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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Lightroom For Nature Photographers

Adobe's newest entry in digital imaging is a powerful tool for outdoor shooters

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I start with Blacks in Basic. Holding Alt/Option, I move Blacks until I see appropriate blacks appearing in the Threshold screen. Then I do the same with Exposure to affect whites, although I find this control sensitive in Lightroom (Fig. 4). When whites show in the Threshold screen, you often have too much of an adjustment, so I back off from it somewhat.

Lightroom Figure 4
Figure 4
Fill light brings out some detail in the dark areas, while Recovery brings back detail in the bright areas. Be careful not to overuse these controls or your photo lose contrast and look unnatural.

Next, the Tone Curve works the tones that have important detail (the midtones and more). This adjustment uses a parametric set of sliders that work four specific areas of tonality—Shadows, Darks, Lights and Highlights. You can adjust directly with the sliders or you can use the "magic button" I discussed in "Digital Horizons" (Outdoor Photographer, October 2007). Click on the little button at the top left of the adjustment area to activate your cursor. This targets your adjustments to whatever you click on in the photo, and then simply click and drag, click and drag until your detail tones look good (Fig. 5).

Lightroom Figure 5 Figure
Clarity is a new control in Basic that affects the contrast of midtones. I use it after working the Tone Curve.

Next, I go to color. Lightroom has a terrific white-balance eyedropper in Basic. If your image has an unwelcome colorcast, use the eyedropper to click on something that should be a neutral black, gray or white. You also can tweak the white-balance controls if needed.

One of my favorite controls is the HSL (Hue/Saturation/Luminance) adjustment section on the right panel. A lot of photographers go right to Saturation (not recommended for most photos) or Vibrance in the Basic section first. I use Vibrance, but almost never use Saturation. I find that I get the best results by going to HSL.

The magic button again (the little button at the top left of the section) activates the cursor so you can "target" color adjustments. If I have colors that are off in some way (this isn’t unusual because digital camera sensors don’t automatically make every color correct), I use the Hue segment first, move my cursor onto the offending color, then click and drag, up and down, until the color looks better. Lightroom finds the actual color to adjust for me.

In most photos, colors vary as to their need for adjustment. So I reset my cursor for Saturation and click and drag on the colors that need fixing, knowing that Lightroom finds the colors for me.

Luminance changes the brightness of individual colors. I was skeptical of this function at first because it worked so poorly in Photoshop; however, I now use it quite a lot, especially for skies. Again, the magic button activates the cursor so you can just click and drag the colors as needed.

Lightroom Figure 6
Figure 6
Finally, you can use Lightroom’s new Sharpening tools (Fig. 6). These weren’t in the original 1.0 version of the program, but appeared in v. 1.1. The Detail section includes both Noise Reductio and Sharpening tools. You need to enlarge your photo to 100 percent by clicking on it in order to see these effects (you receive a warning in the adjustment area if you don’t). Noise Reduction isn’t bad, but if you need strong noise reduction, use one of the dedicated noise-reduction programs, such as Imagenomic Noiseware or Nik Software Dfine.

When sharpening, hold Alt/Option as you make adjustments, and the screen changes to make it easier to see them. Amount acts a bit like Amount in Unsharp Mask, although the scale is different (the algorithms are different, too). Radius is similar to Radius in Unsharp Mask, but it’s more sensitive. Detail changes how much the halos created by Radius appear. I find that low settings look odd in the way they deal with detail, but high settings are too harsh. Finally, Masking blocks certain parts of the photo from being sharpened, limiting the sharpening to just certain edges (you can see this by holding Alt/Option).

There’s much more to Lightroom and its controls, but like any photographic tool, you learn its nuances best by using it repeatedly. As you work with Lightroom, don’t be afraid to experiment. You can’t hurt your images, since nothing is applied to a photo until you export it out of the program. Plus, a History section on the left panel of Develop remembers every adjustment you make.

Rob Sheppard is the author of
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for Digital Photographers Only (Wiley, 2007).


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