Lightroom Tip: Adjust Your Exposure Using The Histogram

If you are using Adobe Lightroom 3.0, you know it’s a pretty powerful program.  But just like every software package, there are always some seemingly hidden short cuts to help speed up your work flow.  Most of us adjust the exposure of our photos in the Develop Module using the sliders found in the Basic group.  But did you know you can do some of the same tasks by directly modifying your histogram?

For this example I’ll be using an aerial photo I took of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, the new home of the Philadelphia Phillies.  If this photos looks like a model, well that’s good because I processed it with a tilt shift effect in photoshop. 

Click the photo for a larger image.
The area we are going to focus on is the area marked with the red oval.  This is the histogram and the Basic Tools group.  The specific tools that we will be discussing are the Blacks, Fill Light, Exposure, and Recovery.  These are found as sliders just under the  White Balance section.  Here is a larger view of that area.  If you look closely at the histogram, you will see that it is divided into four sections.  Each section is represented by one of the slider controls that I mentioned above.  When you adjust the slider it adjusts the histogram accordingly.  But did you know that you can just as easily adjust the values directly on the histogram?  Take your mouse and hover over different areas on the histogram and you will see.  When you hover the mouse over the histogram, the section that you are hovering over will change to a lighter grey color.  You will also see that the location to the bottom left just under the histogram will also change.  This location usually displays the ISO value of the photo but when you hover the mouse over the histogram, the ISO value is replaced with the name of the Basic Tool that will affect the highlighted area.  This first example shows the “Blacks” area.  And here are some photos of the rest.

As you can see, there is a section of the histogram for each of the four main sliders that will control your exposure.  By clicking on the histogram in the area where you want to make an adjustment you can just click and drag the mouse to the right or left to change the histogram.  This will also change the values of the corresponding sliders.  If you are a “visual” person perhaps this will make adjusting your photos a bit more easy and intuitive.  Another cool feature is that you can activate a clipping mask when adjusting the Blacks and the Recovery areas of the histogram.  To activate the clipping mask just press and hold the Alt key (Option on a Mac) before clicking on the Blacks area or the Recovery area.  You can then adjust the amount of clipping and get a pretty easy to see visual from the computer while doing so.  Here is a sample of the clipping mask using the Blacks.  In this sample I turned up the Blacks to +17 so you could see the result.  As with all the sample photos, clicking on the sample will bring you to a larger image.  This clipping mask isn’t just limited to adjustments made from the histogram.  If you hold down the Alt key (Option on a Mac) and click the Blacks or Recovery slider you will also get to use this helpful tool.  I hope you found this tip useful.  If so please leave a comment.  Thanks for reading  :)

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3 Responses to Lightroom Tip: Adjust Your Exposure Using The Histogram

  1. Melissa says:

    Love this, thank you so much for sharing it with us :)

  2. Hemant says:

    Scott, your expertise and kindness are much appreciated. Hemant.

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