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Enhance Your Images with Lightroom 2's New Adjustment Brush

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The Adjustment Brush tool is the best new feature in Lightroom 2. Until now, Lightroom was limited to making adjustments to the entire image or to specific areas of tone or color. With this new tool, adjustments are nondestructive (they can be undone at any point), and the file size doesn't increase as you make adjustments. Chris Orwig shares some great techniques on how to use this killer new tool in your workflow.

The new Adjustment Brush tool in Lightroom 2 is intelligent, nimble, lightweight, and strong. Brush tools have been used in Photoshop for a long time, but Lightroom's Adjustment Brush tool is different. The brush makes adjustments—without layers—that are 100% nondestructive and don't significantly increase the image's file size. The Adjustment Brush tool simplifies the digital photographic workflow so you can do more in Lightroom and less in other applications. The end result empowers photographers to make technical corrections and creative enhancements even more quickly. Here are some examples of how to use the power of the Adjustment Brush to enhance your own images.

Dodging and Burning

Dodging and burning are the traditional darkroom techniques used to brighten (dodge) and darken (burn) a photograph. Dodging and burning have helped traditional photographers to create stunning photographs, and in the digital context we can do even more.

The first step toward tonal balance is to look for areas that need to be brightened or darkened. As you make this initial evaluation, look for places where you can make special tone corrections and enhancements. Dodging and burning are more than just fixing problems—they're about using tone to creating visual interest. In Lightroom, you can use the Adjustment Brush tool to dodge and burn. Let's brighten (dodge) a specific area of an image to enhance the overall tonal variety.

  1. Press K or select the Adjustment Brush from the tool strip.
  2. Increase the Exposure and Brightness amounts (the specific settings will vary from image to image). Then choose a moderate-to-high Feather amount and a low Flow amount (see Figure 1).
  3. Increase the Contrast and Clarity settings slightly to add a bit of "snap" to the areas that will be brightened.
  4. If you're going to brighten a distinct area of the image, select Auto Mask.
  5. Now that the Adjustment Brush tool controls are set, paint back and forth over the area in your image that needs brightening.
Figure 1

Figure 1 Use the Adjustment Brush tool to brighten or darken specific areas of the image.

In order to darken (burn) a specific area of an image, follow the same general steps, but decrease the Exposure and Brightness amounts slightly. The final result is an image that's much more visually appealing (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2 The results of dodging and burning speak for themselves, adding increased tonal variety that brings new clarity and emotion to the image.

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