! and you can be happy.

    Secondly, if you enable Highlight tone priority, it will mess up your ISO settings! Oh yeah notice that suddenly your ISO come out as not 200 but 2oo ? ha ha.. and the lowest ISO you can get to is 2oo! even though you have enables ISO expansion.

    so... thanks for your efforts writing about Highlight tone priority - but honestly this is an under researched article.

  2. Wonderful information. Hope my new Nikon D300 has this capability.

  3. Dear Anonymous,
    This article was to illustrate how helpful the new feature is - not delve into each intricacy of the setting - that info is in the manual. Just set up one of the custom settings to turn it off. I am picking up my 3rd 40D next week mainly because of that feature.

  4. Great tests, thanks for sharing. I can't wait to try it out.

    Who's crazy enough to shoot a wedding in JPEG !!?? With the additional latitude and massive tuning control of RAW, not to mention the white-balance-after-the-fact, you'd be c r a z y to shoot a wedding in JPG. Talk about painting yourself in a corner!

  5. To Anon 7.31pm 29 Dec

    Actually for some professionals not necessarily in the wedding business but in Fast paced work flows where output is required nearly instantaneously RAW shooting is an pointless endeavor since no-post processing is done...

    In the end it just means the photographer must get it (reasonably) right the FIRST time, which for most shouldn't be too much of a problem.

  6. Clever..."P" for Professional mode... Oh wait, "P" is actually Program AE mode, which, in the simplest sense, is the "Intermediate's Automatic." If I were to classify a shooting mode of the camera as the "Professional mode" that mode would definitely be "M", which stands for Manual mode. In this mode, the photographer does almost ALL the work. =)

  7. Wish the Highlight Tone Priority function was on the 5D.

  8. i just attended a bruce hudson seminar at which he advocated all jpeg all the time. Not only that but he claims to set his parameters to extra contrast extra sharpening. technically bad on top of worse. Its frustrating to see so called authorities in the field dispensing such half baked and ill advised technical advise to such a wide audience.
    jpeg vs raw
    to paraphrase Ames
    would any photographer you know ever conceive of throwing away their negatives after the proofs are made?
    and lets not confuse the issue by involving PJ shooters court-side at a pro basketball game on deadline
    there are always exceptions to the rule

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Everyone has their preferences - I turn my contrast down 2 notches in my Canon's and do no sharpening. Regarding JPEG shooting, I shoot 4000+ images at a wedding - I have no intention of adding 250 gigs of storage and workflow overload per job to my system. Get it right in the camera and JPEGS are fine. RAW shooting has made too many people too sloppy with their camera technique these days. Granted for teh fine art, commercial, etc. photogs, RAW would be prefered, but not for us wedding guys.

  11. I really can not understand how a so called professional wants to tell us "advanced amateurs" that "P" means professional mode. The absolute uebernonsense!
    As every professional you should work (yes, even and especially on a wedding) in RAW for various of reasons, which are not to be discussed anymore. Also the "real" professional (by definition not someone who earns money by photographing, but who has understood what digital imaging is about) will do his wedding work in manual mode with fill flash on TTL mode and flash exposure compensation to get at least consistent exposure of the ambient light. If this is to hard to to for you, choose at least aperture priority mode to get controlled depth of field. So please stop telling us nonsens mr. Ziser. You are in the "digital PRO talk" not in the point and shoot kindergarden.
    christian joerg photography

  12. Hi Chris,
    I think you missed my "tongue firmly placed in my cheek" when I cracked the term.

  13. Hi all,
    I am not a pro, just an amateur trying to learn a bit more of my hobby from you, professionals, publishing on-line or in magazines but I also believe that instead of spending your valuable time on insulting each other, you could actually explain your points and share your experience with those who would like to learn something from the experts. Thank you. Jan

  14. Regardless of how many images you take, RAW is far superior to JPEG for so many reasons! It doesn't make people sloppy, it helps EVERYONE recover blown highlights, correct white balance, and more. Your work isn't worth the card you shoot on if you don't take the steps to preserve the quality of your images.

    But keep on spreading bad information... after all, you shoot in "professional mode."

