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How to Understand and Use the Lightroom Histogram

by on Dec.17, 2016, under Post Production

The histogram in Lightroom is a useful tool that is easily overlooked. Its main purpose is to help you understand the relationship between the sliders in the Basic panel and the tones in your photos. It helps you get brightness levels spot on and edit images without losing highlight detail.

Where is the Lightroom histogram?

The histogram is found in two places, at the top of the right-hand panels in both the Library and Develop modules. In the Library module, it helps you see what is happening to your image when you make adjustments in the Quick Develop panel. You also need it in the Develop module so you can see how any adjustments you make during post-processing affect the histogram.

The Lightroom histogram

What does the LR histogram tell you?

The histogram tells you whether you have any clipped highlights or shadows. It also tells you how much contrast the photo has. This information lets you decide whether you need to adjust exposure and contrast. It also tells you whether the original photo was over or underexposed. The histogram changes as you move sliders around in the Basic panel, so you can immediately see the effect.

Important: Please note that the following features work with the Develop module histogram, but not the Library module histogram.

How to check for clipping

Clipping is indicated by the Show Shadow Clipping and Show Highlight Clipping triangular icons in the top left and right (circled below). Use the keyboard shortcut key J to show and hide clipping.

The Lightroom histogram clipping

In this histogram, the Show Shadow Clipping icon is colored white to show that the image contains clipped shadows (this is perfectly normal in many images and nothing to worry about).

If you click on (or hover over) the Show Shadow Clipping icon, those clipped shadows are shown in blue in the photo.

The Lightroom histogram clipped shadows

The Show Highlight Clipping icon on the right is colored gray to indicate that there are no highlights clipping. This is a good sign, as most photographers expose to preserve highlight detail.

The Clipping icons also come in useful to indicate if you are losing detail in the highlights or shadows as a result of making adjustments in the Basic panel.

If I set Exposure to +1.00 for this particular image, the histogram tells me that I have lost detail in the sky. The Show Highlight Clipping icon is colored white to indicate this. If you click the icon, clipped highlights are displayed in red in the image. You can see from the screenshot that only a small part of the sky is clipped. This may not be important, but it indicates that perhaps I increased the Exposure too much.

The Lightroom histogram clipped highlights

If I set Highlights to -100 the detail comes back in the sky and there is no clipping. Notice how the histogram has changed from above to the one below.

The Lightroom histogram

This simple example shows you how you can push sliders around, using the histogram to make sure that you don’t lose highlight or shadow detail.

The histogram and underexposure

If there is a gap on the right side of the histogram it probably indicates that the image was underexposed (an exception would be if the photo has lots of dark tones but few light ones – like a photo of a black cat sitting on a black rug).

Here’s an extreme example. The photo generating this histogram was underexposed by over a stop.

The Lightroom histogram underexposed image

A look at the photo confirms the histogram is correct and that it is underexposed (too dark).

The Lightroom histogram

While it is best to get the exposure right in the first place, you can fix this by moving the Exposure slider to the right. As you do so, the histogram also moves to the right. The Exposure slider is quite clever and increases brightness mostly in the mid-tones to prevent highlight clipping. You may be able to push it a long way to the right without losing any highlight detail.

Here, I set Exposure to +1.6, and the histogram looks much better.

The Lightroom histogram

This is what the photo itself looks like after that simple adjustment. Now it is ready for further refinement.

The Lightroom histogram

If you see a gap on the right side of the histogram yet the brightness of the photo looks okay to your eye, it could be a sign that the brightness of your monitor is set too high. If this is the case, you will find your photos look dark when printed or viewed on other people’s monitors. Ideally, you want to calibrate your monitor to be the correct brightness.

The histogram and contrast

If the histogram is bunched together and doesn’t cover the entire range of the graph this indicates that the photo has low contrast. This is most likely to happen when shooting in flat light.

Here’s a histogram that demonstrates this.

The Lightroom histogram low contrast

The histogram belongs to a black and white photo taken on a cloudy day in warm and humid conditions. The spray coming from the sea reduced the contrast of the scene, resulting in a very flat image.

The Lightroom histogram

I used the Tone sliders to increase contrast and stretch the histogram so that it filled the space available. The histogram acted as a guide that told me exactly what was wrong with the image and helped me add the contrast back into the photo that it lacked.

The Lightroom histogram contrast adjusted

The histogram and the Tone sliders

There are five zones in the Lightroom histogram.

When you move the mouse over the Exposure, Highlights, Shadows, Whites or Blacks sliders in the Basic panel the zone that is affected by that slider is shown in light gray in the histogram. I’ve added red lines to make it clear where each zone falls.


The same zones are shown when you move the mouse over the histogram itself. The name of the slider that controls the tones in that part of the histogram is displayed underneath.

