Printing with Clipped Highlights


Today’s Question: If you print an original capture with blown-out highlights in the image, will the printer even apply ink to those areas – or will that portion of the photographic paper simply be blank? If so, would this be another reason to use a negative value for Whites so you at least wind up with a gray color in those areas?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, if areas of an image are blown out to pure white, that means there won’t be any ink put down in those areas when the image is printed. I do generally recommend darkening the highlights slightly in this situation so there will be ink on the paper for the entire image.

More Detail: In the context of printing a photo, in most cases if an area of the image is pure white there won’t be any ink put down on the paper in those areas. For very small areas such as with tiny specular highlights this may not be a problem at all. However, if the area is moderately large it can look a bit odd to have no ink in that area of the print. There will generally be a bit of a texture or gloss difference, for example, where there is empty paper surrounded by areas with ink coverage.

To compensate for this issue, I recommend toning down the highlights in the image so that the areas that are pure white will at least have a value darker than white, such as a very bright gray. This will ensure that ink will be applied to the print in these areas.

This can be accomplished by reducing the value for the Whites slider in Lightroom Classic or Camera Raw, for example. In Photoshop you could also reduce the value for white with a Levels adjustment, dragging the white slider under Output Levels to the left to darken the value of white. In all cases this adjustment should generally be very slight, providing just enough of an adjustment that areas of blown out white aren’t entirely white.