|Photograph 1 - an example of highlight clipping (in the waves)|
|Photograph 2 - a high contrast scene|
I compared these 5 different exposures side to side in Photoshop, zoomed in to the clouds to better observe the differences in highlight clipping at the brightest part of the image (as can be seen in Figure 1 - brightest to darkest exposure from top to bottom). The first exposure crop showed extreme attributes of lost visual information in the clouds. This attribute decreased steadily as the exposures darkened. I would deem the third, 1 stop darker exposure, as adequate in terms of the retention of highlight detail, with the fourth exposure being a bit too dark for my tastes.
I couldn't find any visible breaks in whites in any of the exposures when looking at the clouds but on closer inspection of the lake (the other highltight area) I observed such a break. The break was (unsuprisingly) in the first, brightest exposure and it occurred on and around the swan. While still quite minimal, the effect of the break was there, with no roll-off between the swan and its reflection and the lake as can be seen in the 100% crop in Figure 2.
I didn't have to look closely to see the lack of saturation in the clouds though. For me it was very obvious in the first two brightest exposures and even in a lesser extent in the third exposure. The clouds had lost the blue-grey tint present in the fourth and fifth exposures and appeared more washed-out (as seen in Figure 1).
I shot in the camera's raw format so using the 'highlights' and 'whites' sliders within Adobe Camera Raw (the new replacement sliders for the single 'recovery' slider used in previous versions of Adobe Camera Raw), I adjusted these sliders to achieve what I felt was the most suitable compromise. The compromise I made was to balance the lack of detail in washed-out highligths and the 'strange, unrealistic effects' mentioned in the course.
When I started experimenting with these two sliders I was first of all taken aback by how effective these sliders seemed to be at bringing back detail. At the end of experimenting I was still impressed but had also learnt an issue I could be aware of in future usage of the sliders. The issue revolved around the detailed parts of the photo, such as the subject's face in the photograph. The more I brought the sliders to the left, the less I found the image's rendition of the face to be realistic. By realistic I am referring to the slightly muted colours of the subject's face in the middle image of Figure 4. Figure 4 (top to bottom) showed the difference between the default setting, an extreme attempt to reduce highlight clipping drastically and a compromise between highlight clipping and realistic facial features (all created from the second brightest exposure raw file).
Overall I came away from this exercise with the insight that as long as you were cautious in not using the relevant sliders for highlight clipping too aggressively, they were extremely useful tools. This was because without much penalty on image quality they effectively brought out the detail in the clouds.