Magic Buttons

The Targeted Adjustment Tool—a geeky name for a wonderful part of Lightroom


Wouldn’t you like a magic button that would allow you to get the most from your photography, make digital easier to work with and shorten your time in front of the computer? Of course, you would! Any nature photographer would, especially if it means less time inside and more time outside.

First, let’s discuss the Targeted Adjustment Tool in Lightroom. Adobe didn’t directly name this tool, but since they gave it no name, the computer guys have decided it must be the Targeted Adjustment Tool because when you use it, you get a targeted adjustment.

Well, my "magic button" and the Targeted Adjustment Tool are the same thing. Personally, I like magic button better.

So, are you interested in a tool that will allow you to get the most from your photography, make digital easier to work with and shorten your time in front of the computer? Or do you want a tool that allows you to target your adjustments so that you can define where your adjustments are by setting a target of tonality or color for them? Do you even understand what that last sentence means?

Well, let’s forget the geeky term for now. The computer masters at Adobe have come up with a magic button, and it resides in Lightroom.

When you click on the magic button, it activates your cursor, and the cursor gains some magic powers (hang with me on this magic business—the "powers" are great). You can move the cursor onto the photograph, then click and drag to make changes to that image.

The cursor recognizes what it’s clicked on—it could be a color or tone—then it adjusts that color or tone by dragging the cursor up or down and without affecting other things in the photo. This is amazingly intuitive for photographers. You see something in the photo that needs adjustment, click on it and then drag up or down until it looks right.

If you’ve used this button, you already know that it works with multiple controls. It’s a single type of button for activating the cursor, but it activates the cursor to do different things depending on the area in which you click on the button. The five specific areas of the Develop module of Lightroom in which it’s found are:

1. Tone Curve
2. Hue
3. Saturation
4. Luminance
5. Grayscale

Let’s see what this control is all about by starting with the Tone Curve. Tone Curve is like Curves in Photoshop, but is more photographically named (it actually affects tones). Photographers often have an uneasy alliance with curves of any kind. Putting points on a curve, then dragging them up and down, isn’t particularly intuitive for a photographer, no matter how important is its ability to control tones in an image.

At the upper-left corner of the Tone Curve panel area, there’s a small button that looks like a little target. Click on it and you activate the cursor. Now move the cursor onto the photo, and parts of the curve will "light up" with a highlighted area to show you what will be affected. Then click and drag the cursor up to lighten and down to darken, and that part of the curve will move up or down in response. You don’t have to guess which parts of the curve (or its sliders) to use. Lightroom finds the right tones for you. Now that’s magic for a photographer! You can quickly adjust tonalities in a photo by clicking and dragging key parts of the image.

The other location for the magic button is in the HSL/Color/Grayscale area of the adjustment panel for Develop. Select Hue from HSL and the magic button. Now the cursor is Hue-activated. You can adjust any hue by simply clicking on it and dragging the cursor up or down. You don’t have to know anything about color—Lightroom finds the right colors to adjust for you. This really connects you photographically with your image. No more trying to figure out colors in your head—just do it!

Select Saturation and the magic button to adjust saturation (you can also change the action of the cursor by using the drop-down menu below the photo listed as Target Group, exciting as that name may be). This is a better way to deal with color than simply using Saturation or even Vibrance because you don’t have to adjust all the colors. You can choose how to affect each color, but you don’t have to know anything about color here either. You just respond to the photo—this color needs to be more intense, this color needs less intensity, click and drag, click and drag. Lightroom finds the right colors for you.

Luminance works the same. While you don’t want to do major brightness changes to an image with this control, it can be useful in making a certain color lighter or darker. And once again, the magic button activates the cursor so you don’t have to figure out anything about the colors other than see it in the photo and click on it.

The Grayscale section of this panel is terrific and it has the same magic button. This is the best way to deal with black-and-white that I’ve ever seen (the black-and-white control in Photoshop is close, as you can click and drag there, too, but it doesn’t have all of the colors here). The key to a good black-and-white photo, whether shot that way from the start or converted from color, is the translation of color to gray tones. How those colors are translated makes all the difference in the world.

When you choose Grayscale, you immediately get a black-and-white image. After activating your cursor, click and drag on that monochrome image. You need to be able to adjust how a color changes to a gray tone, right, but you can’t see colors to adjust. That doesn’t matter. Lightroom finds the colors for you! When you click and drag on a photo, you make the color as gray lighter or darker by moving the cursor up or down. This makes getting a quality black-and-white image easy and fast.

Someday maybe we’ll see photographers involved in the naming of tools like this. Targeted Adjustment Tool—come on, guys, you can do better than that! But regardless of the geek factor in the name, this is a terrific tool, and I’ll continue to call it the "magic button."


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