Lightroom: Photoshop type levels tool and proper sliders please

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I'm trying to use Lightroom how I'm supposed to use it, i.e use the basic panels sliders instead of using a levels tool like how I’m so used to in Photoshop. However, i find it very hard getting my photo's to look right using this method i.e I’m not very good at all at judging how much is too little or too much exposure to add etc etc. I find myself saying to myself all the time that i wish Lightroom had a proper levels tool just like Photoshop. I mainly wish this when dealing with my many under exposed Jpeg images (yes I’m no professional photographer, lol).

My workaround now is to use the Point curve tool like a levels tool, finding the black and white points in the underexposed images (Jpegs) and then taking a snapshot of the photo. Then I reset the point curve, close it and move up to the basic panel sliders. Then i use the exposure slider (& a bit of contrast etc) to adjust the image, comparing the result to the point curve snapshot until both the image and the snapshot look around about the same brightness. This seems like the only way I can really be sure that I’m not over exposing my image etc, like I normally do. I then i discard the snapshot & have an image that i feel is about right in its exposure. All this seems like a lot of extra work for me. I would so much prefer just to have a proper levels tool with its own black and white point sliders, even if it was integrated into the point curve tool. Maybe some kind of better values indicators too.

I personally think the Lightroom programmers need to realise that some people like me are not professional photographers, and that we mainly just want to use a program like Lightroom just to edit some Jpegs non destructively, and to have the basic essential tools that we've been so used to in programs like Photoshop etc etc. There's not really any good alternative program for us to use if we want the power of non destructive editing for our Jpegs.
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paul beckwith

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  • hoping

Posted 6 years ago

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Victoria Bampton - Lightroom Queen, Champion

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Paul, to be honest, I wouldn't hold your breath on that one, so it would be worth learning to use the powerful tools you have as your disposal.

Try this: ignore the tone curve and keep your eye on the little Navigator preview while adjusting the exposure slider, and if it's still tough, squint your eyes a bit. It's easier to judge the overall exposure when you're not being distracted by the picture. Also try swinging the slider to the left and right before settling somewhere in the middle, as you'll find you'll judge it better by 'forgetting' what the original looked like. Don't worry about whether highlights or shadows are right at that stage.

Then adjust the contrast slider until the contrast looks right.

Then turn on the clipping warnings, which are the triangles in the top left and right corners of the histogram (or press J). You can then use the highlights slider pulled to the left to recover clipping as far as possible. Clipped highlights show as red markers and clipped shadows show as blue.

Press J again to turn off the clipping warnings and see how the picture looks. You might want to increase the shadows to bring more detail into darker areas.

You might back and adjust the sliders slightly further, but if you've got the exposure slider in the right ballpark, the rest will be much easier.

And finally, if you have a camera which will allow you to shoot raw, give it a try. I think you'll find it much easier to fix your underexposed pictures much more quickly and with a better result.
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Rob Cole

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|> "Then adjust the contrast slider until the contrast looks right."

I realize Eric Chan (who implemented PV2012 software) recommends adjusting blacks & whites last, but my experience is that sometimes it's hard to get contrast right (and highlights/shadows) until blacks and whites have been adjusted.

Although I also recommend adjusting (exposure and) contrast before trying to do too much with highlights & shadows, I find if I don't push/pull blacks & whites before finalizing contrast, (and do the other way around instead) I may end up with a non-optimally edited image - YMMV.

Summary:
* Exposure first - no exceptions, but *if* blacks are obviously off, it may be good to "cheat" a little, and tweak "out of order" (e.g. after/in-conjunction-with exposure). (And whites sometimes too, ahead of schedule, because it may impact exposure setting...).

Disclaimer: If the shoe don't fit, don't wear it, but here's how I see it:
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In theory, blacks & whites sliders were intended to make minor adjustments to automatically set/maintained black/white points. Also, there is some image adaptable stuff going on: blacks and whites behavior is subject to adjustments above it. But in practice, sometimes they should NOT be left till the end. Blacks and whites adjustments may substantially change what you will need from exposure, contrast, and highlights/shadows. For me, PV2012 is an iterative process, by nature: highlights/shadows impact blacks/whites adjustments, but blacks/whites effect what you need from exposure/contrast, which affects...

Although I've gotten very good at adjusting PV2012 photos with minimal iterations, I just want to caution people against being too rigid with the top-down regimen.

Sorry if I've done more harm than good with all this - life's a beatch... (and PV2012 is tricky, in my opinion).

Rob
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Rob Cole

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PV2012 rocks, once you get the hang of it.

Levels don't allow for intelligent roll-off/clip handling.

One of the cool things about PV2012 is you can drive exposure up without blasting your highlights into kingdom come, especially if you throw -highlights at it. But also, you can +whites and drive all the way into clipping if it suits you without it looking like heck.

Likewise, the black-point handling has similar intelligence to preserve shadow detail even as -blacks begin to clip (or +blacks without dislodging the black point too much).

So, do what Victoria said, and once you get the hang of it, check out what you can do with those blacks & whites sliders! I use -blacks +whites -highlights +shadows on most photos, but +blacks -whites +contrast/+clarity rocks too on some photos.

Note: another trick to help set exposure correctly, is to keep highlights 0 or moderately negative, and shadows 0 or moderately positive (with same magnitude as highlights) *until* you get overall brightness (exposure) very close.

Personally, I often take a whack at blacks & whites as part of the quest for optimal exposure, before getting too serious about the contrast, or highlights and shadows, but don't tell the mad man.

Once you have exposure set correctly, and a nice black/white point, you can fiddle with contrast, highlights & shadows until the cows come home.

But what you *usually* don't want, in the beginning anyway, is:

Highlights +ve
Shadows +ve
(increase exposure instead)

Highlights -ve
Shadows -ve
(decrease exposure instead)

Highlights +ve
Shadows -ve
(increase contrast instead (and decrease saturation if need be), and/or -blacks +whites)

Highlights small
Shadows big +ve
(increase exposure, reduce highlights, and back-off the shadows slider instead)

Highlights big -ve
Shadows small
(decrease exposure, increase shadows, and back-off the highlights slider instead)

Once you feel confident about exposure, *then* you can skew highlights & shadows values to fine tune, perhaps in conjunction with fine tuning of blacks & whites, and contrast of course.

