Exposure correction is a pivotal part of the photographic post-production process. A properly exposed frame highlights the best of your image's details, hues, and subject. Reality, though, is that our exposures aren't always perfect, and most pictures need a little exposure correction. Even in atechnically properly exposed frame, you will probably need to adjust exposure on the way to achieve the look you want.
Thanks to Lightroom, there are many tools to take a RAW image and perfect all your pictures. In this tutorial, you'll learn the art of perfecting exposure adjustments photographs using Lightroom Classic.
Exposure Basics: Read This First
This tutorial is designed to dive deeper into the art of exposure correction. This is one of the best competencies to build as you bring about your vision for your images. If you're new to Lightroom, we recommend checking out some of our introductory material on exposure correction to get up to speed with the correction steps:
- How to Do Basic Exposure Correction on Photos With Lightroom — this is the perfect beginners' guide, you'll get the essentials of exposure correction.
- How to Adjust Contrast in Photos With Highlight and Shadow Controls in Lightroom — the highlight and shadow controls give you more dimensions to control exposure carefully. Learn how with this tutorial.
- How to Correct Tone and Contrast in Photos With Lightroom Classic — contrast describes the difference in exposure between highlights and shadows. Learn how to correct it in this tutorial.
To recap, the basic idea with exposure correction is that you want to adjust the overall lightness or darkness of an image so that it is both easier to see what going on and create a flexible base for your next corrections and later creative edits.
Exposure correction usually happens in at least two stages, with a basic rough correction first and a fine-tune later in the process. The desired outcome of basic exposure correction is an image that's not-too-anything: neutral, easily readable, with separation between different tones and no crushed blacks or blown-out whites. The desired outcome with fine-tuning exposure is an photo that is a more nuanced exposure that is balanced to accentuate or hide the features or aspects of the image that you want to emphasize or de-emphasize.
For this tutorial I'm going to assume you've read out previous tutorial on the basics or know the gist of it already and have some rough-corrected images to work with. In this tutorial, we focus on three more advanced topics that help you fine-tune exposure:
- How to carefully use indicators for fast, repeatable exposure correction
- How to modify the luminosity of specific hues
- How to use the adjustment brush to modify exposure on an image region
With these three extra skills in your correction toolbelt, I'm confident that you'll have everything you need for great edits. Let's learn these techniques!
How to Use The Histogram For Precise Global Tone Corrections
Exposure is equal parts art and science. On the one hand it is subjective: you decide how a finished image "should" appear. On the other there are also cut-and-dry technical limitations and indicators that can help you dial in your image in a clean, clear, repeatable way.
A great example of this is leaning on the histogram to adjust exposure. The histogram is a handy graphed representation of your exposure; you'll see it on your camera when you capture a frame, and also inside Lightroom in the Develop module.
The shape of the histogram actually describes the exposure. A histogram that's tilted with more of the graph to the left is often-times underexposed, while a histogram weighted to the right is more likely overexposed. "Just-right" exposures are often even-weighted with the graph tallest in the middle, though it depends on the scene.
Point-and-click Exposure Corrections
Here's one of my favorite hidden features: you can point-and-click on the histogram to adjust exposure.
If you grab the middle part of the histogram, you'll adjust the entire exposure as you drag it. The edges of the histogram adjust the shadows and highlights, respectively. That's it! It's a fast visual way to adjust exposure that helps you really dial in your settings.
I've found that in the rough-correction stage you can more or less ignore your image and use the graph directly. You don't actually need to bring all of the tones to the middle of the histogram, it's enough to click-and-drag the histogram just to the point where the clipping indicators (the little triangles) are no longer lit up. This brings the image to a correct-enough stage to move on to your next basic corrections, usually white balance and mild corrections to contrast and saturation.
After those corrections are done, come back and refine the exposure again. Now you can work more subjectively, using your perception of the image. As before, click and drag a tone-zone on the histogram. This time, though, don't look at the histogram, look at the image as you gently pull parts of the histogram left and right to adjust the photo to your tastes a little more.
Once you have the image looking closer to how you want it, make your final fine-tuning exposure adjustments using the sliders. Sliding the controls can be a bit cumbersome at this stage, so to get precision click into the number box and then use up and down on your keyboard to adjust the values.
How to Adjust Luminosity of Specific Hues
Camera sensors can be a bit quirky in how they capture and render certain hues. Working with hues can help you compensate for those idiosyncrasies.
Precise control is all about changing part of an image without negatively impacting the entire frame. A great way to do that is by controlling exposure for specific hues. Imagine adjusting the brightness of the blues in a frame, for example. With the help of the HSL / Color panel, you can do just that. Controling each hue's exposure independently can give you very precise adjustments.
Take a moment to assess the image and the hues throughout the frame. Think about if there's a specific hue that doesn't feel quite right in terms of exposure.
How to Use the Adjustment Brush to Modify Exposure in a Specific Region
Again, let's go back to a central theme: fine-tuning exposure is all about balance, modifying parts of an image so that they bring out the best in the entire image. That's why the Adjustment Brush might just be the most powerful tool for fine-tuning exposure. Let's learn how to use it, specifically to modify exposure in an area.
In the Develop module, start by finding the adjustment brush tool. It's just below the Histogram. Click on it to open up the settings below.
Before you begin to dial in the exposure adjustments, start by brushing on a mask. This selects the area of the image to modify. Press the O key on your keyboard to turn on masking. As you brush over the parts of the frame you wish to change, you'll see a reddish-pink overlay. This is just an indicator of what you've selected.
Keep these tips in mind while masking:
- Your selection doesn't have to be perfect, especially when making moderate adjustments.
- To make the mask even more forgiving, turn up the Feather setting on the Brush settings for a softer edge on the adjustment area.
- Use the Flow setting to control the amount of adjustment you apply as well. A lower setting means you won't totally mask an area; imagine it almost like how much ink you want coming out of the well while making a selection.
After you apply the mask, you're ready to dial in the settings. Use the same sliders you learned in our other tutorials—exposure, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks—to adjust part of an image. Of course, you'll want to toggle your mask off by pressing O when finished.
Want to create a second adjustment, maybe to modify a different region of the image? No problem. Click on the B setting on the Brush area to create a second Adjustment Brush, independent with its own settings.
The Adjustment Brush means that you don't have to pull "one size fits all" exposure adjustments. Apply a mask, dial in your settings, and you're on your way to precise adjustments.
One-Click Creative Styles for Adobe Lightroom
Correction is one thing, creativity is another. So far, we've focused on correcting images in neutral ways in this tutorial.
When you're ready to get more creative with your image adjustments, it helps to learn from the professionals. By far, the best way to do that is by following the lead of others by using Adobe Lightroom presets from Envato Elements. It's the best way to style your images in Adobe Lightroom.
With one click, you transform your images. It automatically pulls the sliders to the proper positions to take advantage of the editing expertise of pro photographers.
On Elements, you unlock every preset for a flat rate. It's the best, most cost-effective way to style your images. Let's look at just three of the best preset packs you'll unlock when you join Envato Elements.
There's really no limit to the amount of black-and-white looks you can create in Adobe Lightroom. This preset package highlights that perfectly with 10 presets that take your photos to a desaturated look. Still, you'll create images full of drama and contrast.
With a flat matte look in these presets, you have a filmic set of looks at your disposal. You can easily imagine using these presets to create a great set of journalistic photos where the subjects speak for themselves.
Duotones apply two-color tints to your image. It only takes one click to apply each of these 20 styles to your images. It's one of the best ways to get totally creative with your images with almost no work required.
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