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Adjusting Images in Lightroom

Understanding the primary adjustments in Lightroom is key to developing realistic and powerful imagery. For those working only in Photoshop, Adobe Camera Raw has exactly the same adjustments. The techniques described here apply to both Lightroom and Camera Raw.

Many HDR programs do not detect changes made to files in Lightroom. Instead, they import the absolute RAW data and perform their merge with this information. I find this to be a bit limiting, which is why I use Lightroom 6/CC’s Photo Merge > HDR command, as well as Photomatix. Photomatix recognizes the edits you perform in Lightroom and incorporates them into the merge. Lightroom 6/CC incorporates most of the edits you perform, with the exception of tonal adjustments.

In the next chapter, I make recommendations for specific adjustments that should (or should not) be made to the files before sending them to the HDR program. For now, let’s focus on an overview of the more important edits performed in Lightroom. The primary tonal and color adjustments to your images happen in the Basic panel (Figure 4.12). This is where you will do most of your heavy lifting.

Figure 4.12

Figure 4.12 The Basic panel

The Basic panel

  • The White Balance setting adjusts the image for different lighting conditions and removes any color cast that is present. From the White Balance drop-down menu, choose the option that most closely resembles the conditions you were in when you made the image, such as Cloudy, Shady, Incandescent Light, and so on. If you are working on a JPEG rather than a RAW image, you will see only the options As Shot, Auto, and Custom.
  • Use the Temp (Temperature) slider to fine-tune the color settings. Move the slider left to create a cooler, bluer tone, and move it to the right to create a warmer, more orange or yellow tone.
  • Use the Tint slider to adjust the tint of the image: left for greener and right for more magenta.
  • Use the Exposure slider to adjust the overall luminosity (brightness) of the image. This is kind of like giving more or less exposure at the time of capture. Move the slider to the right for more exposure and to the left for less exposure. To reveal image clipping, hold down the Option (Mac) or Alt (Windows) key while moving the Exposure slider; the spots that are revealed are the very brightest or darkest points of the image.
  • The Contrast slider does just what you think it will—adds or decreases contrast. It adds contrast primarily in the midtones, however. I typically leave this slider at 0 for HDR images.
  • The Highlights slider brings back detail in the highlight areas. You may find that when you increase the Exposure slider until the whole image looks good, you end up with some clipping. By moving the Highlights slider to the left, you can bring some highlight detail back! This slider may not work on overexposed images, so you still need to pay attention to your exposure in the field. If you have trouble getting good highlight detail using Photomatix, close out of that image and return to Lightroom. Adjust the highlights down on the darker images, and then reimport the newly adjusted series into Photomatix.
  • The Shadows slider lightens or darkens the dark areas of your photograph. It’s designed to work on the darker areas of the photo but not on the deepest blacks. If you move this slider too far to the right to lighten, the result will look fake. Use with care.
  • The Whites slider is the counterpoint to Shadows. It lightens or darkens the brighter areas of the photo, but will try not to affect the brightest whites.
  • The Blacks slider brightens or darkens the deep blacks while having less influence on the midtones and highlight values. Hold down the Option (Mac) or Alt (Windows) key while moving the slider to reveal shadow clipping.
  • The Clarity adjustment increases or decreases the overall contrast above the shadows and below the highlights. It’s similar to the Contrast slider but tighter. It separates tones that are very close together. Think of this slider as bringing out texture in the image.
  • The Vibrance slider adds saturation in a whole new way. It affects the least saturated areas in your photo first. As you continue to move the slider, the more saturated areas begin to gain in saturation. This lets you increase saturation across your image without oversaturating the already intense colors.
  • Moving the Saturation slider to the right increases the overall saturation of the image. Use sparingly! Oversaturation is a sure sign that your image was digitally manipulated.

The Tone Curve panel

The Tone Curve panel allows further fine-tuning of your tonal values (Figure 4.13). Many photographers ignore this panel altogether and do most of their heavy lifting in the Basic panel. This is certainly understandable given the power of those sliders. The curve becomes invaluable, however, when processing files created by Lightroom’s Photo Merge > HDR command. Many times you won’t be able to extract the desired tones using the Basic panel alone. Once you’ve exhausted the capabilities of the Basic panel, it’s time to move to the Tone Curve panel. Adobe has made curves much easier with the introduction of the Parametric curve.

