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Why “Exposing to the Right” Works on the RED

This white paper from Adobe explains it all without making my eyes bleed.

By Art Adams | September 27, 2008

There's been a lot of talk about "exposing to the right" in the RED community: instead of relying solely on your meter, the idea is to watch the RED's histograms and use whatever room is available on the right side. If your meter says to shoot at 2.8, and there's nothing hitting the right side of the histogram, open up the stop and move all the values over until something clips or you run out of stop.

I did this on my last two RED shoots and it worked great. Using REDSpace as my color and gamma preset allowed me to see more-or-less exactly how the image would be seen once processed using those settings in post, and by setting the zebras to come on at their maximum of 103 (I assume that's 103 ire on a scale of 0-109) I could use them the same way I would on any other HD camera. Processing the footage through RedRushes using the REDSpace preset resulted in images that were very close to what I saw on location while still offering me all the grading latitude that I'd expect from RED raw footage.

This white paper on Adobe's web site explains what "expose to the right" is and why it works. I highly recommend it.

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stephen v2: | September, 27, 2008

Nice find. I have been “exposing to the right” more and more with things other than Red (which I only occasionally rent) - my DSLR, other cameras. This even works well with my DVX100.

It was really when I switched from a film SLR to a digital SLR last year that I really noticed the benefits of this is noise control, dynamic range and overall IQ.

That Adobe whitepaper is the best overview I’ve seen along with ProLost (Stu M.) posts from some months back.

Stephan: | September, 28, 2008

Beware of the risks you’re taking here: this is all only correct in black & white, because the histogram is a luminance histogram whereas what you would really want to use is a 3-fold RGB histogram (and you may not necessarily have that on-camera).

Consider a picture where you have a brighter zone ‘A’ and another, not so bright but with strong saturated color, zone ‘B’. What you *don’t see* with the Y histogram is that although zone ‘B’ is darker, one of its 3 color channels is closer to clipping.

So if you expose to the right with consideration to zone ‘A’ (the brightest, rightmost on your histogram), by the time you bring zone ‘A’ close the right edge (white point), the darker zone ‘B’ is already suffering channel clipping and has already started to lose color and detail.

Compare the Y histogram to the RGB histograms in Photoshop (or any CC application), and that will all be clear. Ordinarily, one of the 3 color channels is way ahead of the Y histogram towards the right.

What happens on some camcorders, is that the histogram will show luminance (as explained above) and the zebras (set at 100%) will appear whenever channel clipping occurs. This explains why zebras would appear even though the image hasn’t yet reached the righmost side of the histogram.

So again, “exposure to the right” is a nice tip, but do find a way to monitor all 3 channels. If you can’t, decrease saturation and make a wish.

Art Adams: | September, 28, 2008

The RED has three histograms: red, green and blue. The normal mode overlays them to save space, but there is a separate “parade” mode as well.

As best I can tell I have only ever clipped on luminance, and not on saturation.

billS: | October, 01, 2008

good post
in a bright sunny day ( or overcast day too)
what would you use for an ISO/ASA?

do you open up 2 f-stops usually?
i’m interested in what the practical ISO is…

thanks Art

Art Adams: | October, 01, 2008

I don’t think there’s a firm rule of thumb to using the RED other than looking at your histograms (in parade view, for more accuracy) and see how much and what you’re clipping. If I have some room to increase the exposure then I goose it up a bit.

RED says the EI is around 320, and I suspect you could rate it that way and get decent results, but I’ve found the camera to be a little noisy at that EI so I generally rate it at 200-250. That gives less overexposure latitude but I never rely just on my meter: I always set the base exposure using a meter but then I adjust it depending on what the histograms say.

Some say you can’t treat the RED like a video or HD camera, and that you have to totally rely on your meter. That’s partially true, but I’ve discovered that if I shoot with the camera set to REDSpace I can use zebras set at 103 (their highest setting) to help me set exposure, just as I would with any other HD camera. It’s still not totally WYSIWYG but it’s damn close, and you’re going to massage it later anyway so close is good enough.

So, the short answer to your question is: if you use your meter and light to an EI/ISO/ASA of 250 you’re going to be in good shape: the exposure should be nice and thick and you won’t find yourself shooting too far down in the noise. (Build 16’s noise floor is vastly improved over build 15, by the way.)

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