16 Replies Latest reply on Jun 13, 2012 4:46 PM by areohbee

    Start an adjustment with Whites and Blacks?


      Martin Evening in CS6 for Photographers recommends adjusting an image using Exposure, Contrast, then fine tune with Highlights and Shadow. Says use Whites and Blacks only if necessary. Julieanne Kost has a pithy video on ACR in which she starts by setting Whites and Blacks (which harkens back to Bruce Fraser/Real World Photoshop advice using Levels in Photoshop). http://tv.adobe.com/watch/photoshop-cs6-featuretour/adobe-camera-raw-70-in-photoshop-cs6/


      I know I can see what works best for an image, etc. Wondering what is the recommended procedure.

        • 1. Re: Start an adjustment with Whites and Blacks?
          areohbee Level 6

          I could write reams about this. Already have actually.


          I'm gonna keeps this short though (for me), and let someone else take a better stab.


          It's wrong to think of PV2012 controls as being anything like those of other editors.


          The bottom line: give the photo the adjustments that it needs, regardless of which you start with.


          So perhaps a better question is: How does one know what adjustments a photo needs in PV2012?


          (I caution people against trying to come up with a single procedure that will work for all photos)


          That's all for now.


          OK, maybe one quicky:


          Regardless of what you start out with, try keeping highlights 0 or negative, shadows 0 or positive, and shadows value exactly equal to highlights value. Once you've got the photo in the ballpark that way, regardless of how you juggled exposure & whites..., then, and only then, consider skewed values for highlights and shadows.


          Warning: this "formula" works on 90+% of photos, not 100 percent. Or it could be 0% (or 100%) depending on what you shoot...


          OK, I can't resist:


          Most photos can be edited this way:

          * Exposure most critical adjustment

          * Use -highlights for containing the top end

          * Use +shadows for normalizing the bottom end

          * Contrast to taste.

          * -blacks & +whites to fully utilize tonal range available.


          But at the other extreme there are these:

          * Exposure always critical, but

          * highlights and shadows sliders don't hit the sweet spots: leave at zero.

          * Use -whites & +blacks for recovery & fill, respectively.

          * You may very well have to boost contrast, despite being an overly contrasty image to begin with. Or, not...


          And then there are a whole host of photos that sit somewhere in between...


          Confusing? Yeah. PV2012 is awesome, but tricky, and requires a whole different way of thinking, and a flexible "procedure"...


          Note: highlights slider goes positive, and shadows slider goes negative too, independently of highlights slider, for a reason. But using them in that way should be reserved for unusual raw cases, or for tweaking already baked jpegs, or you really know what you are doing and why you are doing it...


          One final critical note: Exposure in PV2012 primarily defines midtone level, which is why it's the most critical: contrast, highlights, shadows, all hinge upon an appropriate setting of exposure.


          Blacks & whites adjustment are arguably the biggest keys to optimal adjustment in PV2012, but they are harder to nail down, because their optimal adjustment depends very much on the photo, but perhaps one rule of thumb to be broken:


          * -blacks & +whites if possible, for punchy full histogram photos...

          * +blacks & -whites if tones tend to gang up at the extreme endpoints of the histo, such that highlights & shadows adjustment don't get it... (or you prefer the softer look that can come from it, or whatever...).


          Disclaimer: Much of this is a personal thing, and different people probably find different things that work best for them...


          PS - Don't forget the tone curve & locals after basic adjustment (can be done during too, but that is not recommended until you've gained sufficient experience).


          Lr4/PV2012 ,


          • 2. Re: Start an adjustment with Whites and Blacks?
            bmad2012 Level 1

            Thank you Rob Cole. That is exactly the thoughts I was looking for. Tempting to start with Blacks and Whites - easy to set the endpoints.

            BTW I have found the local brush adjustment getting quite sluggish in ACR 7.1 PV2012 after I have made a number of local brush adjustments. Maybe it's my imagination - I notice it when I have set the mask to show - which reveals how quickly ACR keeps up with brush stroke. In Photoshop CS6 itself I have not noticed any sluggish behavior, so I do not think it is a driver issue. Not a RAM issue as I have 16GB of installed RAM, and only using 3G/10.2G.

            • 3. Re: Start an adjustment with Whites and Blacks?
              areohbee Level 6

              Hi bmad,


              Nothing wrong with taking a stab at blacks & whites fairly early on, in my opinion, just beware that these controls, like all PV2012 controls, have "personalities".


              For example,


              -blacks will stretch the black point leftward, at first, but then doesn't cram it too hard, if you keep going...

              and +blacks will not dislodge the black point no matter how hard you push it, unless...




              +whites will usually stretch the histogram all the way to the clipping point, then gradually into clipping, but not always, sometimes it stops shy and bunches the tones up shy.

              -whites will not dislodge the white point, necessarily, except sometimes it does...