  15. Hi everyone, I would like to say that it was pretty obvious that David was joking when he referred to "P" mode as "Professional". He is a pro who uses high end equipment that most of us can only dream of owning so I'm sure he knows what "P" really stands for.
    I agree with David that jpegs are fine for wedding as thousands of images are shot during the entire day and to post process RAW would be an absolute nightmare.
    Weddings are dynamic so you have to be on your feet, there's no time to do test shots because you don't get a second chance to reshoot the wedding. Yes, manual mode is the ideal mode but sometimes "P" or "AV" are the way to go. Capturing the moment is more important than nailing the perfect exposure for every single shot.

  16. Hi David,

    Next time, please use "P" as "Pretty" mode, so "pretty" people won't get too excite & upset :)
    Thanks for your tips & humors, I hope someday I will be a professional... Oops, a "pretty" wedding photographer like you are.


  17. David, thank you for your articles.

    Some of you people commenting - what assholes! Is it required to be so arrogant to be a photographer? Are you all really that insecure?

    Please disagree with David without the crap attitude, if you can.

  18. "P for Pro Mode" you just make fun of yourself and doing JPEG excuses...

    No offens, some info is good but need more homework before writing article.

    oh no worry I won't tell the people that are getting married and ask you for help :)

  19. When did photography become right or wrong? That's why I got into this hobby so fast! It's all about preference, your own taste, your own way of trying to get your viewer to feel a certain way through an image.

    Do you think your client has any idea what raw or jpeg is? or how long you took to edit? or what features of your camera you did or did not utilize? nope...in fact you'll probably just bore them. Let the pictures speak for themselves.

    How you obtain them, is your own method, and what makes you different from every other photographer out there.

    1. Thank you. I feel the same way. It's sad to see people all with the same passion arguing over petty nonsense and word mining.

  20. You don't list the shutter speed or aperture in any of your examples. If they weren't exactly the same, how are we to know if the differences in the images aren't just due to a better exposure?

  21. Just going to agree with Rob. How would we know? Yes, please clarify. However, I buy your argument.

    Also, the whole intention of the article is to INFORM about Highlight Tone Priority. Not Jpeg vs Raw, not manual vs P.

    For the idiots who said that all professionals should shoot in M, how wrong and oblivious you guys are! Take into account the context and nature of the photography in question first, before commenting. Save us some time by not having to read your arrogant replies, and save yourself some embarrassment, too.


  22. I think you mean "fool proof".

  23. You're an idiot if you think 'P' stands for "Professional Mode"!

    Also - JPEG for a wedding?! Are you INSANE!?

    'ProTalk'? More like 'ChimpTalk'

  24. Guys, one presumes David must be doing something right - he's one of the most successful wedding photogs? Perhaps we should be asking what he's doing right rather than criticising.

    You can use whatever mode you choose when you shoot but this is what works for him.

    Take away whatever information you like. Make positive comment. Contribute.

    Negative criticism? No thanks!


  25. Wow David, came across this article doing a little research on Highlight Tone Priority and have to say I was blown away by the comments. Anyone who's been working in photography for any length of time has heard "P" mode jokingly referred to as "Professional Mode." Those who thought you were serious are clearly new to the business.

    RAW vs JPEG has become highjacked by fundamentalist radicals. I love RAW. I love what it brings to the table. I shoot RAW frequently. However, there are many projects where it simply isn't feasible to shoot 2000-5000 21 megapixel RAW images with a 5D Mark II or 1Ds Mark III. Plenty of pros I know, some of the best in the business, shoot JPEG exclusively. Anyone who thinks JPEG shooters are amateurs are probably inexperienced hobbyists who've never made a living in this field. Do a little research before you insult a professional like David.

    Thanks for the info on HTP. I'll be experimenting with it shooting some baseball games in Southern California afternoon sun. Happy shooting David!

  26. Phillip Railey5:18 PM, May 19, 2009

    for someone so opinionated why are you writing anonymously? Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and takes away different meanings from David's Photo Talk. David is not where he is today by sharing incorrect or false information. This site is free to anyone seeking help of having a comment to share. You don't have to go to the site if you think David's ideas are wrong yet you continue to come to the site. I have met David and had a chance to sit down with him and a few others to talk after a seminar. He has not gotten where he is today but cutting corners or telling false facts. He is successful because of more than 20 years experience and a true knowledge of the art of photography. People pay to hear him speak, can we say the same about you? If so, when your tour "Fantasy Land" comes to town I will attend right after the Circus.
    Best regards...

