With our DSLR, indoor flowers come out detailed. Outdoor violet and blue flowers are detailed, too.

But outdoor bright red flowers give us problems. They come out as a single flat detail-less spot. Sometimes bright yellow flowers do this too.

Why? What we are doing wrong? Is it a camera defect?

In some of our pictures of red flowers, you can see small white reflections on the petals, but on other shots, the whole red flower appears flat, as one blob of same-color pixels, lifeless and volume-less. It is disturbing.

I am not asking how to to photoshop this image. The question is how to shoot correctly in the first place.

Condition: outdoor, sunlight, Nikon D5000, unresized, unprocessed jpeg.

  • 8
    that link is dead.
    – cabbey
    Apr 9, 2011 at 18:33
  • Andrei, it'd be awesome if you could re-upload the file using Stack Exchange's image sharing feature so that we can be reasonably sure it won't go away again. Sadly, that'll strip off the EXIF, so a few details from that would be helpful too. Thanks!
    – mattdm
    Jun 12, 2011 at 17:21

7 Answers 7


So the other posts are correct in that the red channel is being blown, but what you really want to know is how to overcome the issue within the camera without post editing. The Nikon D5000 has the Picture Control System giving users the ability to customize image capture preferences. Six settings are available — Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, and Landscape, along with the ability to create up to nine custom Picture Control settings.

I shoot with a Nikon D300 and have EXACTLY the same problem as yourself. Normally I have my picture control set to Vivid as I shoot a lot of nature, landscape and macro so it's nice to have the colours punch through. However whenever I am then shooting red flowers I change the control to either Standard or Neutral so the red is not blown.

Personally I shoot all my images in RAW (NEF) format and this allows me to change the Picture Control in post (using Nikon's NX2 software) which means I can choose the end result utilizing a larger screen and also I don't have to change the camera configuration for a single image while out in the field.

There are additional Picture Control setups that you can download at http://nikonimglib.com/opc/ but I don not know if these are compatible with the D5000, they may be as it is possible to add up to nine custom Picture Controls.

  • +1 to this. On my Pentax dSLRs, the "Bright" mode is also particularly prone to blowing out the red channel, and the Vivid mode even more so. I use Natural most of the time now, since I realized that the obvious flower case isn't the only time it happens.
    – mattdm
    Apr 9, 2011 at 21:23
  • Indeed in NEF red color is not clipped. NEF is ~11MB/shot , not that much. Only x2 compared to FINE JPG which is 6-7 MB. And NEF+JPG saving mode is most convenient, given 8GB memory card. Thanks
    – Andrei
    Apr 28, 2011 at 21:22
  • Andrei, MEF+JPG is actually a waste of space if you use NX2 for post-processing. NEF records your camera setting. NX2 will then read it and produce the same jpeg that you get from camera.
    – Vikas
    Sep 1, 2011 at 1:14

When shooting red flowers I usually have to tell the camera to underexpose from what it thinks is the correct exposure. I don't know if the D5000 has separate histograms for red, green, and blue. If it does then you can use the red histogram to make sure you're not blowing out the red highlights. Otherwise you'll have to check the picture and on the camera and see if you can see detail in the flower - if you can't tell the camera to underexpose a bit more and try again.

I believe it's because most camera's metering is biased towards green, but I don't have any sources to back that up apart from my own memory. Your red flower will have very little green in it and so the camera will overexpose it, losing the detail.

  • Bayer filter won't have any effect on the light meter; it's removed from the optical path while the mirror is down. It may be that the meter has some similar weighting through a different mechanism.
    – PeterT
    Apr 10, 2011 at 23:05
  • Excellent point, I've removed that from my answer, and re-arranged it so the the bit I'm most confident of is first. However, it leaves me with no reason to think that metering biased towards green aside from a vague memory. I can't find anything to back it up at the moment.
    – Dan
    Apr 11, 2011 at 15:21

There are mainly two factors that can cause this:

  1. The red channel may be over exposed, so the red colours are simply blown out and all detail is clipped.

  2. Red colors have fewer distinguishable nuances. We can see a lot of differnt blue nuances, a bit fewer green, and quite few red. You simply can't expect to see as many details in a red flower as in a blue flower.

  • This is yet another good reason to shoot raw. In this kind of situations, the red channel is usually clipped in the JPEG but not in the raw sensor data. You could simply slightly underexpose when developing the raw file, and this would recover all the details of the red flower. Apr 9, 2011 at 20:10
  1. Pay attention to the lighting. If you can control the lights, try to have a lightsource at 45degree to the plane of the petal, which would reveal some detail.
  2. Also try taking bracketed shots to see if it is an exposure issue.
  3. If you are shooting a red flower in bright light (like at noon), you need to restrict the amount of light hitting the flower.. just put an umbrella over the flower and use a reflector to redirect sunlight/flash.

Red has the lowest of the color temperatures. Back in the days of film, it was possible to use a red light in a darkroom, because the color temperature was so low, the paper didn't pick up on it in the time it took to expose and process the photograph (sometimes up to several minutes). So it's very easy to blow out your reds. Too easy, even with 47 years' experience behind a camera.

It's much easier these days with digital - at least you know instantly if the darned shot looks right or not, and it's relatively easy to play with it in Photoshop if it's close. :-)

  • 2
    This seems to mix up a number of different concepts....
    – mattdm
    May 21, 2015 at 1:16

There is no detail because the red channel was clipped (too much exposure). White Balance (Daylight and Flash and Cloudy and Shade) shifts the data to the right in the histogram. These shift red right and blue left, which can cause bright red to clip. It's just kinda how things are. You can monitor this result in the camera histogram, specifically looking at the THREE RGB histograms.

Beware, the ONE Gray histogram is useless for a digital camera. It shows luminosity (grayscale values) which is a math manipulation, not real data, which cannot show clipping unless out-of-this-world extreme. Speaking Nikon, only the three RGB histograms show the real image data (more at http://www.scantips.com/lights/histograms.html ).

To set it to show the THREE RGB histograms in your camera (one of the scrolled image preview screens), you set RGB Histogram ON in Display Mode (in Playback menu). D5000 manual, page 146, and then page 118.

While there, you can also set HIGHLIGHTS on (page 146), and then those overexposed red pixels will blink in the image preview picture (to warn you to try again with less exposure).


It has already been explained that it depends on the saturation of the reds.

Using ADR in "Auto" mode helps a lot because the camera will underexpose automatically just enough to avoid clipping in any channel (unless the clipped region is very small, like a point light). I use it extensively not to worry about clipping: "ADR Auto" is in fact the same as "expose to the right".

At least you are sure you have RAW files which are still workable. In addition, if you use JPEG, use the Picture control settings as someone else suggested.

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