Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Understanding the Tone Sliders in Lightroom

Last week we started our journey into Lightroom's Development Module by reviewing how easy it is to adjust the White Balance. This week we continue reviewing the Basic Panel and what I consider to be the most powerful of all - the Tone settings.

One of the things I found somewhat frustrating when learning about Lightroom is that no one ever tells you, "slide the X slider to 54 and the Y slider to 73". Well, there's a good reason. How you move these sliders depends upon the photo you're adjusting and what you're trying to accomplish. Understanding what each of the settings does is the key to success. Before we review each of the sliders, it's worth repeating that you will have the most latitude when you use your camera's RAW format rather than JPEG. RAW formats store a wealth of additional information within the file that can be accessed using these sliders (See "File Formats...Which One Do I Use?"). Alright, on with the show:

  • Exposure - This slider has the same effect as the exposure compensation on your camera, but after you've taken the photo. By watching the Histogram you will generally move the exposure slider in the direction that will help you to achieve the desired "bell curve" in/near the center. Keep an eye on those edges to try to prevent the histogram from "clipping" (See "Checking Exposure") on either side.
  • Recovery - In the event you do have an area within your photo that is blown out, pushing the Recovery slider to the right can help you pull back some of those lost details. The Recovery slider also helps to work wonders on the sky in your images (although I've found additional tricks for working with skies that we'll cover in future posts).
  • Fill Light - When shooting high contrast scenes it's not uncommon for the foreground to be darker than you would like. The Fill Light slider can help you to recover some of detail from the shadow areas by pushing it to the right. One thing to be careful of, however, is that too much fill light can result in unsightly "halos" or "fringes" around objects so pay attention to the details as you move this slider.
  • Blacks - In many of the photography resources I studied everyone was always urging you to never clip your histogram on the left or lose details to the shadow areas. It wasn't until I started reading more about the printing process that I started to hear people talk about the need for some "true black" within the image to anchor the rest of the colors. If I'm processing an image with the intent to print, I will often introduce a small amount of pure black into the image by holding down the ALT key and then slowly dragging the Blacks slider to the right until parts of the image begin to show black. Give it a try and see what you think.
  • Brightness - I have found two uses for the Brightness slider. The first is to work magic on your skies. Reducing the brightness pulls out more color for fantastic looking skies (even more than using the Recovery slider). The only problem is this action darkens the rest of your photo as well. For that reason, I use the Brightness slider in conjunction with the Graduated Filter tool for skies. More on that later. The second, and more frequently used function of the Brightness slider is to combat the dreaded "dark print". Despite having calibrated my monitors and reduced the brightness on the LCD itself, my prints are inevitably darker than what I see on my display. For this reason, I usually push the Brightness slider up between 15 and 20 points to the right after I've done all of my other adjustments.
  • Contrast - Based on the advice of my favorite Lightroom 3 resource (aka Scott Kelby's The Adobe Lightroom 3 Book for Digital Photographers), I never use this slider. Instead, I delay any contrast adjustments for the Tone Curve which well discuss in coming weeks.
Now that you know what each of these sliders do, the only thing left is to put your new knowledge to practice. Pick an image from your catalog and experiment. Use the "Y" key to show a before/after view after making several adjustments to better understand how you're impacting your photos. Lastly, remember there is no "wrong or right" answers here. If you're happy with how the finished product looks, then you did it right!

That's all for this week. Stop back next Tuesday when we learn more about adjusting the mid-tones with the Presence settings.

Until next time, keep click'n.


Mike Nelson Pedde said...

Thanks for this! BTW, I'ved added you to my 'Lightroom Links' page: http://bit.ly/LRTips


Ken Schram said...

Thanks for the link, Mike. I appreciate the comment and look forward to taking some time to look over your site.

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