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How to Do Basic Exposure Correction on Photos With Lightroom

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Have you ever shot a photo that appeared perfectly exposed on your camera's display, only to be surprised when you view it in Lightroom? Maybe your exposure didn't turn out quite as expected.

Have no fear: In this tutorial, you'll learn to use Adobe Lightroom to correct and adjust exposure.

What is Exposure?

When your camera's shutter opens, light from the scene passes through the lens, exposing the sensor or frame of film with an image. You might even hear a photograph called an exposure.

Depending on the scene, you (or your camera) will choose settings that expose the frame with the right amount of light to create a useful image. A proper exposure accurately lights the scene, with as much detail as possible in both the lightest an darkest parts.

Camera shutter exposure
Whether you're exposing film or a digital sensor, settings like shutter speed, aperture and ISO influence the exposure.

Exposure is rarely perfect. You don't always have time to set your camera precisely to the scene. Thanks to raw processing software like Adobe Lightroom, you can correct exposure later.

There are multiple sliders that help you adjust your exposure. Let's learn about three main ones.

Exposure adjustment sliders
Use these five sliders in the Develop module for precise exposure control.

Two Keys to Better Exposure Adjustments Before You Ever Open Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom is a powerful tool to correct exposure, but before you start working inside the ap  there are two settings that will help you understand and work with exposure.

1. Calibrate Your Monitor 

Think about it: if you've ever adjusted the settings on your monitor, you know that there are many options like brightness, contrast, and color settings. Every monitor is different, and that's why calibration matters to bring it to a neutral target.

Learn more in our course lesson, Monitor Calibration, from our course, From Pixel-Perfect to Print Ready in Photoshop.

2. Shoot in RAW

You probably already know that RAW image files take up more space. That's because they capture more data in the exposure. 

The effect of this is that you'll have more freedom to adjust the exposure with less quality loss. Shooting in RAW means that as you pull the sliders that adjust exposure in the next section, you can recover more detail.

How to Use the Exposure Slider (Without Overcorrecting)

On the surface, using a slider in Adobe Lightroom is simple: just pull on the slider and watch your image adjustment in real-time. Adjustments are "non-destructive," so you can change them as many times as you want with no impact on quality.

To correct exposure, find the Exposure slider in the Develop module. It's near the top of the Basic panel. As is the case with many sliders, it's as easy as dragging it to adjust your image.

Pulling the slider to the left will decrease the exposure, giving the image a darker look. Pull the slider to the right to increase exposure and increase the brightness.

Exposure adjustments image
Pull the exposure slider to the left to decrease the brightness of an image or pull the same slider to the right to increase brightness.

Exposure is an easy adjustment to apply. But, the exposure slider can be difficult to judge. Let's look at two tips to master exposure adjustments.

How to Use Clipping Indicators 

So, how do you know when you've applied too much exposure correction? There's a helpful indicator called clipping that helps you monitor your corrections.

Clipping occurs when your image loses data in the highlights and shadows. As you pull the slider too far to the left, your image will eventually lose detail in the shadows. The reverse is true for the highlights.

Turn on clipping by clicking on the two icons in the corner of the histogram in the Develop module. The icon on the left will help you monitor clipping your shadows, while the clipping indicator on the right helps monitor your highlights.

Clipping indicators
Clipping indicators indicate overexposed areas in red and underexposed areas in blue.

As you begin to drag the exposure slider with the clipping indicators turned on, be on the lookout for two visual indicators. When your image shows bright areas, you've lost detail to the highlights. Blue areas mean that you've lost detail to shadows.

It's also important to note that exposure adjustment is part science and part art. It's okay to have parts of the image that are lost in the shadows or bright. Use clipping indicators as guides, but don't be afraid to adust exposure to your liking even if details are lost.

Using the Histogram

If you don't have a perfectly calibrated monitor or trained eye for exposure, there's a tool that really comes in handy. It's called the histogram, and you've probably seen it in the upper right corner of the Develop module.

The histogram is a graph that represents how the tones of light in your image. The shape of the histogram helps you judge the exposure in a more technical way. You can even click on the histogram and drag it to adjust exposure in Adobe Lightroom.

Check out our tutorial to learn more about using the histogram to understand your exposure.

Four Sliders for Advanced Exposure Adjustments

The exposure slider controls the entire frame. For more precise controls, you can turn to two additional sliders in the Develop module. 

Let's take a brief look at two additional for more advanced controls. You'll see that they each have a place in precise exposure control. 

Whites

The Whites slider controls the white point of an image. Think of it as a slider that sets the reference "white" point of an image, or the brightest point of an image. 

By pulling on the whites slider, you're telling Lightroom to re-interpret the whitest point of an image. Shifting the whites slider will set a brighter or darker point to interpret white tones in your image.

See an example of adjusting the whites slider below. Look at the face of the building, especially:

Whites adjustment
Adjusting the whites slider dramatically shifts the way Lightroom interprets the brightest point of this image.

Blacks

While the "whites" slider adjusts the white point of an image, the Blacks slider re-interprets the black point of an image. With a shift to this slider, you're telling Lightroom to rethink the darkest point of the image.

See an example of adjusting the blacks slider below. The blacks are a little bit crushed on hte left, but OK in the middle, and more readable on the right:

Blacks adjustment
Set the blacks slider in Lightroom to adjust the "black point" of an image, the reference point for the darkest point of the image.

Creative Adjustments for Images in Adobe Lightroom

This tutorial focused on adjusting images to a neutral place by applying Lightroom corrections. I'm sure that you're thinking now about getting more creative by applying stylistic adjustments.

Lightroom can be frustrating for beginners: You know that the app can do everything, but getting the sliders to create the look you want is tough without experience.

Seasoned photographers share their settings through Lightroom presets. One click applies all of the settings to your image with the help of a preset. The best source for Lightroom presets is Envato Elements, an all-you-can-download creative library.

Elements Lightroom presets
Use Envato Elements for all-you-can-download creative assets, including Adobe Lightroom presets.

For a single flat rate, you can source thousands of quality-controlled Adobe Lightroom presets. Here are three preset packs you'll unlock when you join Envato Elements.

1. Autumn Lightroom Presets

Cooler, crisp days are upon us. There's a certain mood and feel that's associated with Autumn, and these presets capture it perfectly. Apply it to your favorite photos of the season for one-click nostalgia.

2. 20 Sun Faded Lightroom Presets and LUTs

With just a bit of fade, these presets are sure to inspire memories of the summer. Ideal to highlight a vacation or travel photos, there are 20 looks that give your images a warm tinted yet nostalgic feel.

Sun faded Lightroom presets

3. 20 Editorial Lightroom Presets & LUTs

For crispy and contrasty photos, this Lightroom preset package is the perfect option. There are over 20 options included for eye-catching images that would feel right at home on a centerfold. Use these for the photo in the spotlight.

Editorial Lightroom presets

More Adobe Lightroom Resources

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