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Making Global Corrections with Lightroom 2’s Develop Module

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Need to make global corrections in the color and tone of your images? Jerry Courvoisier shows off the image-adjusting tools available in the right panel of Lightroom's Develop module.
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This article explores global development corrections in the right panel in the Develop module. We'll focus on working with the Basic header, the tone curve, and color corrections (hue, saturation, and luminance).

Because of the non-destructive nature of the adjustments in Lightroom, experiment is the key word here. You'll learn more without the fear that you're degrading the image in some way. I'm outlining an approach to the process of development, but feel free to bounce around the module to explore all the adjustments. Not every image needs to be adjusted in a specific way. These are only recommendations on getting the boat in the slip, weather permitting.

The Develop adjustments in the right panel are set up in logical image-processing order. Use the following steps as a guide for processing images in the Develop module:

  1. From the Library module, select an image to develop.
  2. Press the D key to switch to the Develop module.
  3. Evaluate the Histogram and look for any clipping of highlight and shadow information.
  4. Using the neutral balance eyedropper, remove any colorcast associated with exposure.
  5. Make global corrections to the image, starting from the top and working your way down through the panels of Tone, Contrast, and Color adjustments.
  6. Use the crop overlay to improve visual composition, and use the spot-removal tool to clear up any sensor dust spots and cosmetic effects that might need correction.
  7. Make local corrections using the Adjustment Brush tool or the Graduated Filter tool.
  8. Copy, paste, or synchronize adjustments to other images requiring the same corrections.

Adjustments in the Develop module can be reset if you're unhappy with the result. There are five ways in Lightroom to reset the controls. Without reverting to the Edit menu or paging through History and snapshots, I find the following two methods work for me in most situations:

  • To reset all the adjustments, click the large reset button at the lower right of the Image Adjustment panel.
  • To reset individual adjustments without starting over completely, double-click the individual slider control triangle to reset a slider control to zero.

Basic Image Adjustments

The Basic header reveals a tool that's divided into five segments (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1 The Basic controls in the Develop module are segmented into five specific image-correction tools.

  • Treatment identifies which kind of visual information, color or grayscale, is to be adjusted. If you work with the default setting Color, then all the available Basic adjustments will be accessible. With the Grayscale setting, all the color adjustments are dimmed, and subsequent headers and panels will be based on the Grayscale setting.
  • The WB setting allows you to control the white balance, color temperature, and tint manually, or you can choose a white balance preset option from the pull-down menu.
  • The Tone segment focuses on tone information relating to exposure, highlight recovery, fill light, and the blacks within an image. The Auto tone adjustment automatically sets the black and white points for an image.
  • As you might guess, the Brightness and Contrast segment controls the brightness and contrast of an image.
  • In effect, Presence deals with changing the color saturation of all colors by adjusting the Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation controls.

In Figure 2, I'm working with an image from Italy, using the split-screen Before and After view to monitor the adjustment progress. My first inclination is to identify a neutral point in the image to correct the cool white balance. I enable the white balance eyedropper by clicking it to remove it from the Basic panel, and then I drag it to an area to be sampled.

Figure 2

Figure 2 When you click the white balance eyedropper in a neutral area, the image shifts to a warmer or cooler cast based on the area sampled by the tool.

When you move the eyedropper to the image area, another panel appears with a series of squares to help you identify a neutral point in the image. The readout of numerical values here is in percentages for red, green, and blue. Numbers relatively close in value indicate a neutral area at the sampling point of the eyedropper. Values presented don't need to be specific to a particular range; they only need to have percentage values for the red, green, and blue that are close numerically. For example, the percentages could be Red 32, Green 35, Blue 31 (dark midtones); or perhaps Red 82, Green 85, Blue 81 (light midtones). These numeric percentages represent neutral values within the image and can be used for balance with the eyedropper.

Click once to shift the white balance to an overall neutral using the sampled point. The numbers for the Temp and Tint settings shift accordingly. In the example in Figure 2, the temperature moves slightly to a warmer temperature. You can fine-tune the Temp and Tint values with the control sliders to make the image appear slightly warmer or cooler.

If you click an area that's not neutral and that contains a predominant color, the change affects the whole color and cast of the image, rather than just color temperature and tint. Experiment with the eyedropper by clicking a variety of different places in the image. If you make a poor selection, press the W key on your keyboard to activate and reset the eyedropper again to neutral, without clicking again on the white balance eyedropper in the Basic panel.

To illustrate the tone controls in the Basic panel, Figure 3 exhibits a small amount of highlight clipping, indicated by the extreme red clipping indicator in the light-colored laundry on the clothesline. If you move the Recovery slider to the right, the red clipping indicators disappear. This is a great tool to recover highlight-detail loss effectively from camera overexposure.

Figure 3

Figure 3 To eliminate the highlight-clipping indicator from the fabric, move the recovery control slider to the right until the red disappears.

The other tone control sliders can be adjusted left or right:

  • The Exposure slider control can move plus or minus four exposure stops, making the image lighter or darker. This adjustment primarily influences the midtone to highlight tone values.
  • The Fill Light adjustment reveals more detail in the low-value midtones and shadow areas, but maintains the extreme shadow (blacks) information.
  • The Blacks slider control increases or decreases the dark shadows without affecting midtones or highlights. The Blacks slider also can affect the contrast of an image if moved aggressively to the right, effectively compressing the tonal range.

The next segment in the Basic panel addresses brightness and contrast (see Figure 4). The Brightness adjustment primarily affects the midtones and not the white point or black point of the image. Normally, the Brightness adjustment should be used judiciously to lighten or darken the image slightly. I don't recommend aggressive adjustments with this tool; a gentle nudge of the slider to the left or right normally is all that's required to increase or decrease the overall brightness of an image.

Figure 4

Figure 4 The Brightness and Contrast sliders can be used to provide gentle incremental adjustments to images.

When moved aggressively to the right, the Contrast slider effectively creates bigger differences between light and dark tonal values. If you move the slider left, the contrast of the image is greatly reduced, producing a gray, flat image without much punch. Moving the slider to the right increases differences between light and dark tonal values, which can enhance visual expression as well as create visual impact for the viewer. (You can produce better contrast control by using the Tone Curve adjustment, which I discuss later in this article.)

The last three sliders under the Presence header deal primarily with the saturation of all the image colors (see Figure 5).

Figure 5

Figure 5 Clarity, vibrance, and saturation affect the color and depth of the image overall.

The Clarity slider adds visual depth by increasing the midtone contrast when a plus adjustment is applied, and a softening effect with a minus adjustment. A gentle nudge to the right is an extremely effective adjustment for bringing clarity to an image. A plus clarity adjustment adds depth to an image by increasing the midtone contrast. Negative clarity adjustments start to soften and blur the midtones. Extreme adjustments of clarity, both plus and minus, provide some creative effects overall (compare Figure 6 at -100 and Figure 7 at +100).

Figure 6

Figure 6 Clarity adjustment of -100.

Figure 7

Figure 7 Clarity adjustment of +100.

The Vibrance slider isn't as heavy-handed as the Saturation slider. It minimizes the clipping of color as it approaches full saturation. The adjustment for Saturation is best used in portrait situations. Vibrance adjustment ignores skin tones when applied, avoiding oversaturation.

The Saturation slider adjusts all of the image color equally, providing double the saturation on the plus side and eliminating color on the minus side. A -100 saturation adjustment desaturates all colors in an image, leaving a muddy gray mess without contrast.

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