22 Replies Latest reply on Sep 21, 2014 8:56 PM by cteavin

    Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?

    cteavin

      I'd like to know how people here handle their images.

       

      I use a Nikon D7100 in camera RAW. In camera my images are always in balance. In LR, if I select Auto Tone in Basics invariably it will adjust the exposure. I tend to adjust exposure near last in my workflow because I assume my camera had the exposure setting right. When I feel I need to adjust the exposure my first stop is the Tone Curve. I'm wondering a couple of things:

       

      1) I know we edit by the specifics of each photo, but generally do you make adjustments to Exposure or the Tone Curve first?

       

      2) Is there a reason or a time to prefer one over the other?

       

      Thanks,

        • 1. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
          JimHess Adobe Community Professional & MVP

          First of all, I think it's folly to assume that your camera will always get the exposure right. There are too many variables to expect that. With almost every digital camera I have ever had, I have always found that I have to set exposure compensation to a -2/3 f-stop in order to get exposure close to what I want. This is especially true when I am taking scenic photos.  But even then, difficult lighting situations will require adjustments using Lightroom.

           

          Personally, I like to go through the adjustments in the Basic panel first. And exposure is right near the top of that panel. I won't hesitate to adjust the exposure. I always have my clipping indicators activated. And after I have adjusted exposure, shadows and highlights, if I find there is clipping then I will use the tone curve and it's targeted adjustment tool to eliminate the clipping. But that is just how I like to do it. The beauty in using Lightroom is that there is no "right" way to do things. If you get the result you like, that's all that really matters.

          • 2. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
            NicHamilton Level 3

            Like Jim I think it's folly to think your camera always gets the exposure right (but read on).  Unlike Jim, however, I nearly dial in+1/3 to 2/3 f stop exposure compensation.  So presumably what Jim and I want to see is very different and it would a pretty amazing camera system that satisfied us both.  I assume you sit between us and hence think it's doing it right!

             

            This aside, I tend to start at the top of the adjustments panel so, like Jim, Exposure adjustments are my first port of call followed by highlights and shadows.  I don't think I ever use Auto-tone though...unless I want something really unpredictable!

             

            As Jim says, though I don't think there's a right way, if you're getting the result you want (and I normally do quite quickly) then that's the right way for you.

            • 3. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
              trshaner Adobe Community Professional & MVP

              cteavin wrote:

               

              1) I know we edit by the specifics of each photo, but generally do you make adjustments to Exposure or the Tone Curve first?

               

              2) Is there a reason or a time to prefer one over the other?

               

              1) With LR's PV2012 controls I find very little need for the Tone Curve with most images.

               

              2) The LR PV2012 Basic panel Tone 'Exposure' and 'Contrast' controls are specifically designed for adjusting the 'mid-tones' in the image. The Whites and Blacks controls allow moving the Black and White clipping levels similar to moving the Tone Curve end points. There is considerable "interaction" between the Basic panel Tone controls, which is why using a top-down adjustment procedure is recommended.

               

              There is also interaction between the Basic panel Tone controls and the Tone Curve. The Basic panel Tone controls having the ability to over-ride the Tone Curve control. You may also want to read this article outlining other differences between LR's and PS's tone curve controls:

               

              http://ptgmedia.pearsoncmg.com/imprint_downloads/peachpit/peachpit/lightroom4/pdf_files/LR Curves.pdf

              • 4. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                trshaner Adobe Community Professional & MVP

                Here's the procedure I use:

                 

                PV2012 Basic Panel Tone Control Adjustment Procedure

                 

                Start with all of the Tone controls at their default 0 settings and adjust them from the top-down in the order shown below.

                 

                1. Set Exposure to correct midtone brightness ignoring the highlight and shadow areas for now. Setting Exposure slightly higher (+.25 to +.50 EV) than what looks correct for the midtones seems to work best with most images.

