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Underexposed VS. Overexposed Footage: Which is Better to Work With In Post?

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Daniel ito
Underexposed VS. Overexposed Footage: Which is Better to Work With In Post?
on Sep 18, 2013 at 5:18:19 pm

Before I get into this I just want everyone to know I understand that I know getting the proper exposure from the start is what you want. This is merely an argument between editors that I want to hash out. The argument is underexposed footage has more information than overexposed footage AND working with underexposed footage, in post, is easier to correct than blown out footage. Also, I understand that codecs, cameras, compression, and other factors make a difference but I'm looking for a general answer. I know this might heat up but I just want the professional knowledge of CReative Cow to chime in on this discussion.


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Dave LaRonde
Re: Underexposed VS. Overexposed Footage: Which is Better to Work With In Post?
on Sep 18, 2013 at 5:38:10 pm

Well, if someone held a gun to my head and said I had to work with either under or overexposed footage, I guess I'd opt for underexposed. You'll still lose detail in the dark parts, but they are, after all, dark.

Dave LaRonde
Former Sr. Promotion Producer
KCRG-TV (ABC) Cedar Rapids, IA


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John Cuevas
Re: Underexposed VS. Overexposed Footage: Which is Better to Work With In Post?
on Sep 18, 2013 at 5:57:40 pm

Agree with Dave 100%. Back in my shooting days, I was taught to err on the side of caution and if I underexposed a tad, well it could be brought back up...but over-exposed video was pretty much unusable.

Johnny Cuevas, Editor
Thinkck.com

"I have not failed 700 times. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work."
---THOMAS EDISON on inventing the light bulb.


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Walter Soyka
Re: Underexposed VS. Overexposed Footage: Which is Better to Work With In Post?
on Sep 18, 2013 at 8:45:59 pm

I think the answer is "it depends." I have suffered through too many tragically underexposed shots to think there's a universal answer.

If you're talking about overexposing a few specular highlights, I say blow them out. There's no real meaningful detail there anyway, and underexposing to keep them from clipping may mean sacrificing the main subject of the shot. The more underexposed your subject is, the nastier it'll look as you correct the exposure. Grain lives in the shadows, and really pumping the shadows up into midtones exaggerates that. It also compresses your shadow range considerably, meaning it's harder to get good separation between true midtones and shadows, leading to muddy images.

If you're talking about overexposing the entire sky, or a gigantic window or something, then you are almost certainly better off underexposing -- but the real solution is more lighting or reflectors on the subjcet (or ND on background windows) to decrease the dynamic range you need to capture.

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events


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Todd Kopriva
Re: Underexposed VS. Overexposed Footage: Which is Better to Work With In Post?
on Sep 19, 2013 at 12:48:11 am

I'll echo what Walter said and just add that the most pain that I've experienced trying to composite with badly shot footage has always been dealing with digital noise from low light. I've been relatively more successful rescuing information from blown-out/overexposed areas compared with my success at keying and color correcting with noisy/underexposed areas.

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Todd Kopriva, Adobe Systems Incorporated
After Effects quality engineering
After Effects team blog
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