Another trick: PV2012 sometimes needs exposure, to "prime" the other controls. If you sometimes like dimmer photos, sometimes it's best to err a little on the bright side with the sliders, then de-brighten strategically with the tone curve (instead of the other way around).

One mistake to avoid: cranking exposure up and using -whites to contain top end. More often than not, -highlights should be used to contain the top end, unless it's really the kind of photo where -whites is essential (less often than you might think).

Disclaimers:
* much of this stuff may be better suited to raw processing than jpeg processing.
* The "formula" above tends to make for punchy, detailed, contrasty, clarified images, which is one thing PV2012 excels at. If you want a subtler, more muted look, then go easy, or do the opposite (e.g. +highlights -shadows instead of +contrast; +blacks -shadows to reduce shadow detail...).

Cheers,
Rob
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paul beckwith

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Thank you all for your replies, I've learnt a lot from you already. I have to admit that you all seem to really know your stuff and obviously love using Lightroom & in the right way. I wont pretend i understand too much of what you're saying, and really that reinforces my point that ordinary average photo editors like myself will find using Lightroom hard, and perhaps we just need some basic tools that get the job basically done, i.e a proper levels tool.

It's amazing for me to think that all my friends think that compared to them i actually know a lot about photo editing, because i can get the photo's looking quite good in PSE.

I still think it's a shame that the average photo editor will find Lightroom hard to understand and would probably shy away from using it, & perhaps Adobe are missing a bigger market potential for that reason. I was attracted to Lightroom just for the non-destructive editing. Why should that just be for the pro's?

I will continue to practice with Lightroom though, and look forward to reading more & more.

Thanks again.
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Rob Cole

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Hi Paul,

I got most of my complaining about PV2012 out of my system during the beta ;-}.

I apologize if my posts were intimidating - I get carried away sometimes...

Bottom line: Although potentially tricky, practice makes perfect, and the results you can get are nothing short of breath-taking, thus the infatuation...

Also, consider shooting raw, since that's where Lr really shines.

PS - Since "proper levels" and "totally predictable sliders" ain't gonna happen for a year or two, if ever, you might as well surrender... :-)

Rule 5: enjoy!

Rob
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paul beckwith

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Haha, no need to apologise buddy. I do understand basically what you're saying. Its just i don't seem to end up with very good looking images at the moment unless i spend ages on each one, sliding this slider and sliding that slider, and then correcting this slider as a result and then correcting that one etc, etc, and quite often realising that I've messed up again, hitting that reset button for the image and starting from scratch. It can be quite frustrating, especially knowing how wonderful they can potentially end up looking using Lightroom. Sometimes i just wish i could use a levels tool on some of the images that would look quite good using just that.
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Rob Cole

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Paul,

I can totally relate. I spent several dozens of hours doing what you describe, literally, before I got it. And even now, after spending several minutes, the photo often just looks "a little brighter, but with better contrast, and a little clearer". And although that seems conceptually simple, in practice it's not so simple. At the risk of offending Adobe & Lightroom's defenders, my opinion is that PV2012 design, from a user perspective, leaves something to be desired, but under the hood, there is a fair amount of genius.

Good luck with it.

Parting thoughts:
---------------------
The name of the game is knowing which part of brightening and contrast should be done with which sliders, in a nutshell:
* Exposure sets the midtone level
* Contrast sets midtone separation
* Highlights/Shadows sets highlight/shadow brightness.
* Blacks/whites to squish or stretch the far ends.

Rob
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paul beckwith

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Hi Rob, your parting thoughts will help a lot. Thanks for your time & help :)
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Rob Cole

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Paul - please let us know how you fare, and don't be afraid to post an example.

Also, consider trying auto-tone. It often gets exposure wrong, and black point, but can nevertheless be educational... (it seems to do an OK job with highlights/shadows & whites. Contrast is often too low for my taste, but generally goes OK with the rest of what it comes up with). One thing to note: it always comes up with 0 or moderately negative highlights, and 0 or moderately positive shadows with equal magnitude as highlights - this is no accident, but makes it easier for auto-tone to come up with a compatible set of values for everything. This notion can also be used by you to make it easier to come up with a compatible set of values for everything, and especially to help set exposure properly (even if you choose to skew highlights/shadows later on).

I think perhaps a better order of adjustment for some photos is:
* Exposure
* Whites/Blacks
* Contrast
* Highlights/Shadows

Although this is not the order normally recommended by Adobe, I think it's possible to get tripped up by leaving blacks & whites till last, or considering them somehow less important than the rest.

For me, I can't finalize contrast or shadows until I have blacks set, and I can't finalize exposure or highlights until whites are set...

Also, there is a class of photos for which highlights & shadows sliders just don't work very well, and blacks & whites must take the role of primary fill & highlight control. And adjustment of these photos can defy "normal procedure". e.g. one may need:

blacks = +large
whites = -large
contrast = +ve
highlights = 0 or small
shadows = 0 or small

Even on a photo that might be considered overly contrasty.

Why?

Tonal ranges are assigned to highlights & shadows based on image evaluation. This normally works to one's advantage, but not necessarily when tonal distribution is "abnormal". On some photos, highlights slider is not adjusting highlight tones, and shadows slider is not adjusting shadow tones, like you might expect, yet:

+blacks & -whites will push smoothly from the far ends towards the middle, but +contrast may be necessary to counter-balance (pull the middle tones apart).

This may be the opposite of what you are inclined to do (which is -contrast).

And one of the reason this works is that PV2012 includes logic to maintain black point low & white point high even when doing +blacks and/or -whites, so one can crank them up without draining all the tones from the far ends, or flattening the photo into pure yuck (provided you add contrast afterward if need be). (-contrast will over-compress midtones without recoverying sufficient highlights/shadows at the furthest reaches; and highlights/shadows sliders are just not doing what you need, to make a long story shorter).

