Laura Shoe's Lightroom (and Occasionally Photoshop) Blog for Digital Photographers

Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

A Handy Curves Trick

In Uncategorized on January 29, 2010 at 12:51 am

Curves isn’t exactly intuitive, so Adobe lately has been introducing tools to make it more accessible.  As I mentioned in my “Introduction to Curves” post, the sliders available underneath the curve in Lightroom (and Camera Raw) to adjust brightness of Highlights, Lights, Darks and Shadows are one example of this.   Another example is the targeted adjustment tool, which allows you to select tones you want to brighten or darken by clicking on those tones in your image and dragging up to brighten or down to darken. The tool detects the brightness of the tones underneath where you click, and adjusts those tones throughout your image.    Click on the tool to activate it, then click and drag in your image.   PS or LR will modify (i.e. bend)  the curve to reflect your instruction.    In Photoshop, first create a new Curves adjustment layer (Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Curves.)  Then in the adjustment panel   the tool is the hand with the double arrow:

Photoshop Curves Targetted Adjustment Tool

In Lightroom, it is the small bulls-eye symbol in the Tone Curve Panel:

Lightroom Curves Targetted Adjustment Tool

When you are done, deactivate the tool by hitting the Escape key.

Try it!

Lightroom Workshop January 30-31 — Still Time to Register!

In Uncategorized on January 22, 2010 at 8:48 pm

I still have some spots open for this workshop next weekend in Seattle — I hope you can join us!

Lightroom Fundamentals

Lightroom is Adobe’s image management and enhancement program designed specifically for photographers. With the inclusion in version 2 of the ability to make local image enhancements, Lightroom has become a powerful program which can dramatically increase the efficiency of your workflow. In this two day hands-on workshop, learn the fundamentals, concentrating on the Library and Develop modules where you manage, edit and enhance your images. Learn how to organize, backup, manage, edit and enhance your images, and how to work through large shoots efficiently with collections, presets, and synchronized settings. Discuss where Photoshop or Photoshop elements may still fit in your workflow, and learn how to move between Lightroom and Photoshop or Elements. No prior experience with Lightroom is necessary; limited to 12 students; laptop computer required. $295.

The workshop will be held at the Hampton Inn near Seattle Center, covenient to I-5 and 99.  Parking is free.

Email me with questions or to sign up.

An Introduction to Curves

In Uncategorized on January 22, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Curves is certainly not one of those intuitive features of Photoshop (or Lightroom), or at least that was my perspective when I tried to figure it out on my own before I got formal training. Curves is used to brighten or darken tones in your image, and at a more advanced level, to do color correction work. The best way to use it in PS is with an adjustment layer (Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Curves.) In Lightroom simply go to the Tone Curve panel in the Develop module. The curve will look like this (with different buttons and features around it depending on your software and version).  Photoshop gives you more point-by-point control, so I will begin there.

The Curve Dialog Box Before Any Changes are Made
The Curve Dialog Box Before Any Changes are Made

So how do you read the curve? It is a two-dimensional chart showing tones before and after. Along the bottom (X) axis, you have tones ranging from pure black at the left to pure white at the right. These are the tones  of your image before you make any changes. Along the left side  (Y axis) are the tones, again from pure black to pure white, AFTER your changes to the curve. The diagonal line running bottom left to top right says what change you are making. If you visually run a line straight up from a tone on the x-axis Before to the Curve and then straight over to the left to After, you will see what that tone will be after, as shown below:

Before We Make a Change
Reading the Curve: Before We Make a Change

Of course in this case we haven’t moved the Curve, so there is no change from before to after, all tones are the same.

Let’s put a point at the center of the curve by clicking on it, then hold  and drag  straight up. Now if you follow medium grey up from the Before axis to the Curve and over, you see that it is now a significantly lighter grey, so we have lightened that tone. All other tones in your image have been lightened as well, other than pure black and pure white —  but not by as much as the midtones.  (Note that the histogram has changed in the screen print — it is simply that when I started writing this post I was using one image, than a few months later when I got back to it, I had to choose a different one — so ignore it.)

Brightening an Image with One Point to Raise the Curve

The opposite would happen if you put a point in the middle and you dragged downward — you would darken all tones in the image except pure black and pure white, but the most  darkening would be applied to the midtones.

Darken, Focused on the Midtones

This technique to brighten or darken your image protects you from blowing out your highlights, or blocking up your shadows.  A point in the center moved up or down achieves the same effect as using the Brightness slider in LR or ACR.

You can target the tones you want to affect and protect others — for example, in the following screen print, I brighten the lighter tones, and put two more points on the curve to prevent the midtones and darker tones from brightening as well.  Be careful that you don’t make the curve too abrupt.

Brighten bright tones, Anchor mid tones and dark tones so that they don't changeBrighten lighter tones, Protect midtones and dark tones from brightening

Hint:  If you put a point on the curve that you want to delete, click on it and drag it off the chart.

Adding contrast to your image involves brightening the bright tones and darkening the dark tones.  This is done with a classic S-curve:

A Typical Contrast "S" Curve

Of course you can also reduce contrast in an image, by darkening the bright tones and lightening the dark tones:

Reduce Contrast:  An inverted S Curve

For contrast, points exactly on 1/4 and 3/4 tones, as I demonstrated above, give you the same result as you would get with the Contrast slider in Lightroom.  With the curve though you can make a more conscious choice of which tones to focus on.