              The PV2012 sliders are:


              * intelligent

              * behave differently from image to image.

              * behave differently depending on other settings in same image.


              You need to be as flexible with PV2012 as PV2012 is with your images.


              So, it's dangerous to think of whites/blacks sliders as "setting the white/black points", like moving the end-point triangles in a levels & curves tool - conceptually kin perhaps, but some important differences.


              That said, it's not uncommon for me to:

              * Set exposure first, in conjunction with whites slider.

              * And at least consider contrast briefly, and adjust it roughly (ditto for highlights/shadows).

              * Adjust blacks slider.

              * maybe revisit exposure/whites.

              * fine tune contrast and highlights/shadows.


              But I'm hesitant to recommend that always, because that's for a normal photograph where fairly normal results are desired.


              As I alluded to previously, some photos need a more precarious balance of highlights & whites sliders / blacks & shadows... and sometimes all bets are off...


              One thing's for sure, one absolutely must get overall exposure (via Exposure, Whites, & Blacks) set before one can finish with contrast, highlights, & shadows, because these sliders behaviors are heavily dependent on overall exposure. Trying to do too much with highlights & shadows before overall exposure is set is a mistake. On the other hand, sometimes rough setting of contrast, highlights, & shadows is required before you can be sure how much exposure you want... So, sometimes a multi-pass iterative approach can be the quickest overall.


              In some ways, it's like a rubic's cube at first, but after enough practice, it becomes far more intuitive and quick. At this point, I can usually adjust most photos to "near" perfection in a matter of seconds. Others are more problematic and can still take several minutes, or even hours...




              • 4. Re: Start an adjustment with Whites and Blacks?
                bmad2012 Level 1

                Thanks again. I think Adobe needs to add some explanatory material. I liked the Julieanne Kost video Adobe Camera Raw 7.0 in Photoshop CS6 http://tv.adobe.com/watch/photoshop-cs6-featuretour/adobe-camera-raw-70-in-photoshop-cs6/ because she moved quickly and did not waste time exclaiming how great the new features are. However, her explanation of Blacks and Whites creates the impression that the Blacks Whites sliders mimic setting the black and white points Levels adjustment in PS. I realize that her video is meant to be a quick overview, and it is a good one, but I haven't found a more detailed explanation amongst the Help videos etc. that might balance her quick advice. Need a white paper or blog entry like the one I found by Tom Hogarty explaining the new Defringe control. (I miss the Real World Photoshop explanations of Bruce Fraser/David Blatner - they were not hesitant to give the pros and cons of Photoshop features.) Below is an excerpt from the transcript of the Kost video.


                "What I want to focus on to start with here are the Blacks and Whites, because those are going to affect the very far ends of my histogram... I want to use these to set the black and white point, but I'd really like a visual clue as to when I start clipping my pixels to either pure black or pure white...And what that just did was it toggled on my black clipping and my white clipping. Now watch what happens when I move my whites too far to the right. You can see that all that red area in my image, those are the values that are going to be clipped. So obviously, I've moved it too far. I just want to back off until I don't see any more red. Now, moving the Blacks slider you can see if I move it to the left too far, everywhere that you see overlaid with that blue color is going to go to pure black. So I definitely want to back off here. Of course, keep in mind with the Blacks slider there might be areas in your image that you actually want to print as pure black, all right? So now that I've got my white point and my black point defined using the Whites and Blacks sliders..."

                • 5. Re: Start an adjustment with Whites and Blacks?
                  areohbee Level 6

                  Hi bmad,


                  I too would love to see a thorough treatise on the new basic sliders, with full disclosure of image adaptive behavior.


                  But, my guess: Adobe will leave that to 3rd parties, who may or may not ever tackle such an undertaking, with the kind of detail that would please the most curious users.


                  Anyway, there was a fair amount of back & forth about this in the beta forums way back when.


                  Eric Chan who implemented the software, was in the camp of:


                  * Set exposure 1st

                  * The rest in the order presented.

                  * Blacks & whites last as more of a fine-tuning of clipping points.


                  But, I came to accept fairly quickly that leaving blacks & whites til the end was not always going to work for me.


                  I regularly end up with blacks between -20 and -50, or more.

                  And, it's not too unusual for me to end up with +whites up to 40, or more...


                  Likewise, I've had a few photos with +blacks=100 & -whites = 100.


                  Those kinds of settings can not wait til the end as fine tuning!


                  Anyway, part of this depends on personal tastes.


                  +whites is a lot like +exposure, except it pulls harder on the upper most end. Exposure reaches further into the midtones and shadows.


                  So if you like your shadows and midtones bright, and highlights not as bright, then you may prefer +exposure over +whites.


                  In a way, +whites is kinda like:


                  +exposure +contrast -highlights


                  So, it's possible that two people can end up with similar pictures, even though they started with different sliders...