This diagram (right) shows the zone that corresponds to the Shadows slider.lightroom-histogram-sliders


When you see the icon with the two arrows (circled in green), hold the left mouse button down and move side to side to adjust move the Shadows slider left or right. The histogram will change as you do so. This technique gives you control over the Tone sliders from the histogram itself.

Each slider controls a particular zone, but bear in mind that those adjustments also make changes in the other zones. Don’t worry if this sounds complicated – it will make perfect sense once you try it out for yourself. The key is to practice, and you will soon understand the relationship between the Tone sliders and the histogram.

Luminance and color histograms

If you’re processing a color photo you’ll notice part of the histogram is colored. Lightroom is actually showing you four histograms in one. On top is the luminance histogram, shown in gray. This shows brightness values only and has nothing to do with color. This is similar to the luminance histogram on your camera. The other three histograms are colored red, green and blue and correspond to the color channels in the image (some cameras also show these histograms).

You’ll also see some additional colors (like yellow) where the red, green and blue histograms overlap.

Saturation and the histogram

The color controls in the Basic panel affect the color histograms. The easiest way to show you is by demonstrating how the Saturation slider affects the color histograms. Here is a histogram belonging to a color photo, with Saturation set to zero.

The Lightroom histogram

This is what happened when I set Saturation to +100. Increasing Saturation means that the colors are stronger. The result is that the peaks of the color histograms are higher.

The Lightroom histogram

You’ll also notice that the Shadow Clipping icon (on the left) has turned magenta, and that the Highlight Clipping icon (on the right) has turned blue. These indicate that there is clipping in the shadows, but only in magenta hues, and that there is clipping in the highlights, but only in the blue channel.

This is an extreme example because in real life you will never increase Saturation to +100. But there may be times when you make adjustments that clip colors rather than brightness values. It probably doesn’t matter in images viewed on a computer screen, but it may do with images that are printed on paper or reproduced in a book or magazine.

Finally, when I move the Saturation slider to -100, which removes all color from the photo, the color histograms disappear and we are just left with the luminance histogram. This is a useful tip if you would ever like to see the luminance histogram by itself.

The Lightroom histogram


That concludes our overview of the histogram in Lightroom. Hopefully, you can see what a useful tool it is for processing photos in Lightroom. If you have any questions about the histogram, please let me know in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this article and woudl like to learn more about Lightroom then please check out my Mastering Lightroom ebooks.

The post How to Understand and Use the Lightroom Histogram by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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303 Professional Lightroom Presets – Over 67% off!

by on Dec.16, 2016, under Post Production

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The post 303 Professional Lightroom Presets – Over 67% off! by Darren Rowse appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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My 3 Go-To Adjustment Layers in Photoshop

by on Dec.13, 2016, under Post Production

When making any adjustments to an image in Photoshop, non-destructive editing is key. Using adjustment layers is one step in a non-destructive editing workflow. In Photoshop (CS 6), there are 16 Adjustment Layers. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on three of my favorite.

  • Levels
  • Selective Color
  • Gradient Map

First – how NOT to do it

For example if you want to apply some tonal contrast to an image. You can use the Levels Adjustment.


I applied the Gradient Map Adjustment Layer to colorize this image. I used Selenium2 from the Photographic Toning Presets.

With Photoshop open, go to the Option bar at the top, select Image>Adjustments>Levels. A Level pop-up dialog box appears and you can then make your adjustments using the Shadows, Mid-tone, and Highlight sliders, just under the histogram.


The Levels Dialog box as accessed via Image>Adjustments. This method is not adding an adjustment layer but altering the pixel information directly on the image itself.

Please DO NOT use this method. Once you click that OK button and continue (unless you press Cltr/Cmd+Z) you are effectively working destructively and altering the pixel information to your image permanently! You will lose information you cannot get back later.

Benefit of using Adjustment Layers

This is where Adjustment Layers come into their own and are simply brilliant. An adjustment layer applies color and tonal adjustments to your image without permanently changing pixel values.

With Adjustment Layers, you are working on a separate layer above the image. So that you are not working directly on the image itself. Any edits that you make happen on this separate layer only and they can be altered, duplicated, or deleted at any time and your original image remains unaltered and intact.

Let’s begin with the Levels Adjustment

The Levels Adjustment is probably the most commonly used in order to enhance your image. It modifies the tonal values in an image by adjusting the brightness levels of the shadows, midtones, and highlights independently. This is essentially what gives contrast to your image.


Accessing the Levels via Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels.

How to apply an Adjustment Layer

Open Photoshop an do one of the following:

  • Choose Window>Adjustments and click on the second icon on the top row.
  • Click the New Adjustment Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel, and choose an adjustment layer type.
  • Choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels. Name the layer if you wish (or leave it called “Levels”) and click OK.

Note: Adding Adjustment Layers will increase your overall file size.