Finally: this sometimes dramatic difference in range of shadows & highlights sliders from photo to photo is another reason why keeping -highlights = +shadows is a good idea at first, since this represents a "nicely balanced" state regardless of the tonal ranges affected by these sliders - it may be essential to finding proper exposure, which is the single most important thing in PV2012.

OK one more thing:
------------------------
Consider experimenting with a learning technique (akin to "bracketing"):

1. Come up with your best estimate for proper exposure, then create 8 virtual copies: 4 with exposure increased by .3, .6, .9, and 1.2 and 4 with exposure decreased by .3, .6, .9, and 1.2.

Process each to completion, and then compare results, and other settings, as a learning aid.

PS - Consider bookmarking this page, then return and re-read a few times after practicing - eventually it may make sense ;-}.

UPDATE:
------------
One can think of editing as doing 2 things:
1. Defining brightness of each zone.
2. Defining separation of tones in each zone.

In PV2012, levels (brightness) are defined by:
* exposure (midtones)
* highlights (lights)
* shadows (darks)

and separation (intra-zone contrast):
* contrast (midtones)
* whites (lights)
* blacks (darks)

Perhaps the biggest trick is to not use highlights & shadows sliders to define midtone brightness, or separation. They can be used for either or both of those things, but then you paint yourself into a corner... And likewise, to not use contrast to define highlight & shadow levels (I think of the change of highlight & shadow levels due to contrast adjustment as a side effect to be modulated/contained by subsequent adjustment of highlights & shadows (and/or blacks & whites)).

The reason the recommended order is what it is, is:
* exposure affects the brightness of midtones, highlights, and shadows - it's the center-piece/linch-pin, and affects everything, so must be first and foremost.
* adjusting contrast will influence highlight & shadow brightness (and compression of highlights & shadows), thus it must precede.
* whites are considered to be for fine-tuning of intra-highlight contrast (and eeking those last few bits out of the dynamic range), and similarly, blacks are considered to be for fine-tuning the very bottom end. And Lr4 includes auto black-point computation, and roll-off/maintenance of white point, so you're not supposed to have to mess with them too much...

And I'm sure for some people, this works out just fine most of the time. But I often need strong blacks/whites adjustments, and those adjustments, in practice, greatly affect the entire histogram, despite their intended purpose.

You could be a person who just can't get photos to look the way you want without significant adjustment of blacks (and/or whites), no matter what you set exposure to.

I'll stop there, for now... :-).

Rob
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paul beckwith

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Rob, thanks for your detailed reply and time again.

I do continue to practice, and will upload an un-enhanced and enhanced version of one of my photo's including a list of adjustments i made, for you to look at and see how i'm doing.

I'm not really questioning whether i can get the photo's looking good or not using the Basic's panel method, because it's clearly the best method. Instead I'm just a little negative about the amount of time it takes me to end up getting it fairly right each time, because there's a lot of resetting or random tweaking still going on before i actually think to myself "aha that actually looks ok", lol.

I think i would like a button that stretches out the histogram for you, i.e all the way to the black and/or white points, with maybe a values box where you can set which percent of the histogram you want clipped, i.e -1% or +1% etc, for both the blacks and whites clipped amounts.

Obviously this would quench my desire for some kind of fast levels tool, but i think i would actually use it for an even greater purpose and that would be to take a snapshot of the approximate brightness the image could be, before resetting again and then using the snapshot as a kind of gauge to compare to when using only the basic panel sliders to find the nicest exposure etc for the image. Kind of like a rough guide if you like, or maybe even some images would actually look good with just that enhancement made. I'm sure all newbies would find a tool like that quite helpful. I know i would.

I'm aware that some photo's already have a background that's too bright & with a subject that's too dark in the foreground, i.e a photo of someone standing in front of a bright window. Obviously you wouldn't want to stretch the whites etc in a photo like that, but i think with 95% of amateur taken images you can get a good gauge of the finished brightness you may want when editing by stretching the histogram out, even if just to use it as a guide.

Maybe?
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Rob Cole

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Paul,

I hear what you are saying. Auto-tone is supposed to do something similar to what you are suggesting, although without the percent histogram / clipping parameters - have you tried it? Granted it leaves a bit to be desired, IMO.

I too have issued feature request ideas for a better auto-toning function, where one inputs a relatively few "guiding lights" (savable as auto-toning presets) and clicks a button and voila. Much of my editing is geared to a theoretically fairly simple and small set of repeating end games.

On the other hand, once one gets used to using the new controls it becomes much less time consuming to edit manually:

* Exposure to fill out the histogram if underexposed, and set the midtone level, without too much regard for shadow/highlight brightness - will become 2nd nature after a while.

* Using contrast to fluff out the tones from center outward becomes natural.

* Stretching histo to fill out the end-points how you want using blacks/whites.

* and finalizing highlight & shadow brightness to taste...

This can actually be done fairly quickly once you get the hang of it. Admittedly not as quickly as simply moving a left & right slider, to define the histogram extent whilst preserving original tonal distribution, which is the main thrust of this 'Idea', as I understand it, yet hopefully ultimately a better result.

Most photos I can edit to 90% in a matter of seconds these days. Eeking that last 10% may take several minutes, but gone are the days of spending hours on a single photograph...

I'm sure everybody develops their own technique. I consult the histogram a lot, some people don't even use the histogram...

I realize part of your purpose in this thread is to appeal to Adobe, and I'd guess they've heard you by now (whether or not there is an apparent response anytime soon), but the best us users can do is help you use the new controls, until they change again...

PS - I am also hoping for plugin access to histogram (and image) data (and more direct access to develop controls), so auto-toning plugins can be created - we'll see...

Cheers,
Rob
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Rob Cole

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Paul,

I'll be interested to see an example from you. In the mean time, I've been thinking, based on the fact that your photos are often looking over-exposed after you edit them and increase exposure, maybe you don't realize how exposure in PV2012 has "roll-off" / clipping protection. If you try and crank it too high, it begins to act more like a brightness control than a "levels" tool, meaning it "protects" you from over-brightening the highlights and/or clipping too much. (at lower values it acts more like a levels tool - right slider). The idea being to raise exposure up just enough, and go the rest of the way with the whites slider, if you want full-histogram or even some white clipping. Also, with blacks slider you should be able to seat the blacks enough, maybe with a little clipping... One thing that can make your photos look overexposed is insufficiently seated blacks.

