Stu Maschwitz, author of the great book, DV Rebel’s Guide and filmmaker, blogger (over at Pro Lost), techno geek, has a really interesting blog about “clipping.” For those of you who know little but could care more, that term refers to the point when video (or audio) reaches a saturation point and can no longer take any more light. Stu refers to it this way:
Throw enough light at a piece of color negative and eventually it stops being able to generate any more density. Clipping, i.e. exceeding the upper limits of a media’s ability to record light, happens with all image capture systems.
In the posting, titles “On Clipping, Part 1” Stu gets into quite a bit of detail about how our eyes perceive light, as oppose to our digital capture systems (read that as “cameras”) and, at times, it went clean over my head.
But he makes the good point that film treats clipping much more forgivingly than video and digital capture does. DPs have learned to expose for the whitest whites as much as possible, and to let the color timing bring the image down to respectful levels. This approach works fine, according to Stu, but falls apart when images clip, because bringing down a clipped image leaves you open to many digital imperfections — including milkiness and noise.
Editors have dealt with this for years, especially as more and more of us are pushed into the realm of color correction (way beyond most of our skill sets, I should point out, and that’s a topic for another post). But Stu lays it out in a great way. And, along that way, he points out that clipping isn’t always bad.
And that’s OK. While HDR enthusiasts might disagree, artful overexposure is as much a part of photography and cinematography as anything else. Everybody clips, even film, and some great films such as Road to Perdition, Million Dollar Baby and 2001: A Space Odyssey would be crippled without their consciously overexposed whites.
Go check out the posting, and while you’re at it, take a look at the other postings on Stu’s blog. You’ll find it way worth your while.