Contrast is the difference in brightness between the light and dark areas of an image. Let’s take a look at the Levels dialog box. Under the histogram, you have three sliders that represent the Shadows on the left (0 represents all dark or pure black pixels) the mid-tones in the centre and highlights on the right (255 represents all light or pure white pixels).

The Levels Dialog Box

The Levels Dialog Box


The three sliders circled are the Shadows on the left, Mid-tones in the middle and Highlights on the right.

In the image below, I moved the highlights slider in towards the left and the Shadows more to the right. Straight away, you can see the overall image has been improved by adding some contrast.

unedited image

Image before any tonal contrast was applied.


Contrast applied to the image using Levels.

There are also some presets that you can use. It is worth trying them out, especially if you are new to Adjustment Layers and you want to learn. Just return to the default option if you’re not happy with the results and begin again.


By clicking on the drop-down, a menu appears with the available Levels presets.

Color correcting using Levels

You can also use the Levels Adjustment to color correct your image by going into the the different RGB channels. Personally, I feel the Curves Adjustment is better option for fine-tuning each of the color channels. However, staying with the Levels Adjustment, you can add color and tonal adjustments by using the three eyedropper tools that represent the black, gray and the white points of your image.

Mark the black and white parts of the image

Starting with the Blacks, click on the Shadows slider while holding down the Alt key, and drag it to the right. You’ll see your image turn completely white. Then slowly drag it back to the left until you start seeing black areas in your image. Stop dragging once you see some black areas appear. These are the darkest parts of the image (the shadows), so you know you will have pure black.

Go up to the Tool Bar and select the Color Sample Tool. This is located under the Eyedropper Tool in the fly out menu. Click on the darkest part of the image. It will leave a marker with the number 1.


The marker1 is showing where the darkest part of the image is.

Now for the Whites, again similar to above, click on the Highlights slider while holding down Alt, and drag to the left. The image will turn black, slowly drag it back to the right until you see white areas appear on the image. Stop dragging once the white areas appear. This is the lightest areas in your image (the highlights). Again, select the Color Sample Tool. Click on the lightest part of the image. It will leave a marker with the number 2.


Marker 2 is illustrating the whitest part of the image.

Adjust tones and color using Levels eyedroppers

Now Click on the black point eyedropper (circled below) in the Levels dialog box, it’s the first one at the top. Go over to the image and click on Marker 1. Select the white point eyedropper (circled below) in the Levels window, it’s the bottom one, and click on Marker 2 on the image. Now the color and tonal areas of your image have been easily adjusted.


Color and tonal adjustments made using Levels.

#2 Selective Color

This brings me on to the next Adjustment Layer, Selective Color. This is a fantastic adjustment tool for color, especially where skin tones are required. You can really get a more accurate result by simply adjusting the individual sliders to the right or left for each of the colors and seeing the effect as you go. It’s that easy.


Here’s the image before I applied the Selective Color Adjustment. I wanted to make the colours pop without affecting the skin tone.

selective-colorOpen a Selective Color adjustment layer the same way you did for Levels by doing one of the following.

  • Choose Window>Adjustments and click on the second last icon on the bottom row.
  • Click the New Adjustment Layer button at the bottom of the Layers panel, and choose Selective Color layer type.
  • Choose Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Selective Color. Name the layer if you wish, and click OK.

You will see a box like this (screenshot to the right). Play with the sliders until you get the effect you desire. You can change from red to a different color by clicking the “Colors” pull-down menu and adjusting each separately.



Here’s the image after I applied the Selective Color Adjustment.

#3 Gradient Map

Last but not least, my third favorite, the Gradient Map Adjustment Layer. Gradient maps convert your image to grayscale and then replace the range of black, gray, and white tones with a gradient of your choice, in effect colorizing your image. You can use two or more colors. Some really wild effects and so many different possibilities are available with this tool.

Add a Gradient Map adjustment layer as you did with Levels and Selective Color.

The Gradient Map Adjustment comes with some amazing presets. The Photographic Toning presets are impressive and definitely worth trying out.


Hook Lighthouse, Wexford, Ireland.


Photographic toning Gradient map presets

If you do not see these options you can load more presets. Click on the down arrow next to the gradient, then click the little gear icon to get a pull down menu with more presets you can load. Select “Photographic Toning”.


It will ask you if you want to replace or append. Click OK to replace all the existing presets, or click Append to add them. Add as many of the presets from that pull-down list as you like, or swap them out by clicking OK to keep the selection smaller.



You can choose any colours or presets to create some really interesting colour effects.

You can also reverse the gradients, and adjust the opacity of the layer as well as the blending mode for even more options.

Your turn

Do you use Adjustment Layers in Photoshop? What are your favorites? Please leave a comment in the section below.

The post My 3 Go-To Adjustment Layers in Photoshop by Sarah Hipwell appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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