Making the Adjustments
Once you’ve created a mask that is to your liking, uncheck the “Show Selected Mask Overlay” option so that you can see the actual pixels you’ll be modifying. From this point you can begin to work with the various image controls in the Adjustments Brush panel. For the water region in this shot, the new Shadows control is a perfect way to boost the reflections (details) and brightness of the water, without introducing excessive noise or color problems. A value of +75 provided the look I needed (Figure 5). As noted in the prior article, you can really push the Highlights and Shadows controls to high values to get the results you want.
Figure 5: Use the Shadows control to reveal details in the darker parts of your masked region, while introducing little or no noise.
Next I reduced the Saturation value by about 15 points, to cut some of the overpowering blue tones in the water. I felt this result was more true to the original scene. I wanted to make sure that the viewers’ eyes not would be drawn back to the water as they scanned the frame. Doing this also helped reveal some of the subtle cloud colors reflected by the water. I also added a bit of Clarity, which packs more “punch” than the Clarify control in Lightroom 3; you don’t need to move it very far before you get a really nice effect (I used a value of +24 in this case).
The final step for the water was to mitigate the noise (which was only visible at higher magnifications) without losing any detail. Here I used a Noise value of 44 and zoomed out afterward to make sure I hadn’t created a blurry surface to the water (Figure 6). The Noise slider in Lightroom 4’s Adjustment Brush is another feature that will be a big deal to many photographers, because it allows you to pick and choose where you apply noise reduction, thereby giving more control over which details might be softened slightly and which are not.
Figure 6: Noise reduction is a very useful feature in the Adjustment Brush panel, because it helps to mitigate any artifacts created when you brighten darker areas.
The next mask I created was over the yellow-orange areas of the sky, just above the horizon. Here again the Auto Mask option is a big help because it allows you to brush freely within the bounds of irregularly shaped areas like this one, and still keep the mask overlay limited mostly to the area you’re targeting (Figure 7). In order to create a new mask, you can turn the Show Selected Mask Overlay option back on, and then in the Adjustment Brush panel (top-right corner), click the “New” option to generate a clean list of settings, then click on a new area of the image and brush in the new mask.
Figure 7: Lightroom allows you to create multiple mask areas so that you can spread your edits around just where you need them!
Once the mask was ready, I turned off the overlay again and bumped the Temperature slider to a more “yellow value” of 35. One trick that can be helpful in subtle areas like color temperature is to temporarily go overboard with the values you apply. This can help you see areas where partially masked pixels are present along the edge of the mask, creating color shifts where you may not want them. If you see this, just hold down the Option/Alt key again and brush over those spots, then reduce your Temperature setting to the desired number (Figure 8).
Figure 8: Almost finished! The adjusted water and sky areas already improve the look of the image. Note the two pin locations, one for each mask.
The last region that needed some local adjustments was the large area of blue sky. This area had started out a bit noisy, so I wanted to remedy that without potentially softening details in other areas, which is what would happen if we went to the Details panel and used the global noise reduction options. Here again I created a new mask and painted around the various objects in the scene by zooming in where necessary, and changing the Brush size to match the nooks and pockets. To avoid softening the Lighthouse light, I left the areas of sky behind it unmasked. The third mask is shown in Figure 9.
Figure 9: The third mask covered most of the blue region in the sky...
All I needed to do from this point was experiment with the Noise setting until I removed most of the visible noise at high magnification. Since there isn’t a ton of detail in this part of the sky to begin with, there was no perceptible impact on image quality in this area afterward. Figure 10 shows a view of what the sky looked like before Noise adjustments were made (right of the red line) and after (left of the red line).
Figure 10: Lightroom 4’s Adjustment Brush now allows for the removal of noise in localized areas of the photograph. The area left of the red line shows the adjustment.
To get a look at the final image, zoom back out if you’ve been applying noise reduction as I did, and in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen, turn the Show Edit Pins setting to “Auto” using the pop-up menu. This will temporarily hide all of the pins when you’re not moving the cursor over the preview. Figure 11 shows the final picture, with enhanced shadow details (no added noise), enhanced contrast between important elements in the frame, and enhanced color contrast.
Figure 11: The final image after the Adjustment Brush settings were applied. Keep in mind no other edits were applied to this image. Many times these local adjustments may be all you need to optimize your raw files!
I hope I have given you a good idea of just how powerful the new Lightroom 4 Adjustment Brush is; it even has the capability to remove moire patterns in your image, if they happen to be present.
If you’re wondering whether Lightroom 4 is worth the price of admission, I think the improvements made to the Basic panel and the Adjustment Brush alone are worth the cost of the upgrade. There are of course several other major improvements to the application such as the new Maps module (which integrates GPS data into the raw workflow), and the Books module which allows you to create custom photo books via Blurb.com.