                  Personally, I often adjust exposure & whites simultaneously: almost think of them as a related pair. But, that only works for the more normal photos.


                  When large -whites values will be needed for taming the highlights, (and often +blacks complements it in that case) then the whole game changes...


                  I have my speculation about how the design / implementation of PV2012 came about, but I'm probably wrong, and for all practical purposes - it doesn't matter anyway.


                  Truth betold, the end result only depends on the final values of the sliders, not how you got there.


                  I think the biggest thing that people who've done their time on the learning curve want to depart on those less traveled in the PV2012 journey is:


                  Don't bring PV2010 thinking (or other less image-adaptive technologies) into PV2012, or it's a recipe for frustration.


                  e.g. Some people look at a photo and think: gee, the highlights seem bright enough already, so I think I'll try and boost the bottom up treating shadows slider like Lr3 fill light slider. Those people fairly quickly get on the forum and start screaming about how PV2012 doesn't work very well, and they want Lr3 fill back, when what they need to do is +exposure +shadows -highlights instead.


                  So if you always keep in mind that exposure (perhaps in conjunction with whites) is the primary means for setting overall image brightness, and shadows & highlights sliders balance around it, you'll probably be OK regardless of where you start.




                  Suppose the picture looks almost perfect as is, except the highlights are too bright. What is the best thing to do?:

                  A. -highlights

                  B. -exposure -highlights +shadows


                  Answer: Usually B


                  Why? Because -highlights = +shadows is a sweet spot in PV2012, and the -exposure +shadows will keep the bottom end the same, and drop highlight brightness too, so less -highlights is needed for bringing the highlights down: Net effect: about the same, except you keep PV2012 in it's sweet spot.


                  In my opinion, contrast should usually be put in the ballpark early on after exposure, but fine-tuning contrast can wait til exposure/whites & blacks are more solid. It's not unusal for me to have highlights & shadows be the very last sliders tweaked.


                  I think one of the reasons contrast slider is up top near exposure in the slider order is to steer people away from attempting to use highlights/shadows for contrast control. Contrast is more for midtone separation, and highlights/shadows as compensation for over/under brightness of highlights & shadows due to settings of exposure and contrast.


                  PS - Don't forget to add a touch of clarity, if it's one of those kinds of pictures ;-}




                  • 6. Re: Start an adjustment with Whites and Blacks?
                    b2martin_a Level 2

                    What are your comments on clicking "Auto" first, adjust exposure because it's almost always wrong after you click "Auto" and tweak the others as needed?

                    • 7. Re: Start an adjustment with Whites and Blacks?
                      david k Level 2

                      I would start with hightlights (highlights/whites), then darks (blacks/shadows), then work with the Clarity slider to adust midtones. Only use contrast if these other adjustments don't get you where you want to be.


                      The main thing is, you generally don't want to push your adjustments too far so that you blow out highlights on the high end or lose detail in the shadows, unless you have a compelling reason to do so.


                      Generally, you can always undo or redo your changes, just go for the image which appeals to you.





                      • 8. Re: Start an adjustment with Whites and Blacks?
                        areohbee Level 6

                        Hi b2,


                        I don't use auto, but I think it's worth noting:


                        highlights are always set at zero or negative.

                        shadows value always matches highlights, except with opposite sign.


                        This is no accident, and mirrors the fact that this is a sweet-spot in PV2012.


                        And, so I've heard, the algorithm for auto in 4.1 is better than in 4.1RC2.


                        (I just spot checked it, and seems to me that blacks and whites computation is improved).


                        So, clicking auto, then adjusting exposure, and going from there, is probably a very good strategy for some folk.




                        • 9. Re: Start an adjustment with Whites and Blacks?
                          david k Level 2

                          Rob, what are:

                          PV2012 ?

                          4.1 is better than in 4.1RC2 ?


                          When you say highlights set to zero and shadows always match highlights, I assume you're talking about the auto function, correct?


                          Personally, I don't use Auto, unless I was batching a bunch of photos real fast. We're only talking a half dozen sliders to adjust contrast and brightness, so Auto doesn't really save you much time and you'll probably have to tweek it anyway.




                          • 10. Re: Start an adjustment with Whites and Blacks?
                            areohbee Level 6

                            PV2012 is the new processing version in Lr4 (with highlights & shadow sliders). PV2010 was the processing version released in Lr3 (with fill & recovery). See 'Process' dropdown in Camera Calibration section of develop module.


                            Adobe improved the auto-tone function significantly before releasing Lr4.1 final.


                            Matching highlights and shadow values is always done by auto-tone function, but it's often a good idea to adjust exposure first whenever you are considering an adjustment to highlights or shadows so they continue to have matched values.