                 

                2. Leave Contrast at 0 for now. It’s usually better to adjust this after the first pass.

                 

                3. Adjust Highlights so that blown out areas are recovered and “fine tonal detail” is revealed.

                 

                4. Adjust Shadows to reveal fine detail in dark areas. For most normal images simply setting -Shadows = +Highlights (Example -50 and +50) works very well.

                 

                5. The Whites control sets the white clipping point, which you can see by holding down the ALT key as you move the slider. Adjust it to the point where you see clipping appear with the ALT key.

                 

                6. The Blacks control sets the black clipping point, which you can see by holding down the ALT key as you move the slider. Adjust it to the point where you see clipping appear with the ALT key.

                 

                7. Now go back and adjust the Contrast control to establish the best midtone contrast.

                 

                8. Lastly touchup the Exposure control for the best midtone brightness.

                 

                9. If necessary “touch-up” the controls using the same top-down workflow.

                 

                Having a better understanding of what each control does and how they interact is key to mastering LR's PV2012 Develop module controls.

                • 5. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                  areohbee Level 5

                  My recommendation:

                  ---------------------------

                  (note: I am interpreting "exposure", in your question, to mean "dynamic range at right wall of histogram", i.e. white point)

                   

                  Adjust basics exposure first (before tone/point curve), but note: you may not be able to go all the way using the exposure slider. Next stop (if necessary): +whites, but note: it may not be optimal to go all the way using whites. Final stop (if necessary): cinch in the the exposure by dragging white point to the left via the point curve.

                   

                  Rationale: basics have some intelligence and magic that tone curve does not. If you do tone curve first, you've missed some opportunities..

                   

                  Still a begging question: how much exposure vs. whites vs. tone curve (point curve).

                   

                  Note: go easy on the contrast at first, and assure blacks are sufficiently seated using blacks slider (and maybe tone/point curve).

                  Likewise, cranking whites up will increase global contrast, so if you take a shot at blacks and whites before contrast, then you may avoid a common mistake: radically wrong contrast due to adjusting before establishing ballpark black & white slider values.

                   

                  Anyway, be aware that increased PV2012 exposure (and/or whites) is designed to be used with -highlights (note: there is no "brightness" slider), and to avoid making things too washed out (or over-jamming the highlights) it may be desirable to substitute +whites and/or +shadows for some +exposure.

                   

                  Note: tones may gang up (on the right side of the histogram) in a non-optimal way when using +exposure and/or +whites, in which case it may be better to use point curve for white point adjustment (e.g. leftward drag). For example, sometimes the whites will be overly compressed if you don't bring white point in on the curve instead.

                   

                  Rules of thumb:

                  --------------------

                  Most of my normal photos end up with:

                  • +exposure (to fully brighten)
                  • +whites (for full dynamic range without excessive exposure setting)
                  • -highlights (for dialing back +exposure and/or +whites)
                  • +shadows (so -blacks and doesn't leave image with overly dark shadows)
                  • -blacks (for full dynamic range without needing as much contrast)
                  • *contrast: depends - if overly contrasty to begin with (or a lot of -blacks and/or +whites are employed), this usually gets dialed back; if underly contrasty to begin with (or +blacks and/or -whites have been employed), this usually gets bumped up.

                   

                  (for abnormal photos or when desiring abnormal results - anything goes..).

                   

                  Other common mistakes (in addition to wrong contrast and/or non-optimal balance between exposure & whites..):

                  ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ --------------------------------------------------------

                  • trying to recover highlights via -whites. try -highlights (and maybe +whites) before -whites.

                   

                  Warning signs:

                  -------------------

                  • if you have very high values for +shadows and -highlights, you may have contrast set too high.
                  • if you have a positive value for highlights, you may have contrast/exposure/whites too low.
                  • if you have a negative value for shadows, you may have contrast too low, or blacks/exposure too high.

