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Contrast Adjustments

We've discussed contrast at length in earlier chapters. We know that contrast is highly important in black and white, so now let's discuss how to work with it in Lightroom. The tools for adjusting contrast in the Develop module range from the basic Contrast slider to the precise Tone Curve.

The Contrast slider (Figure 4.17) is a very blunt tool that is available in many postprocessing software applications. Its ease of use and immediate global effects make it a favorite for photographers who are just starting out. If you're new to Lightroom, then start experimenting with contrast by using this slider.

Figure 4.17

Figure 4.17 This is the basic Contrast slider—a good place for beginners to start.

By moving the slider to the left, you decrease contrast; by moving it to the right, you increase contrast. Take note of your histogram as you play with these adjustments. When you increase contrast, you get that classic "U" formation in the histogram. Conversely, when you decrease contrast, you see a peak in the midtones. Observing the image as you make adjustments with the slider, and then checking out the resulting histogram, is a wonderful way to understand the relationship between contrast and histogram—and how histograms can help you.

The more advanced option, and my preferred method for manipulating contrast, is through the use of Tone Curve (Figure 4.18). It provides us with precision control over an image's highlights, lights, darks, and shadows with use of the independent sliders (A) or the Targeted Adjustment Tone tool (B). The Tone Range split sliders (C) below the tone graph allow you to increase or decrease the range of tones to be affected. Point Curve Presets can be set at Linear, Medium Contrast, or Strong Contrast (D). Let's review how I typically tackle Tone Curve.

Figure 4.18

Figure 4.18 Tone Curve gives you precision control over contrast.

Using Tone Curve

  1. First, finish making all of your main tone adjustments in the Basic panel (Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, and so on). These will affect the Tone Curve adjustments that we're about to make.
  2. Select a Point Curve preset: Linear, Medium Contrast, or Strong Contrast. Choose Medium or Strong Contrast if you want to lighten your highlights or darken your shadows.
  3. Adjust the tone curve by using sliders or the Targeted Adjustment tool. I use the Targeted Adjustment tool and select an area on the image where I wish to increase or decrease the brightness. Often I end up with a very gentle S shape in my tone curves.
  4. Fine tune the contrast with the Tone Range sliders.
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