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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Use Lightroom Like a Darkroom

How to work like an old-school master printer when you’re processing images in the computer

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Figure 4: Midtones are best adjusted with the Tone Curve.
Adjust The Midtones
In Lightroom 4, the Highlights and Shadows sliders are very good for bringing out detail in the brightest and darkest areas of the photo. They should be used in conjunction with other Midtone controls such as Exposure to brighten the overall image without hurting your blacks or whites. The Tone Curve is an important control for affecting midtones, especially the dark areas, which DSLRs rarely capture as well as they should because of an inherent weakness in the ability of any sensor to handle the darker tones of a scene (Fig. 4).

At this point, make color corrections to the image, if needed. Also look at Clarity to affect the fine contrast of midtones and make a photo livelier. Use Clarity sparingly as it can quickly make an image look harsh and unattractive if you aren't careful with it.

Vibrance can help colors, but be wary of overusing it, as it can make colors, especially skies, look garish. Use the Hue, Saturation and Luminosity controls of the HSL panel instead of the overall Saturation slider (Fig. 5).

Figure 5: Clarity affects midtone contrast, and Vibrance adjusts color intensity.
The Graduated Filter
When you click on the Graduated Filter icon in the toolbar below the Histogram, you'll get a lot of options for adjustment. Most of the time, you'll start with Exposure to darken or lighten a part of an image. This is analogous to burning techniques that Adams and Smith used in the traditional darkroom. It's also the easiest one to see as you make the adjustment.

Set the Exposure slider to a setting beyond what you need—this helps you see it as you drag and drop your adjustment across the image (Fig. 6a). You'll set the Exposure slider to the proper amount after you've tweaked the way you've applied this local control (Fig. 6b). The sliders in the Graduated Filter can be changed as much as needed. The adjustment you set begins where you first click in the photograph, then it gradually disappears as you drag your cursor across the image.

You end up with three lines that represent the gradation of change from full adjustment to none. Keep your mouse button pressed to change the distance between these lines and rotate them to fit a particular image. You also can go back and readjust these lines later by clicking and dragging on the top or bottom line to increase the size of the blend, by clicking on the center dot to raise or lower the whole adjustment, or by clicking and dragging on the middle line away from that dot to rotate it.

For many, many photos, all you'll need to do is use Exposure, but Lightroom 4 offers many other controls, as well. Remember to set Exposure to the right amount for your photo. Clarity can be useful for skies, Sharpness can allow you to affect the sharpness of specific areas, negative Highlights often can be used to get better clouds, and so forth. To set a slider back to its default, double-click the slider itself. If you don't like a particular graduated filter, just press the delete key to remove it. You can add multiple new graduated filters to refine your image as needed. Each filter is represented by a white dot on the picture—click on the dot and it will turn to a black dot, which means you can change any of the adjustments once again.

Figure 6a: Start by setting Exposure to a stronger adjustment than you need so you can better see the changes as you click and drag across the photo. Figure 6b: Then dial the exposure back to a proper level.


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