                   

                  Miscellaneous:

                  -------------------

                  • Try +clarity and +saturation (and/or +vibrance) to pump it up, if reduced contrast and/or increased exposure has left it looking a little washed out.. (likewise, -saturation if +contrast has left it looking a little too "rich"..).
                  • You already know this, but for the sake of completeness (and other readers): you can learn by clicking 'Auto Tone' "button". You may need to dial back the exposure afterward etc. but it can be very educational none-the-less..
                  • Of course, you can always fine-tune tone using tone curve (e.g. if image is just way overbright, like some snow shots, try tugging the midpoint downward..).
                  • Don't forget the locals for final spot toning.

                   

                  In case you haven't gleaned yet, adjusting via PV2012 is not the same as you might think at first - you don't just set exposure/black/white points and leave them, and then adjust everything else. e.g. -highlights pulls white point down more than -whites does (but +whites brings white point back up, which means you usually need to adjust in tandem..), so be prepared for a lot of back n' forth, to lessen with experience..

                   

                  PS - There are tutorial videos galore, but at the risk of opposing Adobe and their sycophants, be forewarned: some are geared to how they wished PV2012 was (simple), and not to how it really is (interdependent image-dependent settings..)   - examples:

                  • top-down is touted, but that ignores black/white point issues which can lead to radically wrong contrast (and/or exposure) setting.
                  • often, adjustment of blacks is considered optional/fine-tuning, but blacks sometimes need large value adjustment, and dramatically impacts contrast & shadow brightness..
                  • often, adjustment of whites is considered optional/fine-tuning, but sometimes optimal toning can only be had by using a large whites value adjustment, which dramatically impacts contrast, and exposure..

                   

                  cteavin wrote:

                   

                  I tend to adjust exposure near last in my workflow because I assume my camera had the exposure setting right.

                  In case not clear yet, adjusting exposure and/or whites (and/or white point on curve) and all the rest is often done to turn an image "with potential" into a very nice image, not just to compensate for in-camera exposure imperfection. I have lots of under-exposed images that end with -exposure (granted, usually +whites), and vice-versas.. That said, if you don't know whether to crank it up or down, there is something to be said for passing until you do..

                   

                  Lastly, for emphasis: exposure slider is an intelligent slider. It behaves more like normal exposure adjusters at lower values, and more like brightness adjusters at higher values (has clipping protection and highlight roll-off logic which kicks in as you crank it up..). So, it's a mistake to think of adjusting it just to make up for non-optimal camera exposure setting.

                   

                  Sorry for verbose answer, but there is really no short answer which doesn't run the risk of being bad advice: best way to adjust "exposure" depends...

                   

                  Cheers,

                  Rob

                  • 6. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                    areohbee Level 5

                    trshaner wrote:

                     

                    The Basic panel Tone controls having the ability to over-ride the Tone Curve control.

                    Well, tone curve controls remain operable and effective regardless of basic panel's tone slider settings, so by "over-ride", I'm assuming you mean "obviate the need for..". Sorry if it seems like I'm splitting hairs, but "over-ride" has a different meaning to me (and maybe not just me) than I think was intended, thus the attempted clarification..

                    • 7. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                      areohbee Level 5

                      trshaner wrote:

                       

                      4. Adjust Shadows to reveal fine detail in dark areas. For most normal images simply setting -Shadows = +Highlights (Example -50 and +50) works very well.

                      +shadows/-highlights you mean? (sign)

                       

                      i.e. I think most often (normally) shadows run positive and highlights negative (and equal values often works well..).

                      • 8. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                        Conrad C Adobe Community Professional & MVP

                        trshaner wrote:

                        There is also interaction between the Basic panel Tone controls and the Tone Curve. The Basic panel Tone controls having the ability to over-ride the Tone Curve control.

                        I would also be careful about calling it an "override" because a Tone Curve edit can certainly alter (override) existing Basic Tone edits.

