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Controlling Overall Brightness Using the Exposure Slider

Lightroom has one main slider that controls the overall brightness of your image, making it either darker or brighter (depending on which way you drag the slider). Of course, there are other sliders that let you control specific parts of the image (like the highlights and shadows and such), but when I start to edit an image (after I have my white balance looking good), I usually want to make sure the overall exposure looks about right before I start tweaking anything else. So, this is a pretty important adjustment.

Step One:

All of the controls we’re going to use at this point for editing our image are in the right side Panels area, so let’s close the left side Panels area (press F7 on your keyboard, or just click on the little gray left-facing triangle [shown circled here in red] on the far left to collapse it and tuck it out of sight). That way, our image appears much larger onscreen and that makes it much easier to see what’s going on during the editing process. Okay, so here’s our image opened in Lightroom’s Develop module, and you can see that when I shot it, I totally trashed the exposure—it’s way overexposed (I was shooting indoors at a high ISO, and then I walked outside and forgot to lower it back down).

Step Two:

To darken the overall brightness of the image, all you have to do is drag the Exposure slider to the left until the exposure looks good to you. Here, I dragged it to the left quite a bit (down to –2.25, so I was more than two-stops overexposed. Each whole number is roughly equivalent to a stop). One way I knew I had an exposure problem back in Step One was to look at the histogram (at the top of the right side Panels area), where you’ll see a highlight clipping warning (I call it the “White Triangle of Death”), which lets you know parts of the image have gotten so bright there’s no detail. Sometimes just lowering the Exposure amount will fix the problem. But, when that doesn’t work, see page 168 on correcting highlights—it works great in conjunction with the Exposure slider.

Of course, the Exposure slider doesn’t just darken—it brightens, too, which is a good thing because this image is way too dark (underexposed). By the way, all the sliders here in the Basic panel start at zero and allow you to add more of a particular adjustment, or less depending on which way you drag. For example, if you were to drag the Saturation slider to the right, it makes the colors in your image more vivid; if you drag it to the left, it removes color (the farther you drag to the left, the more color it removes until you’re left with a black-and-white image). Anyway, let’s look at fixing this horribly underexposed image (I don’t have a fancy reason why I underexposed it this time. I just messed up).

Step Four:

To make the image brighter, simply drag the Exposure to the right until the overall brightness looks good to you. In this case, I had to drag it over to +1.75 (so, I was about a stop and three-quarters underexposed. I think it was the wine. Yeah, that’s it—the wine!). Of course, there’s a lot more to do to this image to get it looking the way we want it to, but because we’ve started by setting the overall brightness first, we’re now at a really good starting point for tweaking things like contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks (stuff you’ll learn in the rest of this chapter).

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