  27. Wow, guess I'm 2 years late to leave a comment. Thanks David for giving a brief explanation on highlight tone priority function. I came across it on my 450d which I bought 3 months back. It's definitely helpful information.
    As for raw vs jpeg. I believe is a matter of preferences. Professional or not. It's just a term. If you are happy in taking picture. That's what important. Nobody needs to get upset with anyone else. C'on now fellas. Take it easy.

  28. I understand Highlight Tone Priority for JPG shooting but not for RAW. Does it actually change the RAW file? Or?

  29. Ah yes...as David said in a recent seminar, JPEG or RAW? It's one of the three religious arguments in photography. (The other two being PC or MAC, Canon or Nikon.)

    He also says that whatever works best for you, you should do. ANd since JPEG obviously works quite well (and profitably) for David, who can argue with it?

    And I still love the "P for Professional mode" because my neighbor thinks that is what it really means!

  30. Girl anonymous,

    David was just joking about the "P".
    That's a JOKE!

    I hope I don't hurt your feelings.

  31. wow, such snarky, "grumpy" commenters for this article.

    anyways, thanks david, for this article. i will play around with htp and see for myself if i like it. i think davids point of the article is to just let people know that the option is out there, and that it may be beneficial to some of his readers.

    as for jpeg v raw, didnt david write that that was a whole OTHER discussion? i shoot raw mostly, but im not gonna get on a very successful, professional photographer if he prefers to shoot jpg. wtf, shoot however and with whatever works for you. isnt that the beauty of photography (and the reason why there are so many different pieces of equipment to use in this industry?).

    anyways, thanks david for the article. and i enjoyed the cameradojo podcast interview of you (i believe it was the cameradojo podcast).

    good luck in 2010.

  32. Great article, thanks a lot David.

  33. I initially dismissed HTP when I [over]bought my 5D2, but leafing through my just-received copy of David's book I came across this material and thought I'd research anew. I would •kill• to be able to get keepers as good as his goofs -- and I shoot raw (which still is not an acronym). I have to believe that those unconditionally dismissing David for shooting JPEG (well, really, JFIF, but few understand the distinction) haven't even glanced at his work.

    David, more power to you for nailing exposure, especially with the 5D2's lame meter.

    As for shooting only M ... I'd love to see these 'purists' do that in my living room while chasing a toddler.

  34. People who complain about P "professional mode" obviously do not know anything about David.
    His is more pro than most of us, and the fact that you did not get his joke says more about yourself than about him.
    No wonder people think some photographers are arrogant idiots when people like you populate the earth and think you are better than anything other living thing in the universe.
    Both feet on the ground and a nice attitude (while adhering to the facts) will help a lot.

  35. While my work is invariably in RAW, I have seen some of the world's top pros shooting JPG, in Program mode, almost exclusively. Point in example: It is easy to find out what format accounts for over 85% of all winning images in the World Press Photo awards for last year. Yep, JPG.

    I have worked with a photographer who has won the WPP award twice, and has been a judge for WPP for years, and I can guarantee that if someone suggested always shooting manual mode to him, he'd have a laughing fit.

    I frankly believe most of the rude comments regarding the author's views on shooting in Program Mode and in JPG, originate in a strong envy about his success. I feel sad for the posters.

    This had to be said.

  36. I'm not a pro and not that good of an amateur for that matter so I'm asking/stating to learn...Regarding the debate between jpeg and RAW...why can't one set the camera to record both RAW and jpeg at the same time? Memory cards are cheap these days :).

  37. JPEG shooter? Do they still exist?

    JPEG in a wedding? Lol!

  38. What is going on with all of these nasty comments? It was obvious that David was kidding about the "P" for Professional remark. I love photography but grumpy - rude photographers is another matter. David is a great photographer and does a commendable job of sharing his expertise with other photogs. I for one appreciate what David does very much.

  39. Even I knew the P mode for Professional was sarcastic. You guys should cool it.

  40. My partner and I shoot Harpers, Vogue, Cleo, etc, as well as for many large clothing companies. We also shoot JPG. Our images are used on billboards, shop windows, magazines, buses, trains, trams... Absolutely everywhere. Manual + JPG is all you need. If your images don't look amazing, it isn't the camera - it's you.

  41. Found a great youtube video on this!


    It actually shows highlight tone priority in a way you can see it. these images are good, but its hard to where HTP is happening

  42. Wish I got so many angry comments on my blog articles. Very good for SEO.

    Handy article by the way.