                            For example, if you click auto-tone, then adjust exposure (and blacks maybe) to be a little more to your liking, and now you have say:


                            exposure = .3

                            highlights = -10

                            shadows = +10


                            and the highlights are now OK, but the shadows are still not bright enough, instead of bumping just the shadows, for example:


                            exposure = .3

                            highlights = -10

                            shadows = +50,




                            exposure = .4

                            highlights = -20

                            shadows = +20


                            For example (actual values not calibrated...).


                            So highlights & shadows continue to have matched values.





                            • 11. Re: Start an adjustment with Whites and Blacks?
                              david k Level 2

                              Thanks Rob. So I'll just assume that PV2012 is the "stuff" under the hood which drives the adjustment sliders; close enough for government work I think.


                              I have a different work flow and different thoughts on using Auto. First, I may not want my highlights and shadows to be equal--the image may not call for it. Second, I don't like the idea of automatically pushing high and darks to "10" (at least what I assume that means). I generally want my highlights to stay out of the top 10-15% of the histogram and don't want to push my shadows too much and get rid of detail there.


                              Again, just personal preference I think.



                              Thanks again, David. 

                              • 12. Re: Start an adjustment with Whites and Blacks?
                                areohbee Level 6

                                david k wrote:


                                PV2012 is the "stuff" under the hood which drives the adjustment sliders




                                david k wrote:


                                I have a different work flow and different thoughts on using Auto. First, I may not want my highlights and shadows to be equal...


                                Fair enough. The main point I was trying to make is to consider doing as much brightness control as possible using exposure (not only for midtones but also highlights and shadows), so you don't need to have as large or grossly skewed values for highlights & shadows. In a worst case scenario, you may even find you need to go beyond 100 for highlights or shadows. That's a sure sign it's time for an exposure adjustment (or contrast, or whites/blacks). Also, if highlights and shadows sliders have the same sign, that's almost always a sign that you need an exposure adjustment.


                                Also, it's an easy trap to fall into, to try to use highlights/shadows for what contrast was designed for. If you do that, you might find you run out of adjustment rope before you get all the loose ends tied up, adjustment-wise, so to speak.


                                If you end up with +highlights & -shadows, you will probably be lacking in midtone contrast, and have a flat looking image despite being seemingly contrasty. If this is what you want, then great, but if not, +contrast -highlights +shadows may be in order...



                                david k wrote:


                                I generally want my highlights to stay out of the top 10-15% of the histogram and don't want to push my shadows too much and get rid of detail there.


                                Again, just personal preference I think.


                                The results you want are subjective, but what you need to do to optimally accomplish them, is not.





                                • 13. Re: Start an adjustment with Whites and Blacks?
                                  david k Level 2

                                  Thanks Rob. We may be getting to the same idea I think: in the digital b/w printing class i just took the teacher used Contrast as more of a last resource, only if he couldn't get there with highlight and shadow adjustments. To get midtone detail and contrast he suggested the Clarity slide which really added punch to the midtones, probably similar to the results you mentioned.


                                  Best, David.

                                  • 14. Re: Start an adjustment with Whites and Blacks?
                                    areohbee Level 6

                                    Hi David,


                                    I don't do much b/w, so it could be that the same principles do not transfer so much.


                                    Anyway, certainly much of this is a matter of personal taste.


                                    My taste, for color pictures:


                                    Maximize the use of contrast.

                                    Minimize the use of clarity.


                                    Why? because I find I can get very clear pictures with excellent tone, without clarity, by judicious use of exposure, contrast, highlights/shadows & blacks/whites. And to my eyes, they look very natural. Add a touch of clarity and it's like putting a bow on a Christmas present - just makes it that much better.


                                    But resorting to larger values for clarity without first exhausting contrast etc. yields a less natural looking picture - punchy maybe, but less organic, more grungy...


                                    Different strokes for different folks of course - it's all about whether you know what to do to achieve the results you think you want in PV2012, regardless of what those results are, or even whether you like them or not once you get them.




                                    • 15. Re: Start an adjustment with Whites and Blacks?
                                      Noel Carboni Level 8

                                      Minimize the use of clarity.


                                      I agree with Rob on this - even the latest Clarity adjustment does give the image some of that "HDR halo" look.  Light places seemingly around/behind trees against sky, for example..


                                      Some images, though, just need Clarity - for example an image with a lot of foliage on an overcast day, where the light is just soft.


                                      There are still some things I find the HDR Toning feature inside Photoshop does better, though.



                                      • 16. Re: Start an adjustment with Whites and Blacks?
                                        areohbee Level 6

                                        Yeah Noel,


                                        I think new clarity is awesome! - but not only should it be limited to appropriate use, but also I regularly cleanup the areas where I don't like what it does, e.g. as you've mentioned (using local brush).


                                        I'm sure some of this is less critical for b/w.


                                        Thanks for the HDR Toning ala Photoshop tip.