In Lightroom 5, you can use the Histogram to quickly change the primary tonal ranges of your photos.
The Histogram gives you the number of pixels at each luminance level. It is a visual representation of how your image was exposed, if you’ve captured a lot of light, dark or intermediate tones. The full tonal scale is used when you have non zero values at each luminance level.
In other words, it is desirable to have the pixel values spread evenly throughout the histogram, rather than being bunched up in some part of the histogram. There are two border cases: the image is underexposed if almost all of the peaks are on the left hand side of the histogram; or overexposed if they’re located primarily on the right hand side.
When considering the histogram representation of your image, you should try to avoid having spikes on the far right or far left side, because otherwise you’re going to lose details (clipping). See more about why clipping should be prevented and how to easily preview any possible clipping here.
By using the Histogram in the Develop module of Lightroom, you can change the tonal distribution and make fast changes to improve the exposure and contrast of your images. In Lightroom 5, there are 5 tonal ranges: Blacks, Shadows, Exposure, Highlights, and Whites. On the far left, you can access the Blacks, while on the far right there are the Whites.
Here is how you can make your edits:
- Open the photos you intend to edit.
- Click on the Develop module.
- Move the cursor over the tonal range you want to change. It will lighten up a bit and its name will show up below the histogram.
- Click and drag to the left or to the right. If you drag to the left, the tones represented by the selected Histogram region will darken. If you drag to the right, they will brighten.
Note that these tone controls depend on the process version you are working with.
Exposure applies to all process versions: PV2012, PV2010, and PV2003. You can use the exposure control to adjust the overall brightness of the image. The values of the slider are equivalent to the aperture values on your camera.
The other four tonal ranges described here apply to the PV2012 process version.
Highlights can be used to adjust the bright areas. If you drag to the right you will brighten the highlights, while to the left you will be able recover the blown out details.
Whites can be used to alter the white clipping. Just move the slider to the left to minimize the clipping. Dragging to the right will increase the clipping, which might be advantageous only if you want to have some mirror-like effects, for example highlights from metallic surfaces.
Shadows can be used to regulate the darker areas. If you move the slider to the left, it will darken the shadows. Dragging it to the right, you will brighten the shadows and recover shadow details.
Blacks can be used to regulate black clipping. Dragging to the left increases black clipping. Moving the slider to the right reduces the clipping.
Here is one example of using the tonal range sliders:
We will modify the tonal ranges to improve the quality of the photo depicted below. The original photo and the end result look like this:
- The original photo again with the histogram in the inset. You can see that the photo is rather dull and the pixels are bunched up in the central part of the histogram. We are going to correct this.
- Here we have slightly corrected the Expoisure by dragging the slider to the left.
- Next we have increased the Highlights by 98.
- The next step is to correct the Whites. We have moved the slider to the right by 56.
- Then we move the left portion of the histogram. First we correct the Shadows by moving the slider to the left.
- The last step is to decrease the Blacks slider.
Other Editing Tips
There is no right or wrong way to process your image. Experiment and don’t be afraid to try. Everything change you make is reversible and can be undone.
Watch for the possible clipping while working with the Blacks and Whites sliders. Use the clipping indicators as described here.
Take action by deliberately shooting some overexposed or underexposed images and then correct them by following similar steps to the ones we outlined above.