  43. So since JPG apparently can't be used anymore and none of the other features of my camera besides manual can be used anymore I guess I overpaid for my camera with all these extra functions on them damn you Canon!! Next your going to tell me the screw has completely replaced the nail and any carpenter using a simple hammer and nail is well simply no longer professional and should hang his head in shame. ANYONE who says there is ONLY ONE WAY TO GO should simply just GO! JPG is a very viable format to shoot in, you know it is since you output your precious RAW files to it anyway so if you CAN skip a step why not? Those who can't rely on RAW thats fine too... There is absolutely nothing wrong with shooting in A or P or Professional or Idiot mode whats important is knowing how you camera is going to behave... ultimately your camera or you is going to arrive at an fstop, a shutter speed, and an ISO value... if you know how your camera behaves doing that for you and you get good results great!! If you don't trust your camera then pick it yourself... let me know how it went after the moment is gone while you insist on making the adjustments yourself...IN ALL CASES of course.

    Highlight priority is a fantastic addition to Canon's tool kit (albeit your letting your camera do some thinking for you though god forbid) If you dont care about blown out highlights then don't use it...if you are shooting something very specular or something with a fairly large exposure range and would like to preserve some of those highlights turn it on.. are there some limitations and side effects ... yes... only you can decide if its worth it... just like taking medicine is the benefit better than the side effect... There are some arrogant @$$es who have responded here very disrespectfully to a very seasoned, published and acknowledged pro... To you, I suggest you publish your own blog and stop following someone you disrespect so much.

  44. P for professional... when im shooting a weeding and i see "uncle bob" on "p" i laugh inside. are you kidding. if you are shooting on P you should not be shooting the wedding...

  45. If I shot RAW + JPeg, would the HTP still work?
    Obviously this would nearly double my capacity, but I think it would be interesting to compare the difference side by side. Has anyone done this exercise yet?

    Kind Regards,
    Barry Johnston
    Melbourne, Australia

  46. Yeah, it should work. I think it works in both raw and jpeg anyway

  47. I can not believe the comments that I have read over the years that they have been posted. As a pro wedding photographer and general photographer, i would like to know whether the comments made from some are from those that actually work in this field.

    The attitude stinks, and actually makes me feel less proud to be a photographer when i see them bitching like old women. All i can say is ruler comes to mind!! You all need to get a grip!! And stop acting like children.

    David was kind enough to add a blog regarding tips. Even stating that he wouldn't get into the debate regarding the difference of raw and jpeg, proving that he knows the difference.

    There were a few things that made me wince, but you over look that and look at the work and the tip he is providing and take the best.

    To be honest you sound like bullys, using this as a opourtunity to make your selves look good, but all you did was annoy others by making your selves look like idiots. Obvoiusly need to get out and use your camera more, in my opinon.

    well i enjoyed the read.. and would like to apologise to david, for the lack of condieration and grattitude displayed by fellow photographers. All i can say is the attitude shows at what level of photography you are at guyts, and it does not put you in the pro world to behave this bad!

  48. Many years ago I attended one of Davids weekend
    seminars,,,you guys stop arguing and listen to a complete pro,and also an extremely nice guy,,
    his advice is solid and to the point,he is also a master at posing,a true pro would read and absorb what pertains to his own way of shooting,i also would like to apologise to david ,but you know what, I know he is confident enough in himself to take take it all with a grain of salt.

  49. OMG! There are two kinds of photographers, happy ones and cranky ones. The happy ones continue to enjoy a half full glass of wine whereas the cranky ones are always complaining that the glass is half empty.

    I use HTP in RAW mode. Your article seems to suggest that HTP only works in JPEG. I like how HTP save me from blowing out the highlights. What am I doing wrong?

  50. HTP works on the raw because it doesn't change the tone mapping for the jpeg, but it is actually adjusting how to meter the scene, to preserve the highlights that would otherwise be clipped on-sensor , ie. even in the raw file.

  51. Bonjour de Montreal avec un grand merci pour ces infos fraîches et à jour. J'ai apprécié ma lecture.

    Agence de mode Lyon

  52. I agree that people who get so wrapped up in the jpeg vs RAW discussion are missing the points David is posing to us. I know people in my camera club who only shoot jpeg, and they seem to do very well in competitions etc. I think one has to decide for themselves what format to shoot in, and go with it and not spend time criticizing other people's preferences. I guess some people need to make themselves feel good in any way they can. Keep up the great work, David, and ignore the peanut gallery, I mean negative people.