What I Wish I’d Known – Lightroom

We all have tips, tricks, and shortcuts in our work that makes daily life just a little bit easier. Ever wish you had known one just a bit earlier? We’re going back in time with a Tip of the Week series, “What I Wish I’d Known“, as each Monday a different staffer or intern here at CoDA describes one such hint they wish they’d known from the start. This week, I’ll be taking you through my experience with Lightroom and the wonder that is highlight and shadow recovery.

Adobe Lightroom is my go-to program for cleaning up and developing publication-ready photography, whether I’m working on images from an excavation or some artsy shots from my own collection. However, sometimes I feel a bit like Goldilocks in the Three Bears’ photo catalogue: did I sharpen too much? Not enough? But when it comes to adjusting the lighting levels, the Develop mode histogram has a nifty little feature that tells me when I’ve gotten it just right.

Here’s a shot taken on a North Beach block on a sunny afternoon (original image © Kevin Ridsdale). I should note that it was shot in a RAW format, as this type of development won’t work nearly as well for JPEG or other non-RAW formats (but you already shot RAW, right?) The sunlight made it a great day for walking around, but as you can see, it also left the shot with some overexposure which is blowing out the details on the street. There are also some heavy shadows obscuring the bushes on the sides, but let’s deal with the highlights first.

To visualize exactly what is happening, I hover my mouse on the small triangle in the upper right corner of the histogram (circled here in red), and as you can see, a bunch of red has now appeared on the photo, showing me where the highlights are clipping out details. If I click on the triangle, I’m locked into this mode so I can make the necessary adjustments.

It may look like a lot, but when I grab the Recovery slider and begin to move it to the right, you can already see the red parts receding.
When I’m satisfied with the amount of highlight recovery, I click off the highlight clipping triangle and click the upper lefthand triangle in the histogram, which illustrates shadow clipping with blue.
After fiddling with the Fill Light slider, I’ve eliminated most of the areas clipped by shadows.
And voila! As you can see, the use of  highlight and shadow clipping mode allowed me to restore a lot of detail to the street and shrubbery that had previously been obscured, without overdeveloping and distorting more details in the process.
Are there any handy tricks you’ve picked up in Lightroom that you wish you’d known from the start? Let us know about it!

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