                         

                        Regarding the original question, Basic Tone and Tone Curve aren't two interfaces to the same code. They do different things. The Basic Tone controls do things like highlight recovery and local contrast enhancement that the Tone Curve doesn't, but the Tone Curve can do a straight contrast tweak on a specific range of tones in a direct way that Basic Tone can't. Basic Tone and Tone Curve are different and complementary, not mutually exclusive.

                         

                        The Basic Tone controls usually get you where you want to go a lot faster than the Tone Curve, so do Basic Tone first. But don't decide to ignore the Tone Curve forever, because in some cases you'll do everything you can in Basic Tone but still need a little snap in one specific range and that's when the Tone Curve will be there to help. Also, in Point Curve mode you can adjust each RGB curve separately, which you can't do with Basic Tone.

                        • 9. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                          trshaner Adobe Community Professional & MVP

                          Rob Cole wrote:

                           

                          trshaner wrote:

                           

                          4. Adjust Shadows to reveal fine detail in dark areas. For most normal images simply setting -Shadows = +Highlights (Example -50 and +50) works very well.

                          +shadows/-highlights you mean? (sign)

                           

                          i.e. I think most often (normally) shadows run positive and highlights negative (and equal values often works well..).

                           

                          That was a test to see if anybody is actually reading these replies....just kidding! You are 100% correct and that was a typo in my archive of LR Tips–Thank you for the correction Rob.

                          • 10. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                            trshaner Adobe Community Professional & MVP

                            Rob Cole wrote:

                             

                            trshaner wrote:

                             

                            The Basic panel Tone controls having the ability to over-ride the Tone Curve control.

                            Well, tone curve controls remain operable and effective regardless of basic panel's tone slider settings, so by "over-ride", I'm assuming you mean "obviate the need for..". Sorry if it seems like I'm splitting hairs, but "over-ride" has a different meaning to me (and maybe not just me) than I think was intended, thus the attempted clarification..

                            Example: If you set the LR White clipping point by dragging the Tone Curve 100%/100% point to say 75%/100% you can "over-ride" this with the Exposure,  Highlights, and/or Whites sliders to remove the clipping. A PS Curves Adjustment Layer when set to clip remains clipped when other controls are applied–Clipped highlights are not recoverable.

                             

                            My guess is that the Basic panel Tone controls are applied 1st and the Tone Curve 2nd. It was probably implemented this way to help prevent hue shifts as described here on Pg. 6:

                             

                            http://ptgmedia.pearsoncmg.com/imprint_downloads/peachpit/peachpit/lightroom4/pdf_files/LR Curves.pdf

                             

                            Conclusions

                            "It is all very well running involved tests like the one described here to calculate the numeric differences between Lightroom and Photoshop curves. At the end of the day, the only way to judge anything is to let your eyes compare the results visually. The differences between the two curve methods can be quite subtle, but where it is noticeable, I would say the Lightroom/Camera Raw curve result always looks more pleasing. The testing data kind of backs this up, because as I mentioned earlier, the figures show that there is a much finer tolerance in the amount of hue shift you get with a Lightroom curve. This is why the colors tend to be preserved better when edited using a Lightroom Tone Curve adjustment."

                            • 11. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                              areohbee Level 5

                              trshaner wrote:

                               

                              My guess is that the Basic panel Tone controls are applied 1st and the Tone Curve 2nd.

                              I believe that is correct.

                               

                              trshaner wrote:

                               

                              If you set the LR White clipping point by dragging the Tone Curve 100%/100% point to say 75%/100% you can "over-ride" this with the Exposure,  Highlights, and/or Whites sliders to remove the clipping.

                              It sounds like you are saying "the basic panel settings can override the tone curve settings", yet what I understood you to say before was "the tone curve settings can override the basic panel settings". Perhaps you misspoke previously, or I misunderstood..

                              • 12. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                                trshaner Adobe Community Professional & MVP

                                Yes, I said the Basic panel 'Tone' controls (shown below) can over-ride the Tone Curve control." Sorry for any confusion.

