Of all the advantages to shooting in your camera’s raw format over JPEG, perhaps the biggest is the extra tonal information you get. Raw files hold much more detail in highlights and shadows. This is hugely useful at times when you need to adjust exposure or claw back lost detail.
So if you’ve taken a shot like this one, where the highlights look blown out or the shadows look too dark, chances are that there’s more to the image than meets the eye.
It all depends on the histogram, a graph that displays tonal brightness. Imagine all the pixels in your image rearranged in terms of brightness and stacked into rows, with the darkest on the left and the lightest on the right.
Pay particular attention to the extremes of the graph. If it intersects the sides, you’re in trouble as it means that the shadows or the highlights are lacking in detail and are ‘clipped’ to pure black or white.
If that all sounds a bit technical, think of it this way: the histogram’s peaks should slope down to sea level rather than ending in a precipice at either side.
Just like your camera’s LCD, Lightroom also has a histogram. But it’s more than just a graph. It’s a powerful tool for adjusting exposure and teasing out the all-important details in your images. We’ll show you how it works in this Lightroom tutorial.
Using histogram adjustments in Lightroom and other tonal tools, we can check for clipping and improve shadow detail, then go on to tweak exposure selectively with the Adjustment Brush and Graduated Filter.
Lightroom tutorials: add hidden detail – steps 1-3
01 Check for clipping
Download our start files and follow along! Go to the Library Module and drag in our exposure_before.dng image, then press Import. Head to the Develop module. Press J to toggle on the clipping warning. Areas of pure white show up as red, black as blue. Experiment by dragging the Exposure slider left or right to see the warnings appear.
02 Set a white point
Double-click to reset the Exposure slider. Go to the Histogram at top right. Notice how when you roll over it, certain areas are highlighted – Blacks, Shadows, Exposure, Highlights and Whites. Drag the Whites section to the right to about +20, until the red clipping warning begins to show.
03 Reveal shadow detail
Zoom in on the jacket. Go to the Blacks section on the left of the histogram and drag it until the blue clipping warnings disappear at about +20. Next, drag the Shadows section to about +50 to lift the dark tones. Drag the Highlights section left to about -27 to reveal tonal detail in the water.
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Lightroom white balance adjustments: master the shadow and highlight controls
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