Summary:
-------------
It's the exposure, whites, & blacks sliders that provide the equivalent functionality to the more traditional levels tool, with left & right sliders. The difference is the new sliders have some "intelligence", and the trick is to learn to use the intelligence for good, instead of fighting it.

Rob
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paul beckwith

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Interesting reply & really clarifying. Credit to you for figuring out how to explain things in a way a beginner can understand, Have you thought about writing a quick start guide for beginners (nothing too deep)? Maybe even a video?

Here's an example image (before & after) of me using Lightroom's Basic sliders to enhance one of my photo's (reduced quality for the web)

The settings i used were:

Exposure + 0.50
Contrast + 15
Whites + 25

Original:



Enhanced:

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Rob Cole

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Paul, here is a version I created, with exposure cranked up considerably:

Emily - enhanced by Rob
(see below for the Bright n' Punchy settings, and PV2010 settings)

Settings:
-----------
exposure +1.7
contrast +5
highlights -80
shadows +80
whites +10
blacks -60
clarity 10

I don't know what you had in mind for this photo, from a creative vision / mood point of view, but I made a sorta "normal" picture out of it, explanation:

Original was very underexposed, with dark shadows, with some over-bright highlights, presumably due to a flash.

Thus it seemed to need strong exposure, and strong +shadows. I went easy on the +whites, and extra-heavy on the -highlights. Just a pinch of contrast, supplemented with a small local contrast boost via clarity. But a key here is the strong -blacks to keep the blacks seated in the presence of such strong exposure and shadow increases.

Let me know what you think, and realize I was working starting with the web-quality jpeg you posted above (original/unenhanced).

Pushing a littler harder (brighter & punchier)

Settings:
-----------
exposure +1.8
contrast +20
highlights -90
shadows +90
whites +15
blacks -55
clarity 15

Hint: to better see the difference, in WebPhotoBrowser, keep clicking the Next button (or Prev button) and let it wrap around, instead of clicking Prev then Next then Prev then Next... - explanation available upon request...

Conclusion:
---------------
Giving this photo some Lr4/PV2012 love, results are *way* better than one could get with standard tone-curve levels tool, since histogram really needed some serious re-shaping for optimal toning. That said, it takes some serious PV2012 editing experience to get there...

PV2012 rocks, but only after you get up a ways on the learning curve.

And, for the sake of completeness and comparison, PV2010 settings:
exposure .8
recovery 20
Fill Light 60
blacks 5
brightness 20
contrast 20
clarity 20
tone curve

Rob
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paul beckwith

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Well done with the photo Rob - It's not the best photo to work with really but you certainly had a good go at turning bad exposure good, and throughout the entire photo!

I think it's clear that the basics sliders is far superior method to using levels or curves. Maybe the curves feature should be called "Basics" and the basics panel "Advanced", lol.

Again, my point is that the kind of enhancements you just made are surely skills learnt over many years, and is obviously something people would love to be able to do straight of the bat after using Lightroom for the 1st time. Until those type of skills are mastered, I still believe there is a role for a levels tool, or 'auto levels' , mainly for newbies to use, or for use on photo's that quite frankly only need a little bit of work done to them by amateurs that only want to make their personal photo collection 'good enough'.

Yes, you have certainly convinced me to keep practising with the basic sliders.
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Rob Cole

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Hey Paul - thanks :-)

My hair is still growing back (I pulled most of it out while learning PV2012).

So, I get your point.

PV2012: Awesome (but tricky).

BTW - I think auto-tone was supposed to be the auto-levels tool, and it works to some extent - I recommend trying it if you haven't yet. This formula might work to get you started:

* Click Auto-tone
* Adjust exposure up or down as you see fit (it's hardly ever right on the money).
* Maybe increase contrast a smidge.
* decrease highlights by a small or medium amount.
* increase shadows by same amount as highlights.
* optional: adjust whites if you can figure out which direction and how much...
* pull left on the blacks slider some.
* toss in a pinch of clarity and a dash of sat/vib
Done.

For example, Emily pic, auto-tone comes up with:
exposure 1.7
contrast 12
highlights -6
shadows +6
whites +25
Blacks +1

It looks too bright in the highlights, and a little flat, but otherwise is toned pretty nicely.

so if you drop exposure some, leave contrast alone, drop highlights a fair amount, and increase shadows by same, even if you don't trim the whites, but pull back on the blacks until it starts to clip, you end up with a pretty decently toned image, e.g.

exposure 1.5
contrast 12
highlights -30
shadows +30
whites +25
blacks -20
Clarity 10
vib 10
sat 5

This doesn't even out exposure as much, or give it the punch of the one's I did without benefit of auto tone, but it actually looks more natural in some respects, and wasn't that hard to come by.

Emily - autotone-based with above settings.

Cheers,
Rob
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paul beckwith

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Hi Rob

Yes, i gave up on auto tone on day 1 really - not very impressive results. I will try your method though.

The more I think about Lightroom (yes, it's addictive) the more I'm starting to realise that it's aimed more at the professional photographer. I think the pro's pretty much get their exposures near to where they want them in the 1st place. My problem is that I've only been into photography for last 2 years since Emily was born, and for most of that time i only used a compact camera that only produced Jpegs (and a lot of exposure problems). I do own a lovely Lumix GF3 system camera now, and have even been playing with Aperture mode (attempting to reduce Emily's constant motion blur (she never sits still, lol)). A nice bonus is some depths of field too. I think the magic key here is to keep in mind that i really should try and get the exposure as right as possible in the camera and thus less work needed in software like Lightroom. Obviously I'm still going to keep all the Jpegs from the last 2 years, and so have a lot of enhancing to get through.

I'm realising now too that I should let go of the belief that a histogram has to stretched all the way from 0 to 255 touching each ends. The subject being photographed inside photo's often sits in the midrange of tones and so far better to increase the brightness there more than anywhere else, and then applying some contrast. In effect you end up with an image just as bright as one treated by a levels tool, but you have the added ability to control the black & the white in the photos too. I think I've learnt from you that it's more important to seat the blacks properly and then decide if you need to increase the whites (if at all). I have noticed in the past when using the levels tool that some photo's don't actually look quite right having absolute black points coupled with absolute white points in the same photo.