                                 

                                • 13. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                                  wobertc Adobe Community Professional

                                  Which do I prefer?

                                  The Lightroom Histogram in Develop mode- for simplicity and visual adjustments-

                                  Press J to set clipping indicators, Place cursor over the histogram, drag cursor left/right.

                                  Start on Central zone for exposure, or start on areas of Shadows/highlights to adjust these.

                                  ScreenShot005.jpg

                                  • 14. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                                    areohbee Level 5

                                    trshaner wrote:

                                     

                                    Yes, I said the Basic panel 'Tone' controls (shown below) can over-ride the Tone Curve control." Sorry for any confusion.

                                     

                                    Perhaps I mis-remembered. Anyway, I still think the term "override" is misleading. I know what you mean, but the wording implies something different to me, and probably others (e.g. Conrad Chavez). For example, if you put something in manual override, then the automatic features are disabled, which is different than "works in conjunction with in such a way.." - just my opinion.. - your post / your words.. .

                                    • 15. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                                      areohbee Level 5

                                      Indeed, the histogram supports a visual way to make basic panel adjustments.

                                       

                                      One interesting thing to note: "Exposure" is the middle zone, not the right-most zone.

                                      (another interesting thing to note: "Contrast" is not accessible via the histogram).

                                       

                                      That's because, once overall exposure is in the ball-park, it's primarily used for setting midtone brightness (e.g. to brighten midtones: drag exposure zone to the right, and if that over-brightens highlights, which it often does, then drag highlights zone to the left..).

                                       

                                      To extend histogram all the way to right-wall, drag white zone right-ward.

                                       

                                      Just one note: basic panel cautions and caveats still apply, for example:

                                       

                                      -whites (dragging white zone leftward) is very ineffective (beyond 0) at bringing white point down, compared to -highlights (dragging highlight zone leftward beyond it's zero point).

                                       

                                      So, my .02: if you prefer the visual method, then by all means - more power to ya.., but I still recommend checking the numbers at some point, since some PV2012 sliders work very differently in positive vs. negative direction, etc..

                                       

                                      Bottom line: it's possible in PV2012 to have 2 histograms which look very similar but produce 2 very different looking images (of the same photo), primarily due to local contrast differences, but also saturation differences..

                                       

                                      For example, if you have:

                                       

                                      +exposure

                                      +whites

                                      (contrast depending)

                                      -highlights

                                      +shadows

                                      -blacks

                                      (maybe a touch of +clarity & +vib/+sat)

                                       

                                      it results in a clear and contrasty image with articulated highlights and detailed shadows (enhanced local contrast). I like this look for many photographs - it's like having topaz adjust/detail built into Lightroom, except done better - hard to argue with (borderline HDR-ish, some might say). On the other hand, if you want an old-school photography look, with very little detail in the highlights and/or shadows, then you need to do essentially the opposite - the two may have very similar histograms, but a very different look and feel.

                                       

                                      Rob

                                      • 16. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                                        trshaner Adobe Community Professional & MVP

                                        Rob Cole wrote:

                                         

                                        trshaner wrote:

                                         

                                        Yes, I said the Basic panel 'Tone' controls (shown below) can over-ride the Tone Curve control." Sorry for any confusion.

                                         

                                        Perhaps I mis-remembered. Anyway, I still think the term "override" is misleading. I know what you mean, but the wording implies something different to me, and probably others (e.g. Conrad Chavez). For example, if you put something in manual override, then the automatic features are disabled, which is different than "works in conjunction with in such a way.." - just my opinion.. - your post / your words.. .

                                        The main point is that that the Basic panel Tone controls are applied 1st and the Tone Curve 2nd, which you agreed is the case. What you want to call it is up to you.

                                        • 17. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                                          areohbee Level 5

                                          trshaner wrote:

                                           

                                          The main point is that that the Basic panel Tone controls are applied 1st and the Tone Curve 2nd, which you agreed is the case.