Figure 4.13

Figure 4.13 The Tone Curve panel

The sliders at the bottom of the box are used to adjust their respective areas. A close look at the shading under the sliders hints at the result. The slider is darker on the left and lighter on the right. Moving any slider to the right lightens that tonality, whereas sliding it to the left darkens it. The Parametric curve is designed so that moving the slider the full amount in either direction should not create posterization and unrealistic tonal values. That being said, work these sliders with care, especially when you are nearing the maximum values.

The HSL panel

The HSL panel allows you complete control over the color in your photographs (Figure 4.14). Whereas White Balance adjustments affect the overall color cast, HSL works on aspects of individual colors. Across the top of the panel you see the words Hue, Saturation, Luminance, and All. Click the word Hue to reveal the Hue adjustments, click the word Saturation to reveal the Saturation adjustments, and so on.

Figure 4.14

Figure 4.14 The HSL panel

  • Hue: The name of the color, such as red, blue, or orange. Look at the color behind the slider to give you an idea of which direction you will be pushing that hue.
  • Saturation: The intensity of the color. Move to the right for more intensity and left for less intensity of that individual color.
  • Luminance: The brightness of the color. Brightens or darkens the chosen color.

The HSL panel can also be used to create great-looking grayscale images. Click the B&W tab at the top of the panel to create a grayscale photograph. The sliders will now brighten or darken the shade of gray that corresponds with each color.

The Lens Corrections panel

As you saw earlier in this chapter, the Lens Corrections panel is used to remove chromatic aberration. It can also be used to fix other inherent lens aberrations, such as barrel and pincushion distortion and light falloff. Figure 4.15 shows the Basic section of the Lens Corrections Panel. Here is where you will select the checkbox Remove Chromatic Aberration. Just above that you’ll see Enable Profile Corrections. Select this checkbox to apply a solution that fixes any aberration your lens may have.

Figure 4.15

Figure 4.15 The Lens Corrections panel

Click the Profile tab in the upper part of the box to switch sections. The Profile section of the Lens Corrections panel (Figure 4.16) displays the solution Lightroom has automatically chosen. Adobe has a long list of cameras and lenses for which it has developed profile corrections. Click the double-headed arrow to the right of any of the dropdowns to reveal the various choices. I’ve never had Adobe fail in the correct choice of camera and lens, but the cautious can always double-check!

Figure 4.16

Figure 4.16 The Profile section of the Lens Corrections panel

The Camera Calibration panel

The Camera Calibration panel (Figure 4.17) alters the way Adobe translates your RAW file. If you are shooting JPEGs, you can ignore this panel. If you are shooting RAW, however, the adjustments here can be quite significant.

Figure 4.17

Figure 4.17 The Camera Calibration panel

Process, at the top of box, refers to the processing engine Adobe uses to process the file. The choices here are 2003, 2010, and 2012 (current). Any new files that are imported into Lightroom will automatically get the latest 2012 process version. Older images that have been imported in past versions of Lightroom may have older process versions. Update the process version of your older images to the latest 2012 version for the best translation and access to the latest adjustments.

Just below Process, you’ll see Profile. This is where the magic happens. By default, your images are displayed with the Adobe Standard profile. This is Adobe’s interpretation of what that file should look like. Click Adobe Standard to reveal the options associated with a particular camera brand. Figure 4.18 shows the options for Nikon cameras. Canon cameras may have a slightly different list.

Figure 4.18

Figure 4.18 Camera-specific profile options

These profile options are built into Lightroom and will automatically appear with Nikon and Canon cameras. You may not see these options when working with other brands. Although Adobe Standard is a great place to start, you may like the look of your images when Camera Landscape or Camera Standard is applied. Every image is different, and I’m often surprised to find that one profile looks better than another. I recommend experimenting with these profiles to determine which best translates your particular image.

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