Lightroom also allows you to click and drag on the curve to bend it, though visually points aren’t laid down.    However, you don’t get quite the same degree of fine control as you do in Photoshop.  In a way, this is a good thing — Lightroom protects you from yourself by not allowing extreme (and therefore potentially disastrous) curves with many, many points or shifts in direction.  On the other hand, if you know what you’re doing with curves, and want that fine control, you will want to take your images from Lightroom into Photoshop to achieve it.

Lightroom also offers sliders below the tone curve.  This is particularly handy for those who don’t understand the curve itself, but is also a convenience for all of us.   Highlights, Lights, Darks and Shadows by default each represent 25% of tones from black to white.

Lightroom Curve, with Tones Represented by Each Slider Shown

If you want to brighten highlights in your image you can click and drag on the curve, or you can drag the Highlights slider to the right.  If you want to target just the brightest 10% of tones, for example, rather than the brightest 25%, you can narrow the range that the Highlights slider affects by clicking on the triangle slider at the base of the curve diagram (i.e. on the x-axis) and dragging it to the right to redefine “Highlights”, and then drag the Highlights slider to brighten:

Highlights Defined as only the 10% Brightest Tones, Then Brightened with the Highlights Slider

In the same way you can redefine what tones Shadows, Lights and Darks cover.

In Lightroom, I tend to use Brightness and Contrast in the Basics Panel to achieve overall midtone Brightness and Contrast, and then I move to the Tone Curve to finesse any specific tones that need attention — often I use it to dampen down my highlights, or to brighten up deep shadows.

Give it a try!

UPDATE MARCH 2010:  The point curve, previously only available in ACR and Photoshop, has now been introduced in Lightroom 3 Beta 2.  Click HERE for my post on how to access it.

Nikon D3x, D3, D700 and D300s Get Firmware Updates

In Uncategorized on January 13, 2010 at 9:07 pm

See this announcement from if you have one of these cameras.  Links to firmware updates provided.

Striving to Drive to Arrive Alive

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2010 at 11:30 pm

This is SO not Lightroom and Photoshop-related, but I must share this quote I got from Car Talk on PBS this weekend (a bumpersticker I believe) that strikes a chord with me:

HONK if you love Jesus!

TEXT-MESSAGE while driving if you want to meet him!

Sorry for the digression … more Lightroom wisdom coming soon!

Shortcuts Worth Knowing: Zooming In and Out

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2010 at 12:38 am

Sometimes your mouse is a zoom tool, sometimes it isn’t.  Sometimes you have easy acess to your navigator panel, sometimes you don’t.   You can always, however, use “Ctl/CmdCtl/Cmd +” and “Ctl/Cmd -” for zooming in and out.

These work in every view (Grid, Loupe, Compare, Survey) in the Library module and in every mode in the Develop module — even when you are using tools such as the adjustment brush or spot removal tool.  They work in Camera Raw and Photoshop as well.   (True, they don’t work in the output modules in Lightroom, but zooming is not available at all there.)

The first time you apply “Ctl/Cmd +”, the image goes from Fit to Fill, then to 1:1, then to the last  zoom ratio you have set in your navigator panel (e.g. 2:1).   “Ctl/Cmd -” zooms out in the same steps.

Finally, when you are zoomed in, if you hold down the space bar, the cursor becomes the hand tool, so you can click and drag to move around in your image.  Again, this works everywhere in Lightroom and also in Photoshop.

Why do I see my images change after they are imported into Lightroom?

In Uncategorized on January 4, 2010 at 7:24 pm

This is one of the most common questions asked by Lightroom users.  You import your images, see the thumbnails appear, but if you wait a few seconds you notice that the thumbnails change.  The changes can be to tone, contrast, or color.  What gives?

When we photograph with a digital camera, even if we shoot raw files, our camera creates a small jpeg file — this is what we see on the camera LCD screen.  Unlike a raw file, this file is interpreted — it has our camera manufacturer’s interpretation of color applied, as well as any jpeg settings set on your camera — color space, contrast, saturation, noise reduction, sharpening, etc.  None of these settings are applied to your raw files, but they are to the preview jpegs.

Because we prefer instant gratification, when Lightroom is importing images it first shows us these  jpeg thumbnails that our cameras generated.  Then it goes on to render its own jpeg thumbnails, based on the raw file, with Adobe’s interpretation of color, and minus all the settings mentioned above.

To most people I advise:  just don’t look until it is done!  Then you won’t worry about the difference.  I don’t — I accept the Adobe rendering of the raw file as I see it and work from there to make the image look great.

To those that really like the look of their camera’s jpegs and want to replicate the look with their raw files, or work their raw files in a camera manufacturer proprietary raw converter because of this issue, Adobe has provided camera-specific profiles that attempt to match what your various camera settings produce.  In the Develop module, under the Camera Calibration panel, click on the drop-down next to Profile, and choose one of the Camera profiles.  If there is one you want to apply often, consider creating a preset.  If there is one you always want applied to your  images, set it as the new default — change the profile (and nothing else!), then go to Develop> Set Default Settings.  (UPDATE:  In the camera calibration tab you will only see camera profiles for raw files.  Jpegs will only list one “embedded” profile — jpegs have already been “cooked”, so it is too late to change your mind on color rendering.)