                                          Once I realized what you meant by override, then I was able to agree with everything you said.

                                           

                                          For example: if you clip whites using the basic sliders, you can't recover them using the tone curve, whereas if you clip whites using the tone curve they can be unclipped using the basic sliders. Reason being, tone curve is "downstream" from the basic sliders, and it won't clip anything left of white point, and will hard-clip everything right of white point - which tones are to the left and which tones are to the right of the tone curve's white point is governed by the basic sliders.

                                          • 18. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                                            trshaner Adobe Community Professional & MVP

                                            Rob, good example–The Basic panel Tone controls take precedence over the Tone Curve, which is probably a better word to use.  Understanding the "precedence" or order that controls are applied to the image in LR is important, as we discovered with the Local controls (Graduated Filter, Radial Filter, Adjustment Brush).


                                            The Local Controls take precedence over the Basic panel Global Controls, which take precedence over the Tone Curve controls:


                                            Control Precedence

                                            Local > Basic> Tone Curve (last)

                                             

                                            Re: How to combine different saturation sliders?

                                             

                                            Adjustments made in a higher precedence control that causes clipping cannot be fully recovered with the lower precedence controls.

                                             

                                            Concerning the OP's original question: Using the Tone Curve to correct Exposure prior to the 'Auto' Tone button. From my tests the Auto Tone function works entirely independent of ALL other controls. You can however set each of the Auto Tone controls separately by holding down the Shift key and clicking on the Basic panel Tone control's name (Exposure, Contrast, etc.).

                                             

                                            http://www.lightroomqueen.com/downloads/bookexcerpts/lr3excerpts/lr3sample-21-autosliders. pdf

                                            • 19. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                                              areohbee Level 5

                                              trshaner wrote:

                                               

                                              the Auto Tone function works entirely independent of ALL other controls.

                                              Auto-tone results depend on camera calibration profile (and white balance to some extent). For that reason, it is worth considering profile (and temperature/tint) before auto-toning, and maybe re-do auto-toning after changing profile..

                                               

                                              D810 auto-tone results (Camera Neutral profile):

                                              d810_auto-tone_neutral.gif

                                              D810 (same image) auto-tone results (Camera Vivid profile):

                                              d810_auto-tone_vivid.gif

                                              PS - I think "precedence" is a better term than "override" to describe the aforementioned relationship .

                                               

                                              R

                                              • 20. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                                                ~IanB~ Level 1

                                                what an interesting read although the poor newbies maybe more confused than ever, so just remember you cannot break anything so do what I do mostly; just fiddle around until you like the image.

                                                 

                                                I never use the auto, but maybe I will fiddle with that too.

                                                 

                                                The first two slider I mostly hit are shadows to right and highlights to left; how far depends on the histogram.I use those to stretch out the histogram and then I grab the black or white slider. But there are no rules, it all depends one the actual file. It's very seldom the tone curve is looked at and very often the exposure stays on zero. Clarity gets a good work out due to the great little Lumix 200 I use mostly these days.

                                                I will try some of the above 'ways' and see if they fix any of my bad habits.

                                                 

                                                And I will throw this in also: often the first "perfect" edit is not the best for the file. Put the file away and look at it a day or so later and then the  best edit is often be more obvious.

                                                 

                                                EDIT: how do I not have (in response to Rob Cole) in my reply

                                                • 21. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                                                  areohbee Level 5

                                                  ~IanB~ wrote:

                                                   

                                                  EDIT: how do I not have (in response to Rob Cole) in my reply

                                                  I don't think there is a way to omit, so you have to use other means to indicate your "target audience" (e.g. reply to a different post (or original) instead - maybe easier via web interface than email, or use quotes n' notes..).

                                                  • 22. Re: Which do you prefer: Increasing exposure or adjusting  the tone curve?
                                                    cteavin Level 1

                                                    I Just wanted to thank everyone for participating in this discussion. It and the links have been informative. I'll be here in the background listening.