Solutions: Lightroom 4 Tone Controls

How the changes in Lr4 are important for nature photographers
This Article Features Photo Zoom

Michael Frye used the new Tone controls in Lightroom 4 to fine-tune this image of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

With Lightroom 4, Adobe has made the most significant change to its RAW image-processing engine since Adobe Camera Raw was first introduced in 2003. These changes have brought some big improvements, especially in handling high-contrast scenes, but the new tools behave very differently than the old ones. Here's a concise guide to the new process in Lightroom 4.

Automatic Highlight Recovery And Black Point
There's no more Recovery tool in the new process (what Adobe calls the 2012 process), because if overexposed highlights are recoverable, that will be done automatically before you even touch any sliders. On the other end of the scale, if an image contains large regions of pure black, the black point is now moved automatically to improve shadow detail.

The New Tone Controls
A lot has changed in the Basic panel. Recovery, Fill Light and Brightness are gone, replaced by three new sliders:
Highlights, Shadows and Whites. And although the names of the other three tools—Exposure, Contrast and Blacks—may seem familiar, their behavior has changed.

First, all the tools are now two-way sliders—they all move both left and right, and moving any slider to the left darkens part of the image, while moving it to the right lightens part of the image.

Also, it may look like the default settings for RAW files have changed, but they haven't; only the numbers are different. The new defaults of 0 Exposure, 0 Contrast and 0 Blacks equal the old defaults of +50 Brightness, +25 Contrast and 5 Blacks. And the new Linear point curve is the same as the old default Medium Contrast point curve.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Exposure And Contrast
While the behavior of the Contrast slider hasn't changed much, the new Exposure tool is quite different. In Lightroom 3, you could push Exposure to the right to set a white point. But Exposure in the new process behaves more like the old Brightness slider: It lightens or darkens the midtones without moving the ends—the black point or white point.

Highlights And Shadows
While overexposed highlights will be recovered automatically (if possible) in the new process, pushing the Highlights slider to the left does a wonderful job of further darkening highlights while keeping lots of local contrast and definition in those upper values.

Pushing the Shadows slider to the right is similar to using Fill Light in the old process. It brings out more shadow detail, but without creating the halos or other strange artifacts Fill Light often produced. Using Highlights and Shadows together can work wonders in high-contrast scenes, producing natural-looking results with plenty of snap and local contrast.

Whites And Blacks
Pushing the Whites slider to the right sets the white point—how much of the image is pure white, or how close the lightest pixels get to pure white. Moving the Blacks slider to the left sets the black point—how much of the image is pure black, or how close the darkest pixels get to pure black.

Setting the white point with the new Whites tool increases contrast in the highlights—a big improvement over setting the white point with Exposure in the old process, which tended to flatten highlights.

Learn More About Tone Controls
For an in-depth look at the new Tone controls process in Lightroom 4, check out the video Michael Frye made and posted to the OP Blog:

See more of Michael Frye's work at


1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Main Menu