Rob i browsed your website and it looks good. I see you program too, even making Plug-ins.
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Rob Cole

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Hi Paul,

|> " i gave up on auto tone on day 1"

Auto-tone was improved between Lr4.1-RC2 and Lr4.1-final, so if you haven't tried it recently, it may work better. But still, you certainly can't trust it, and if you have to adjust everything afterward anyway, it takes a lot of the fun out of it. Still, it can be educational, even if you undo it immediately afterward.

|> "I'm starting to realise that it's aimed more at the professional photographer"

I suspect there are more amateur users than pro, numerically, but definitely aimed at people who:
A. shoot raw
B. are willing to take some time to learn how to process those raws.

|> "it's more important to seat the blacks properly and then decide if you need to increase the whites (if at all)"

yes, if you had to give up one of the sliders whilst emulating your levels tool it would be the whites, i.e. you can go a long way adjusting exposure and blacks, and wait for the whites slider to scream at you. And if you end up too bright (or dim), there's always the tone curve, even if you don't feel like you know what to do with the whites slider yet.

|> "I should let go of the belief that a histogram has to stretched all the way from 0 to 255 touching each ends."

Indeed. Some photos look good left-shifted, some right-shifted, some lumped in the middle, some kissing the endpoints, some massively clipped. No rules!... But, for those photos where you do want to touch the right end, the whites slider is your friend.

|> "I browsed your website and it looks good. I see you program too, even making Plug-ins."

Thanks - yeah, I've made a few plugins ;-}

Ciao for now,
Rob
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Chrisf01

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Hi Paul

Like you, we are amateur photographers (albeit of many years and many thousands of photos) and we are discovering that Lightroom is wonderful - but with reservations.

When I first started using Lightroom, I used the Auto Tone and was astonished at how bad it made the image look (jpegs)! I have also practised with the sliders but I find the number of moves enormous - an awful lot more practice to be done!

So I have been mostly editing images externally in Photoshop Elements 10 because over the past many years I have found that the Enhance - Auto Smart Fix and also Auto Levels in Elements give wonderful initial results - maybe that's unsophisticated of me! I so wish I could do this in Lightroom too, and then tweak using the wonderful tools available.

We like Lightroom because we can use it on 2 different computers using an external hard drive, and because of the non-destructive aspect, ease of moving between Library and Develop, ease of keywording, and so many other things, BUT would really, really, love to have the 'Auto smart fix' option too!!

I think that Adobe would probably sell a lot more of the software if they catered to the fairly keen amateur photographer by having these 'Auto' functions (as in Elements), as well as the professional tools.
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paul beckwith

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Hi Chris

Thanks for your thoughts . We are like minded about a lot of the issues in the subject.

I wonder if Adobe did a poll, what percentage of people would want a Levels tool, or Auto levels in Lightroom?

Certainly an interesting subject.
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Rob Cole

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I don't think Lr will likely have a levels tool 'zactly like Photoshop anytime soon (due to differing design under the hood) - I could be wrong, BUT Adobe is hep to your plea - thus Auto-tone. I just experimented with auto-tone, and although OFTEN the results don't look good at first, it SOMETIMES creates a fair distribution of tones to start from. - IF you always adjust exposure (whichever direction it needs) and blacks afterward (usually leftward) - sometimes that's all that's needed. Maybe a little +contrast (and/or -highlights +shadows), (or perhaps less often -contrast and/or +highlights -shadows), and a touch of clarity & vib/sat to finish. Consider retrying auto-tone with those subsequent adjustments and see whether it works any better for you. My sense is that it may help you learn PV2012, even if you often can't use the results without modification.
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paul beckwith

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Rob

I hope I'm not going to sound argumentative here, and apologies in advance if I do, because I know you are ultimately right. It's just I don't want to spend all the time until LR5 learning how to use LR4 properly and then realising that after a year or so that i could now photo enhance so much better and have in fact being doing all the enhancing quite wrong, & then having to go back and re-do all the photos that I've already done. I have already started trying to enhance all my family photos via the Basics slider method and if I'm embarrassingly honest have already realised a few times that I'm getting a little better and have done things so far somewhat wrong, and gone all the way back to the start and started all over again. I wonder how many times this is going to happen, lol.

I think if i were a professional photographer and took the highest quality photo's for a living (i.e weddings or for magazine covers etc), then i would want to learn and use a photo editor like Lightroom to it's maximum potential, that gave me the best possible enhancements no matter how long it took to learn. I would even go back to night school and take a course or something (there's an idea).

The thing is, I'm not a professional photographer and certainly don't need my photo's to be as near to perfect as possible. I'm quite happy with them looking 'good enough' for me, and have always been happy enough using the fast & easy Levels tool in PSE and sometimes a little extra shadows enhancement too. Surely if a Levels tool is good enough for Photoshop CS then it's good enough for LR too?

I'm not so sure Adobe want Lightroom being used in a less than perfect way, and may explain why they haven't included a Levels tool, maybe? This doesn't however help Lightroom newbies get off and running producing photo's to a standard that they themselves are happy enough with, rather than spending weeks, months or years learning how to tweak the billions of possible combinations that all those sliders can give you and in the right way. Of course i want to learn how to use Lightroom to it's biggest potential, but i would like a tool like the Levels that would allow me to produce good photos now. I'm sure that even the pro's would find a Levels tool, or an Auto levels button helpful from time to time?
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Rob Cole

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Paul,

I'm not sure what to say. I think I understand where you are coming from, and I sympathize, but not much I can do except help you to use the existing toolset.

I'd rather not speculate on feasibility, or the reasons Adobe may not implement this feature request.

If you have specific problems or problem photos, do let us know...

The PV2012 basics are actually not that hard to use, once things start to click, but if you are like me, it will take some hours...

I mean, the Emily pic with only a single adjustment:

* Exposure 1.5
(everything else zero)

Looks pretty good.

