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Optimizing Detail and Contrast with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4

Article Description

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

Revealing More Detail

The most impressive thing about Process 2012 is that it is now substantially easier for many photos, to expose shadow details and recover blown out highlights than it was with prior versions of Lightroom. You can do this in a way that is also more targeted towards specific areas of tonality. Essentially, the darkest shadow details and brightest highlight details have been better “separated” from neighboring tones in the Histogram, allowing you to more accurately edit those tones “in isolation”. Additionally, the Exposure control works more predictably in how it brightens and darkens the tones in a photograph, focusing on the center 50% of the histogram.

For this example, (Figure 2) we have a shot with a wide range of tones and modest amounts of clipping at both ends of the Histogram. This shot requires that we recover the fine gradations of detail in the clouds, and on the water and boat. We’ll also take a look at ways to brighten the overall image, enhance global contrast, and make improvements to localized areas of color and contrast.

Figure 2: Lightroom 4 will make quick work of the lost highlight and shadow details in this image.

With Lightroom 3 we could have dealt with the clipping easily enough, since the shot is not badly over- or under-exposed. We could have also recovered some additional detail in the clouds and water using a combination of three or four settings. But with Lightroom 4, we can easily bring back 100% of the bright cloud details, and 100% of the murky water details with just two controls -- Highlights and Shadows. What’s more, we can do this without introducing posterization or other unwanted side-effects, and without limiting our prospects for creating good contrast afterward.

To recover all the details in the clouds (or other brightly lit subjects), don’t be afraid to really push the Highlights slider to a strong (negative) value. In this case a value of -94 brought back not only the cloud details, but also some of the specular detail on the chrome guardrail in the foreground (Figure 3). If you were to try and push the old Recovery slider to this degree, some visible posterization would be likely to appear along the transition areas between the very brightest highlights and their neighboring tones.

Figure 3: Extreme Highlight (recovery) values are not a problem in Lightroom 4; you can push the sliders a long way in most cases without causing unwanted side-effects.

To recover the important shadow details along the hull and waterline (bottom right), I bumped the Shadows slider well out to the right. A value of 80 brought back small amounts of detail on the hull and, more importantly, the detail on the water’s surface, including some specular highlights (Figure 4). Notice also there is little change to the noise level, despite the darker areas being brightened considerably. This is a big deal for a lot of photographers because it should mean less noise reduction (and potential detail softening) for many of their high ISO images.

Figure 4: The Shadows slider makes it easy to recover lost shadow details while maintaining the basic contrast with other elements.

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