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Exposure is the white point clipping and the Blacks is the black point. Auto looks at the histogram and tries to do an optimal distribution of levels while trying to avoid clipping useful whites and blacks. In general, the better tool for adjusting the overall lightness of an image is Brightness not exposure.
Depending on the scene and the camera exposure, there may be clipped highlights even in what looks to be a dark image. That's what the Brightness slider is for...adjusting the midpoint of an image.
Also, sometimes you may need to work iteratively. It's not a bad idea to start at the top and work your way down, but sometimes it is helpful to go back to the top and make slight tweaks (i.e., revisit your initial adjustments).
Jeff, now that you say it I remember that exposure/shadow are white/black. :( I think I get confused because the word "exposure" rather means what I exposed and it shows "stops" of adjustment - in other words it sounds like it does what the brightness really does.
ACR is the tool I use because I have it, but I have to say I'd use something else if it looked good!!
Eric, I do tend to work iteratively. It was just that this is clearly not how Auto worked and it confused me considerably. With my new (renewed) understanding I'm looking at my images in a different light and have already improved what I've been doing before.
Thanks both for your responses.
>"exposure" rather means what I exposed and it shows "stops" of adjustment - in other words it sounds like it does what the brightness really does.
Read Jeff's post again.
what the Brightness slider is for...adjusting the midpoint of an image.
Watch what happens to the histogram as you increase Exposure as opposed to when you increase the Brightness slider.