One tool for setting the exposure is by checking the clipped highlights using the blinking highlights display. If a relevant highlight is getting clipped then you know you should reduce the exposure. However, the blinking highlights are usually not accurate. On my cameras, the highlights will often flash, signaling clipping, even though they haven't actually been clipped.
I found a more reliable alternative to the blinking highlights display: in-camera raw processing. Many new cameras have an option for raw processing in-camera, which allows you to create a JPEG version of the shot with certain settings dialed in.
I found that I could use the in-camera raw processing tool to give a better indication of whether any relevant detail was truly clipped. I take a shot, and apply these settings:
- decrease exposure compensation
- apply a custom picture style that has the minimum contrast, maximum sharpness, minimum brightness, and either above average or maximum saturation
- AdobeRGB color space (makes the image look more flat)
With the resulting image I can more easily see whether anything was clipped. On my cameras I don't actually have to create the JPEG file. The resulting preview is enough to see.
1. You can use the same concept to check for shadow clipping, by applying the maximum exposure compensation and applying a different picture style that has maximum brightness.
2. On my cameras (D90 and D600) I don't have to go through all these options all the time. I just enter the settings once. The next time I pull up the raw processing tool, these settings have been set.
3. To access the raw processing tool quickly, either assign it as a My Menu item, or in the case of the D90 and D600, you can press the OK button during the review which will bring up the retouch menu. You then select NEF processing. Next time you press the OK button during playback, NEF processing is preselected. You just press OK again, and presto you'll see the preview with the preselected options. So after setup, pressing OK twice doesn't take significantly more time than going to the highlights display, and this method is more accurate.