Optimizing Tonal Values

Working with a raw capture, you may be very surprised at how much tonal data you can pull from what originally appears as an improperly exposed or low-contrast image. With just a few adjustments, you can maximize a photo's dynamic range and increase contrast with dramatic results.

Start by adjusting the black and white points (Blacks and Exposure, respectively) then focus on the midtones. Then fine tune smaller tone zones to your liking.

Lightroom provides controls on several panels to adjust the tones of a photo:

Basic panel: Exposure, Blacks, Fill Light, Recovery, Brightness and Contrast sliders;

Tone Curve panel: adjust tones using sliders, direct manipulation of the curve and the targeted adjustment tool (see next section); and hsl panel: allows you to adjust tones in the image based on color range.

Step 1. Set Exposure and Blacks (see Figure 4-35)

Use Exposure to adjust the white point and the range transitioning down toward the midtones. This will have a major effect on the overall brightness of your photo.

Then use Blacks adjustment to adjust the black point and shadows, which will add contrast to the photo. Typical Blacks values might fall between 5 and 10; for some images you may go higher or lower, and in some cases, zero.

Adjust the two back and forth, playing them against each other, to create the starting tone range for the image. Stretch out the tonal range to increase contrast and your photo will look better immediately. Periodically check the Histogram

Figure 4-35

4 I and watch for clipping. I like to get as much contrast as I can using Exposure and

U Blacks before going on to the other adjustments.

Hold Option or Alt while dragging Exposure and Blacks sliders

While adjusting Exposure and Blacks, holding the Option or Alt key will display where clipping is present in individual channels (see Figure 4-36).

Figure 4-36

The most important step in successfully processing your photos

Spend a few minutes working both the Blacks and Exposure sliders before moving on. These two sliders make the biggest difference in the overall rendering of the image.

Step 2. Set midtones using Brightness The Brightness slider (see Figure 4-37) adjusts a relatively wide range of tones in the image by manipulating the midpoint. Like Exposure, increasing or decreasing Brightness has a big impact on appearance of the overall image. However, it's important to keep in mind that the Brightness and Exposure are manipulating different sections of the tone range.

Figure 4-37

Bask f

Treatment: Color Blacks White

Reset Tone Auto

Exposure Recovery ér= Fill Light *

Exposure Recovery ér= Fill Light *

Go to the next adjustment in the active panel

Go to the previous adjustment in the active panel

Decrease the value of the active adjustment

Increase the value of the active adjustment

Increase the adjustment amount

Reset the active slider

Whereas deciding on Exposure and Blacks can be relatively easy, correctly placing the midtones is somewhat trickier. For starters, black and white are absolute; the midtones span a range.

Fixing Over- and Under-Exposure

Depending on the image, and whether it's over- or under-exposed, you should work the Blacks and Exposure, bit by bit, to gain the ideal tonal range. Don't expect to do everything with just one slider!

For overexposed images, try decreasing Exposure as the first step, then increase Blacks. Use Recovery to reduce white point clipping (see below).

For underexposed images, decrease Blacks (if possible) and increase Exposure. For some sliders, there is no negative value possible; for example, the lowest you can go on Blacks is 0.

Handling highlight and shadow detail

If your photo contains clipped highlights, you can often recover some tonal information using the Recovery adjustment on the Basic panel (see Figure 4-38). The Recovery slider instructs Lightroom to apply data values from channels that are not clipped into the channel(s) that is/are clipped. The exceptions are cases where all three channels are clipped to pure white, in which case Recovery won't help. The result of Recovery is most often a very


Color Black a White

Reset Tone Auto

Exposure = Recover/

Brightness r*- 1-56

Figure 4-38

light, neutral gray replacing the pure white pixels, but at higher amounts, Recovery also affects a significant range of highlight values in addition to pure white (see below).

Fill Light brightens dark shadow areas but leaves the black point alone. Use Fill Light to "open up" shadows and reveal more detail. Higher values make the shadows lighter.

Don't overdo Recovery or Fill Light

Going too far with these controls is easy to do and causes a loss of overall contrast in the image. Except for extreme cases, or images you're stylizing for effect, you shouldn't usually use values over +20 on the Recovery or Fill Light sliders. Instead, try to use the Tone Curve to get more control over those tonal ranges (next section).

Fill Light and Highlight Recovery have been modified in the 2010 Process Version. You will probably need to adjust these sliders on which you upgrade the process version.

Step 3. Adjust Contrast

This simple slider on the Basic panel (see Figure 4-39) conceals a lot of power. Unlike the crude, old-school controls in programs like Photoshop, Lightroom's Contrast (and Brightness) adjustment has been programmed from scratch and can be used to great effect. The Lightroom default for Contrast is +25; my personal default starts with Contrast at +35 and I adjust up or down from there as appropriate for each photo.

Treatment: Color


Hi* 1 WB:

As Shot i


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