it seems that keeping my playback display on the nikon set to highlights is reaping rewards. it entails a bit of extra work at the photoshop end, but i’m much happier with the results.
both of these pictures gave me unpleasantly blown areas when exposed ‘correctly’ according to the camera’s meter. it’s easy enough for me to assess the overall exposure without the histogram, but the flashing alert is great to remind me to look closer at those fragile highlights. i compensated way down so the highlights were correctly exposed, then tweaked the levels to bring back the midtones. there’s a bit of extra noise in the shadows, but i can live with that.