Here’s another case for shooting RAW, but the key here is that I protected my highlights. I am learning to read the histogram and pay attention to the “blinkies”, or highlight warning. This is a camera function that can be turned on or off, and when highlight detail is blown out and lost, those parts of the photo blink on your camera screen after the photo is taken. When this happens, I adjust exposure compensation down a stop or so, and re-shoot.
There are areas in this photo that appear black with no detail. But as you can see above, there was detail there! If the highlights are blown, you can’t get them back, but shadows seem to be more forgiving. So I make sure I haven’t blown my highlights, exposing just under the point where I’d start to lose detail, and then get what I can from the shadows during post processing.
The histogram can also show you more than you can see from the image on the screen. If the little mountain drops to the bottom BEFORE the right or left edges, you have not lost detail in the highlights and shadows (even if it looks like the second photo above). But if they hit the right or left edges before reaching the bottom, you’ve underexposed shadows or overexposed highlights.
Proper exposure is a vital starting place to get a great image.