What Is Clipping In Photography And How To Avoid It

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What Is Clipping And How To Avoid It In Your Photography

When you are choosing an exposure for your photo, it’s essential to keep everything relatively balanced. If you managed to capture the right exposure, your highlights wouldn’t look too bright, your shadows won’t look too dark, and your entire image will look similar to how your eyes see it. Now, what happens if you push the exposure just a little bit too far? That’s when you’ll start to notice clipping in your photography!

This post will share exactly what is clipping in photography, how it occurs, and tips you can use to avoid it. By putting to use the tips outline here, you’ll be able to capture better quality photos and retain more details in your photos. Let’s dive in!

What Is Clipping In Photography

Clipping is a term used to describe an area of your photo that has been severely over or underexposed. Clipping can occur in both the highlights and shadows of your photos, depending on the type of scene you are shooting. The reason you want to avoid clipping is that it means there is no more recoverable information left in that area of your picture.

For example, if you clipped an area of the sky, no matter how much photo editing you try to do, that spot will look completely white. There’s no way to get back the details of the clouds or the sky that was behind the clipped area.



The same goes for your shadows. You can underexpose the dark areas of your photo to the point where there’s nothing left but complete black. Once again, regardless of whether you’re using RAW or JPEG, you won’t be able to recover any of the information in that shadowed area. Clipping is when the exposure of a certain area of your photo is so far gone that there’s no more information to display.

Clipping can also be known by a few other names such as ‘crushed’ or ‘blown out’. For example, if you hear someone say your shadows are ‘crushed’ or your highlights are ‘blown out’, they are talking about clipping your exposure!

When Can You Get Clipping In Your Images

Now you know that clipping occurs in the highlights and shadows of your photo, but at what point in the photo-taking process can it happen? Is it while taking the picture or when you begin post-processing?

The answer is both. You can experience clipping while taking the photo, or while you are editing the image. Let’s discuss each topic individually.

Clipping Your Exposure While Taking A Picture

The most common time that photographers will clip their pictures is while they are actually taking the photo. Many people pay attention to the exposure of their subject and forget about the rest. It’s also possible that your light meter could be giving you an inaccurate reading depending on your metering mode. Whatever the reason, some photographers neglect to look at their entire exposure and miss the warning signs that their histogram or light meter may be trying to tell them.

Clipped highlights in camera
A more balanced exposure in camera.

Clipping Your Exposure While Photo Editing

Once you’ve taken the perfect shot, you’re likely pretty excited to start editing it. A lot of people tend to brighten up their entire photo during the photo editing process. It’s easy to accidentally go overboard with the exposure adjustments and create a new clipped area of your image.

Screen Shot 2020-05-03 at 7.27.50 PM
Before exposure adjustments.
Screen Shot 2020-05-03 at 7.28.10 PM
Clipping in the clouds after going overboard on exposure adjustments.

Tools To Help You Spot Clipping In Your Images

It’s hard to gauge whether a certain part of your photo is clipped or not. Thankfully there are a few handy tools you have at your disposal to spot it in your images!

– Tool 1: The Internal Light Meter

light meter in photography, beginner photography tips

Your internal light meter tells you how many stops your photo is over or underexposed. By reading your internal light meter, you can figure out if you’re likely going to experience clipping. If your light meter reads above a +3 or –3, clipping is almost inevitable. A safe range to be in is -2 to +2 to ensure you can recover any details later in post-processing,

– Tool 2: The Histogram

Screen Shot 2020-05-03 at 3.27.55 PM

The histogram is a little graph like box that displays the exposure of your photo. On the right, it indicates highlights (the brightest part of your image), and on the left indicates shadows (the darkest part of your photo). The height of the histogram indicates how many pixels sit within a particular exposure range. If the majority of your histogram is squished up against one side or the other, you likely need to make some exposure adjustments.

How To Avoid Clipping In Your Photography

Luckily there are a few easy ways to avoid clipping in your photography. Let’s go over a few of the ways you can prevent it from happening!

How To Prevent Clipping While Taking A Picture

You can prevent clipping while you are taking photos by looking at your histogram and adjusting your exposure accordingly. When you are reading your histogram, you want to make sure that nothing is sitting against the ends of the histogram box. If there are a lot of pixels in this area, it could indicate you have clipping in your exposure.

histogram example in portraits
The pixels on the far right of the histogram pressed against the edge indicate clipping. This overexposed section is seen in the sky behind the subject.

You can easily adjust the exposure by changing any of your three exposure settings (shutter speed, aperture, ISO). After you’ve made some settings adjustments, look back at your histogram and see if the reading is better.

How To Prevent Clipping While Photo Editing

While you are photo editing, it’s a lot easier to avoid clipping. In Adobe Lightroom, you can click the triangle above the histogram to display clipped areas of your image. The red highlights will represent the clipped highlights while the blue highlight will represent the clipped shadows.

Red highlight indicated clipping in highlights.
Blue highlight indicates clipping in shadows.

If you notice either of these highlights appear in your photo, it may be worth quickly adjusting the exposure of the image. You can use the exposure adjustment slider or the curves adjustment to make this happen. Either are worthy options!

Remember that you can also make spot adjustments over any problem areas using the adjustment brush tool. You don’t always need to change the exposure of the entire photo just to fix a small clipped area in the corner of your frame.

Is Clipping Always Bad?

It’s best to avoid clipping in your photography whenever possible. By fixing your exposure, you end up with more details and extra information to display in your photo. With that said, there are certain times where clipping may be unavoidable.

Things like a light on a stage, the sun in the sky, or sunlight reflecting off the hood of a car, for example. These are all scenarios where adjusting your exposure to fix the clipping would be unnecessary. Since you would have to darken your photo so much, it would make the rest of the image look completely off.


You only want to worry about clipping in your photo when it’s occurring on your subject, or in a large area of your image. Small bright/dark areas in your photo aren’t going to be the end of the world.

So now you know exactly what clipping is in photography, how to spot it, and a few easy ways to avoid it! Whether you’re experiencing it in-camera or during post-processing, there are easy ways to mitigate your chances of clipping your image. It’s just important to always keep an eye out for it!

If you know someone who’s plagued by clipping in their photography, make sure to share this post with them!

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I'm a Canadian photographer and photo retoucher turned founder of bwillcreative.com. Around here I help you to decode the mystery of photo editing with no-fluff videos and written guides to help you achieve your creative goals. Outside of shooting photos and my passion for educating, you'll find me mountain biking or on the trails with my dog, Sunny!

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Robert Smith

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