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Optimizing Detail and Contrast with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4

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Dan Moughamian provides an illustration of how powerful the new detail recovery and tonal controls in Lightroom 4 are.

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The recent announcement and release of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 has photographers excited to learn about its new Process 2012 raw editing workflow. While prior upgrades for Lightroom focused on improving noise reduction and sharpening options as well as other capabilities, Lightroom 4 offers a brand new Basic and Curves process for raw picture editing. These functions form the core of any raw workflow, so they are of great importance. This article will provide an illustration of how powerful the new detail recovery and tonal controls in Lightroom 4 are.

Process 2012

Lightroom’s new raw workflow is called “Process 2012”; this is used as the default process if you open files into the Develop module that have never been edited in Lightroom or ACR. We’re going to assume for this article that we are working on a brand new image being opened in Lightroom for the first time.

The first thing veteran Lightroom users will notice about Lightroom 4’s Basic panel is that some of the Tone controls have been replaced. Gone are Brightness, Fill Light, and Recovery, replaced by individual settings for Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, and Blacks (Figure 1). The Presence settings generally remain the same, with the exception that the Clarity slider now has a more pronounced effect (demonstrated later in the article).

Figure 1: Lightroom 4’s new Basic panel controls reflect the improvements made in the new Process 2012 Develop module workflow.

A less obvious but important behavioral change has also been made to the Basic panel. Previous versions of Lightroom did not default all Tone controls to a value of 0; consequently it wasn’t always obvious what the original value was set to as one tried to undo changes manually. Within Lightroom 4, each Basic Tone setting starts at a neutral value of 0; as you move the controls right and left, each follows the same pattern of brightening and darkening the tones, respectively.

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