A lot of the business of cranking exposure up further, and including whites, adding contrast, then needing to decrease highlights & increase shadows leading to the need to reseat blacks... really just adds punch that a lot of people would not even like (some call it an "HDR-ish" look).

I mean, if the main problem with your photo is underexposure, then increasing exposure is all you really need to do to make it a lot better...

i.e. the main difference between "Emily - Bright n' Punchy" and "Emily - Exposure Only", is the former is brighter and punchier. The latter actually looks more natural, and may be plenty of doctor for what ills your photo.

Perhaps you should go back and re-read Victoria's initial post now - she is better at keeping things simple for less experienced users ;-}.

Although I do think blacks is an important slider too, you don't need to adjust it so much if you use less extreme settings for the others.

Cheers,
Rob
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paul beckwith

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Rob, thanks for the advice - appreciate all the advice you've given, and I've certainly learnt lots.

It will be interesting to read if anybody else adds their thoughts too.

Thanks again buddy :)
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Rob Cole

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Paul,

You're welcome :-)

This is not the first time this idea has come around. There will be people who chime in with an "Amen" or a "Hallelujah". But I would not let that raise my hopes too high if I were you, since it may be a recipe for disappointment.

The capability to define "levels" is already there, and is not that hard to use, once you gain a bit of experience. Lightroom is a different design than other tools you've used, and a bit of un-learning may be needed too.

For example, when cranking exposure up in the Emily pic, you can't drive the whites up to 255 without massive overexposure. That's a feature, and as long as you are using exposure to define midtone level, and not to set the white clipping point, it works out just fine. If you are expecting it to work like the right slider on a levels tool, it doesn't. Nor does the whites slider, by itself. There is no equivalent of a right slider in PV2012. Trying to map previous experience 1:1 onto PV2012 is a mistake many (including me) have made in the beginning.

I mean, I could be dead wrong. Adobe may very well be redesigning Lr5 as I write, to return to a more predictable and less squirrelly set of controls, which include a left/right w/auto-set capability. But to quote Victoria "I wouldn't hold my breath".

But maybe you'll get lucky, and Adobe will add an Auto-levels button in an Lr4 dot release. And even if they just fixed up auto-tone so it served it's intended purpose better, I'm sure it would be a big help.

Cheers,
Rob
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Rob Cole

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This story still unfolding...

Emily Natural

Settings:
-----------
* exposure +1.6
* contrast -10
* highlights -20
* shadows +20
* whites 0
* blacks -10
* clarity 7
* vibrance 5
* saturation 2

Explanation:
---------------
A little more exposure. And with less contrast, highlights & shadows sliders don't have to work so hard - makes for a subtler, less "processed" look... whites 0 just to show you don't really need it, and if you don't know what you're doing with it, maybe best just to leave it alone. blacks pulled back so it doesn't look so flat and washed out due to -contrast & +shadows. some clarity since global contrast is on the low side, helps. vib/sat: needed some color, but not too much in the warms - easy does it if you are trying for a less punchy more natural look...

eh?

And here's another still natural version with the histogram pushed all the way to 255 using the whites slider:

Settings:
-----------
* exposure +1.6
* contrast -5
* highlights -35
* shadows +35
* whites 26
* blacks -12
* clarity 9
* vibrance 6
* saturation 3

Explanation:
---------------
Main feature: whites pushed all the way to clipping, more -highlights to keep it from being over-bright at the top end, and give some stratification to the upper tones. +shadows to match -highlights just as a matter of course, since I think it's easiest to learn PV2012 by matching shadows and highlight values. Blacks nudged to keep a good seat... I also added a bit more contrast just for fun - with the greater values for -highlights and +shadows, it could handle a little more contrast without over-brightening lights or over-darkening darks. Slight bump to clarity & vib/sat also just for fun, since it seemed to go with the generally increasing punchiness of the pushed version of this still fairly natural-looking photo.

Moral of the story: *if* you want to use every bit of the histogram, then bump whites until it clips (or stop shy if full clippage is over-doing it, or drive it into extra clipping if it's one of those photos), but *only* after you've bumped exposure about as much as the photo needs. If +whites makes it too bright up top, you may need to take some compensatory measures: e.g. -highlights. If +whites makes the whole photo too bright, you will need -exposure to compensate..., Of course blacks slider to control percent of histogram used at the bottom end.

Personally, in this photo, I don't like the whites cranked up so much, since it makes the brightest parts of the shirt look "over-white" and harsh, and the main challenge of this photo is to even out the over-bright areas and the darks. However, one of my favorite things to do, in some photos, is to crank up the whites, globally, then knock 'em back down strategically, by painting (e.g. -highlights).

Rob
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Chrisf01

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Wow Rob - you have put an amazing amount of time into this question and I certainly appreciate it.

I will practise more with Lr using your extensive hints. I might even practise by editing a copy of an image externally with PSE10 then practise on the original in Lr and see how I go.

I am dying for the day when I can develop an image in Lr in a few seconds!!

Thanks again for all your help and fingers crossed that at least the 'Auto Tone' improves in future versions.

Chris
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Rob Cole

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You bet, Chris.

PV2012 can be tricky to learn - make no mistake about it, but once you get the hang of it, editing can be very fast - faster and better than with PV2010. - and with highlights & shadows added to the locals, one can paint exposure corrections much more quickly, and with better results, than is possible in PV2010. Hang in there... :-)

PS - I agree: A better 'Auto Tone' feature would not only make editing more efficient, especially for beginners, but would facilitate learning to be more proficient when toning manually.

Rob
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Rob Cole

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Rob Cole

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*** Important Note:
==============
To those who think they haven't cranked exposure and/or whites up enough unless the histogram is kissing the right wall:

Lightroom does not necessarily display (in the histogram) all the tones present in the photo at the upper-most end. I don't understand this very well, but I've come to live with it. Photo is bright enough up top when it looks like it is - don't stress too much about whether the histogram goes all the way up.

Note: you can sometimes see the the upper-most tones that are "hiding" by looking at a photo with soft-proofing on, or in an external app, like your camera mfr software, or Photoshop.

More info here:

http://feedback.photoshop.com/photosh...

Rob
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TK

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This thread nicely summarises PV2012's issue.

