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How to Adjust the Shadows in Photos Using Lightroom Classic

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Read Time: 3 min

The Shadows adjustment in Lightroom Classic is an extremely versatile tool. It can bring back some information in a slightly too dark image, or the opposite, it can push some areas of a dark image even darker. In this tutorial, we're going to unpack the Shadows adjustment and learn how and what happens to our photos when we use this Lightroom slider.

What's the Difference Between Shadows and Blacks?

It would be easy to think these two adjustments are interchangeable - but understanding the differences between them is important to getting the most out of your edit.

The Blacks in your photos are the areas with no brightness, aka with no information. Conversely, the Shadows in your photos are the dark areas of your photos that still retain information. Most cameras prioritize not over-exposing the highluhgts, which means it is difficult to nail your Shadows and Blacks straight out of camera, so learning to use this Lightroom adjustments is useful.

  • Shadowsadjusts the dark that are not true black. Negative values bring them closer to pure black for a darker image. Positive values open up the information to reveal more detail.
  • Blacks – sets the black point, the darkest point the image. Negative values for darker blacks, increased contrast, and reduced information. Positive values for washed out blacks, decreased contrast.

The differences between these two adjustments become very apparent when we take at the extremes of these adjustments. Let's take a look:

Shadows -100 (left) –– Shadows +100 (right)
Blacks -100 (left) –– Blacks +100 (right)

Can you spot the similarities? Do you see the differences? The +100 Shadows and +100 Blacks adjustments look quite similar to my eye, while the -100 Shadows and -100 Blacks adjustments have a very different feel. Let's zoom in on the Histogram to better understand exactly what's going on here. 

Shadows -100 (left) –– Blacks -100 (right)

Notice how the entire tonality range of the -100 Shadows adjustment (left) is contained within the Histogram. Even with this extreme adjustment, the black point never reaches pure black. In contrast, the blacks on the -100 Blacks adjustment (right) are completely blocked up. This creates a much bigger contrast range, and pushes a lot of information out of the photo.

While this example is quite extreme with the adjustments, this illustrates how the two sliders differ, and how you can these tools to your advantage.

I hope this has helped you better understand the Shadows and Blacks adjustments in Lightroom Classic. Consider their strengths, and try to make an effective decision for which tool is most appropriate in your next photo edit. 

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