Lightroom 4: The New Tone Controls

(If you’re getting this post through email, click here to view the video.)

As I wrote last week, Lightroom 4 represents a big change—the biggest change to Adobe’s Raw processing engine since Adobe Camera Raw was introduced in 2003. They’ve completely revamped the underlying algorithms for all of the tonal controls, and changed the behavior, and in some cases the names, of all the Basic Tone sliders.

Overall, I’m really happy with the new process, especially for high-contrast images. But if you’re accustomed to Lightroom 3 the new tools may seem strange at first. So I’ve been working on two videos to explain the changes and how to work with the new tools.

The first video, embedded here, explains some of the differences between the old and new processes, how the new tools work, and the ways they affect an image’s appearance. Here are some of the main points:

– The automatic highlight recovery and black point setting in the new process (2:00)

– Why you should avoid updating older images to the new process—unless you want to start over (5:04)

– The new tools: some of the names are familiar, but they all behave differently (7:30)

– Starting points: the numbers are different, but the defaults are really the same (8:53)

– An in-depth look at each of the new Basic Tone controls and how they work (12:38)

This video is about 25 minutes long, so, as I say in the video, grab your favorite beverage, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. I think you’ll come away with a better understanding of the strange but powerful new world that Adobe has created in Lightroom 4.

In the second video, which I expect to post next week, I’ll talk about workflow in the new process. I’ll show examples of processing both high-contrast and low-contrast images, talk about what settings you should start with, and discuss whether the new and improved Basic sliders can replace using curves.

I hope you enjoy this first video!

—Michael Frye

Related Posts: Lightroom 4 UpdateLightroom 4 Goes on Sale; Should You Wait, or Dive In?

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author and photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite Meditations, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, plus the eBooks Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, and Exposure for Outdoor Photography. He has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.


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    Thanks for doing this video. I just downloaded Lightroom 4 last night and am planning on getting into a book soon to learn the ins and outs (and also probably to remind myself of a lot of the features from 3 that I’d forgotten about) but in the meantime this has been a really nice primer. I’ve only had a little bit of time to mess around with the new sliders but the video gave me a number of “aha” moments after not being sure what those sliders do. Seeing the comparisons between LR 3 and 4 is also really informative. Can’t wait for the next part.

    I just finished watching your excellent video on LR4 (part 1) and found it highly informative. That’s after having used LR3 for about 1-year, LR4 since beta, and reading/studying Martin Evening’s detailed LR4 tome. The fact that I’ve learned several things from your short video – in spite of my prior knowledge and experience – has impressed me. I never realized just what process 2012 was actually doing other than making my photographs look better to begin with. You’ve explained the “how” beautifully.

    I’m glad to hear you say that there’s a part 2 coming soon.

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