To use PV2012 well, you basically have to learn how it ticks internally. Unless you figure out what the sliders do *when* -- as its actions will in general not only depend on the image content but also on depend on other sliders settings -- you will forever fiddle with the sliders getting more frustrated then getting closer to where you want.

Not that it matters, but I think it is wrong that you have to understand how a particular tool ticks (which embodies some arbitrary assumptions) when you already very well understand how basic image manipulations work and what "exposure" really is.

Paul and many others know how exposure (the original technical term, not the mislabelled "brightness" slider in LR4), levels, tone curves, etc., work. However, all that knowledge is of no use anymore when operating the LR basic panel.

I believe Paul's assumption "I'm starting to realise that it's aimed more at the professional photographer." is wrong. Professionals know how to use exposure, levels, tone curves, etc. They can set their black and white points manually and while they may opt to have them set automatically they surely also want to set them manually when it is appropriate without having certain sliders affect how other sliders work (with no official documentation as to what is supposed to be going on).

The important difference between traditional controls (as known from PV2010) and the new all-auto, all-adaptive approach (as known from PV2012) is that the effect of the PV2010 controls is predictable. Judging from many user reports, you can get better at predicting results from PV2012 controls with a lot of training but even experienced users can run in situations where the "cleverness" meant to support the user can bite the user (e.g., because they did not use the sliders in the intended order).

In another thread Rob writes "Moral of the story: Never assume that what works on one photo will work on the next." To me that describes the failure of PV 2012 to be a reliable tool for people who know what they are doing.

It appears to me that the LR4 basic panel controls were created to allow people to achieve results quicker even when they are not "pros" when it comes to image editing. While this may often work, it also means that sometimes one has to work around the "cleverness" of the all-auto, all-adaptive approach and fight it when a more manual approach would have gotten you there much quicker and much more intuitively.

If LR4 really were aimed "more at the professional photographer" I believe there would be ways to switch off the all-auto, all-adaptive approach so that you can use it only when it helps.
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paul beckwith

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Very interesting article Rob (as always)
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TK

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FWIW, Rob, I find your 2010 version to be the most natural and best looking and I really dislike the "HDR like" look of the extreme PV 2012 versions.
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Rob Cole

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I like to be *able* to give them as much or as little "pizazz" as I want. One can readily do that with PV2012, once one learns how.

Granted, PV2012 tends to have a characteristic look, that you have to work to tame if you're not liking it on some photo... I mostly, but not always, really like it.

Cheers,
Rob
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paul beckwith

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My very personal point of view: I basically understand what all those sliders do but dislike the complexity and the billions of variations all the sliders in any of the positions can produce - How on earth does someone know when they have 'got it right'?. My mind really works (& always has) in a way where it has to be able to follow a formula that it knows works, has been tried and tested. This makes me not like the billions of possible combinations of all those sliders.

I've found a formula now with Lightroom that I personally like (and I know it will make Rob frown when he reads it, lol).

My formula:

1) For photos that are too dark I use the point curve (not tone curve) to set the white point of the image (if there's white in the photo then have the histogram touch all the way to the right, but if no white then back off a bit). Obviously if a photo is overexposed then skip step 1.

2) Open the Basics Panel.

3) Decrease exposure if the photo is over exposed.

4) Set your black point with the blacks slider (but not too black if there's a lot of white in the photo, and never too black anyway because blacks look darker when printed).
.
5) Increase shadows if they need increasing (quite often do).

6) Fine tune any contrast issues (not very often).

I'm fully aware that this is a totally unorthodox way and only gives 'good enough' results rather than brilliant results, but for me personally i seem to get on best doing things this way and can do things quite fast too, and i always end up understanding what i just did, lol.
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Rob Cole

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Hi Paul,

Whatever works for you... My evaluation of your procedure:

Pros: Nothing spreads tones out more evenly in the histogram than simply moving the white point using the point curve. Congratulations: you have successfully solved the "how to increase exposure smoothly all the way up" problem.

Cons: You won't be taking advantage of the features of PV2012 that extend into the top-end of the histogram.

But if you don't need all the horse-power of PV2012, and it's just getting in your way, instead of serving you...

But what you might find at some point in the future is:
* Shadows slider doesn't quite get it, so you increase exposure, but then that blows out the top end, so you return to the point curve to re-adjust the white point..., and after a while the light bulb goes off what the exposure roll-off is all about, and whites slider, and highlights...

Rule #5: Enjoy!

Rob
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paul beckwith

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Thanks for your reply - The thing is i know your right, but for some reason I just seem to prefer doing it the way i described.

Perhaps they should bring out a certain degree of non destructive editing for Photoshop Elements? I think that would appeal to me (with an improved crop tool).
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Rob Cole

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You're welcome Paul. I'm sure you'll find your way through this maze eventually :-).

Over-n-out,
Rob
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paul beckwith

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Rob

I'm currently attempting to use the proper lightroom basics panel method of enhancement on a bunch of test photos. I really do want to try and master the technique.

Could you briefly explain what each of the main sliders does in the basic panel, in a sense of how they effect the image (how they behave), and when & why they should be used.

I.e

Exposure slider : Used first to increases the brightness of the image and mainly in the mid tones. It behaves like this ...., afterwards you should....
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Rob Cole

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Paul, I admire your persistence. Here ya go:

Exposure - acts like a regular exposure slider at lower values (increasing it will fill the histogram smoothly - just like moving the white point using the tone curve), but at higher values, when tones are approaching the right-hand wall, it changes it's behavior, beginning to act more like a brightness slider: the highest tones won't be brightened as much as the midtones if you keep cranking it up. Beware: sometimes you won't be able to get the highest tones as high as you think you might want using the exposure slider. When that happens, don't fret - PV2012 may be protecting you from something you don't actually want like you think you do, or in any case, you may find the whites slider more appropriate for going that last bit toward the clip point. See Tip 1 below.

Contrast - separates tones from a midtone outward. Primary goal to provide good midtone "contrast". secondary effect darkening (and compression) of dark tones, and brightening (and compression) of light tones. Note: it does not change the midtone brightness, nor the brightness at the furthest reaches. It's tone-curve equivalent is the infamous 'S' shape. (-ve contrast does the opposite...).

