Discover how to master the shadow and highlight controls in Adobe Lightroom and make selective adjustments to the white balance for more even exposures.
As anyone who shoots in raw and JPEG image formats knows, raw files can often be 10 times the file size of their JPEG counterparts. All that extra data means that things like white balance can be adjusted after taking the shot.
Take this image. Straight out of camera, the background looks washed out and the subject is slightly under-exposed.
The contrast between the shady foreground and the bright, sunny background has led to an unbalanced exposure, where neither the background nor the subject looks good.
To further unbalance things, the shady foreground light is cooler than the warm, sunny area behind, which has led to a slight but noticeable difference in colour temperature.
Lightroom has a powerful range of tonal tools that lets you lift shadows, rein in highlights and selectively shift white balance. In this Adobe Lightroom tutorial we’ll show you how to do this, first with the Develop Module’s Basic panel controls, then with the powerful Adjustment brush.
We’ll also use the Adjustment brush to perform a quick retouch to improve eyes and skin. It’s simple stuff, but useful for any image that looks unbalanced or lacking in detail.
How to use the Adobe Lightroom shadow and highlight controls
01 Import and adjust
Go to Lightroom’s Library module then drag in our char_before.dng image and click Import. Go to the Develop module. In the Basic panel, set Temp to 4500, Highlights to -40, Shadows to +28, Contrast to +37 and Saturation to +15. Hold Alt and drag the whites to -43 until the blown-out pixels disappear. Set Blacks to -38.
02 Lift the skin
Scroll down to the HSL panel. Click HSL then Luminance, then click the little target icon to the top-left of the box. Click over the cheek, then drag up to lighten the orange tones to about +24. Next, grab the Adjustment brush from the Toolbar and tick Show Selected Mask Overlay below the image window.
03 Paint over the background
Click on the background to set a pin. Paint roughly over the background to cover the entire area. Use ] and [ to resize the brush as you paint, and hold Alt if you need to erase. Untick Show Selected Mask Overlay, then go to the Adjustment Brush settings on the right and set to Exposure -0.60 and Saturation to +21.
04 Warm the subject
Click New at the top of the Adjustment Brush settings on the right. This time, paint a mask over the subject, then set Temp to +16 to warm the area so that the white balance matches the background. Set Exposure to +0.15 to lift it slightly, and Clarity to +15 to add punch.
05 Soften the skin
Click New, then paint a mask over the skin. Set Clarity to -52 to soften the skin. Next, set another new pin over the iris, then paint precisely over both. Set Exposure to +0.30, Clarity to +18 and Saturation to +30 to lift the eyes. Grab the Spot Removal tool and paint to tidy any spots and blemishes.
06 Control with curves
Go to the Tone Curve panel and click the Point Curve option. The left half of the line controls the shadows, the right half the highlights. Drag the curve line up to lighten and down to darken. Plot three points to make a shallow S-shaped line to darken the shadows and lighten the highlights.
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