If you’ve taken a photo with a digital camera, you might have seen areas of the photo flash black—like they do in the GIF below—when you review your images.

This black flashing is colloquially referred to as the “blinkies.” The areas that flash black show where the highlights have been clipped or blown; in other words, the parts of your image that are overexposed and have been recorded by the camera as pure white.

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Here’s a proper look at that image above. You can see that the sky is a bright white.

Even though the original image is a RAW file, there’s not much I can do to save it.

So, if you see the blinkies, it means something is off with your exposure.

How to Use the Blinkies to Take Better Photos

The blinkies don’t always show by default, so if you want to use them, you might need to turn them on in the menu. On Canon cameras, it’s Playback > Highlight Alert. On Nikon cameras, you press Up during photo playback to go into the Highlights view mode. If you’re not sure, consult your camera’s manual and look for something like “Highlight Warning.”

Along with the histogram, the blinkies are a useful tool you can use to make sure you get the correct exposure in camera, especially if you’re using a technique like Exposing to the Right, which deliberately overexposes the image to capture more data.

With the blinkies turned on, you can quickly see whether an image is overexposed or not. That way, you can take steps to correct the problems while you’re still on location.

How you fix the overexposure depends on your goal.

If you’re using an ISO higher than 100, then your first step should be to reduce it. Reducing the ISO reduces the amount of digital noise in your image but otherwise doesn’t affect how it looks.

Next, you need to decide whether shutter speed or aperture means more to you. If you want to keep a slow shutter speed for the long exposure look, then you can go with a narrower aperture. On the other hand, if you want the shallow depth of field that comes with a wide aperture, then you should use a faster shutter speed.

If you don’t want to change either the shutter speed or aperture, you can also use a neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light getting to the sensor.

Here’s the same image as above with the ISO stopped down to 100.

Much better!

It’s important to note that the blinkies aren’t infallible. They’re based on the data in a JPEG preview of the RAW image, so there’s almost always a little bit of data that you can pull back. Also, sometimes it’s impossible to stop your camera from blowing out some highlights, like the center of the sun; this is normal. You only need to care about the blinkies when a large or important area of your image is showing them.

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Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like The New York Times and on a variety of other websites, from Lifehacker to Popular Science and Medium's OneZero.
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