Highlights - usually used with negative values to keep highlights from being too bright. If highlights are not bright enough, one typically needs +exposure (or +whites) instead (or +contrast).

Shadows - usually used with positive values to keep shadows from being too dim. If shadows are too bright, one typically needs -exposure or -blacks instead (or +contrast).

Whites - designed for extending the white point right-ward, after all other adjustments have been made, but can also be used for general toning purposes after sufficient experience is gained. Negative whites is required on some photos when -highlights isn't cutting it. See Tip 3 below.

Blacks - designed for extending the black point leftward, after all other adjustments have been made, in order to achieve or increase clipping, but can also be used in the rightward direction too, especially in cases when +shadows isn't cutting it. See Tip 2 below.

Without question, the biggest trick in PV2012, is that exposure needs to be set for the midtones, and although it's first on the list, it can be difficult to determine correct exposure for midtones, until after other adjustments are made, which is why adjustment usually requires multiple iterations, while learning. (with practice, setting exposure correctly without those other adjustments being made too, becomes more intuitive, and the number of iterations goes way down). And trying to compensate for incorrectly set exposure with the other sliders, is what causes otherwise sane people to pull out their hair and curse PV2012. Consider, while learning, if you postulate that exposure may be set too low, or in any case, you want to try again with a higher exposure, then set all other basic sliders to zero, raise exposure, then repeat. Likewise, if you postulate exposure may be set too high, then set all other basic sliders to zero, lower exposure, and adjust the rest over again. The idea being: if you've set highlights & shadows etc. based on one setting for exposure, they'll not be right for the next setting of exposure that you try. Again, you won't have to resort to such measures once you get the feel for PV2012. All of this is what leads Victoria to recommend stuff like "look at the navigator or a thumbnail instead of a full-size view when adjusting exposure initially (initially, meaning: when all other settings are at zero)", and "squint" - you're shooting for midtone exposure, and should not be distracted by over-bright highlights or over-dark shadows, or the opposite...

And yes TK, I can hear you "laughing" right now, and see you "rolling your eyes" and shaking your head... ;-}.

Tip 1: click 'soft proofing' to see more tones up top than will be shown in develop/lib modules.

Tip 2: For a local contrast boost without increasing global contrast, try a little +clarity, and maybe a little -contrast and/or +blacks to go with it.

Tip 3: Tones sometimes appear to be blocked from the upper-most reaches of the histogram, so on some photos, the goal of reaching the white wall, as viewed in the histogram in the dev module must be surrendered. See Tip 1.

Tip 4: It is a design characteristic of PV2012 to keep white point high and black point low in photos that have inherently high dynamic range. Tone/point curve and/or locals is your out in case you and PV2012 are not seeing eye-to-eye on this one... (this is another thing I "fought" with sometimes in the beginning before I understood what was going on - usually it's a blessing but not always).

Perhaps a strategy for newbies could be:

Start with exposure, blacks, shadows, and highlights, and leave contrast and whites alone. Setting contrast and whites wrong when you don't know what to do with them just makes matters worse (0s for both is a sortof compromise position). Use the tone/point curve if need be to fine tune.

At some point, the contrast slider will begin to call to you, if it does then go to it... (if you find yourself maxing out -highlights and +shadows, or it seems impossible to get good tone in the highlights and/or shadows, there's a good chance you could benefit from -contrast, and/or -whites/+blacks. Likewise, an underly contrasty image (looking "flat, or "lacking in richness", insufficient pizazz...) will often begin to shout about being hungry for a contrast boost after a while...

Likewise, at some point, you may find the highlights are seeming a bit muted/under-stated no matter what you do with the basic sliders. That's a sign that +whites is being called for.

Getting closer?

Rob
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paul beckwith

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Rob 1st question

The 1st step is obviously to set your exposure slider. Once the exposure slider has been set does that always then mean the contrast will then be out as a result and need correcting?
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Rob Cole

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No. Contrast as set before adjusting exposure may also be appropriate after adjusting exposure.
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paul beckwith

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Sorry, what i meant was:

Lets say we have an unenhanced photo and the first thing we do is adjust the exposure. Does adjusting the exposure then mean the contrast will likely need some attention now too?
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Rob Cole

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Nope. Adjusting exposure does not imply any kind of adjustment to contrast will need to follow. Or am I still not getting what you are driving at?

I mean, some photos will like a contrast boost, whereas others will prefer contrast attenuation, regardless of in-camera setting, previous processing, amount of exposure added or subtracted in post-processing... - it depends more on the inherent contrast of the scene, and what you want out of the picture...

Honestly, I'm not sure Adobe is helping matters by advising contrast be adjusted immediately after exposure. Most people don't know whether to increase it or decrease it, and going the wrong way will only make things worse. The thing is, highlights & shadows will often need a tweak after contrast. So the theory is:

* Exposure does the heaviest lifting.
* Contrast does the next heaviest.
* highlights/shadows for subtler finer-tuning.
* blacks/whites for advanced users only, and/or very small adjustments - only if necessary...

And I suspect for many users on many photos this formula works out quite well.

But if you are really pushing the envelope, then sometimes desired contrast can be very dependent on other settings, like blacks/whites, and even shadows/highlights.

I mean -blacks +whites will increase "contrast", in fashion, and +blacks -whites will "decrease contrast", so to speak, so if you make a substantial change to blacks/whites, you may very well need a substantial change to contrast proper. It's just that PV2012 has some sophisticated programming to somewhat manage black/white points a bit for you, so such editing is seen as putting the cart before the horse. But as the saying goes: "In theory, there is no difference between practice and theory, but in practice: there is...".

On the other hand, the Adobe-approved formula is designed for people to learn to use PV2012. Once you know it, you can do whatever you want. So there is something to be said for following their lead...

And also, as you've noticed, there can be some marked differences in what settings would be optimal for a display image, and what would be better for a printed image.

PS - trshaner invented a formula which excludes adjusting contrast, presumably to avoid confusion about contrast:

http://forums.adobe.com/message/45875...

Cheers,
Rob