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Applying Fill Light and Recovery

From: Up and Running with Lightroom 3

Video: Applying Fill Light and Recovery

The Basic panel has two sliders-- Recovery and Fill Light--that are aimed squarely at fixing two common specific photo problems, blown-out highlights-- that's Recovery--and blocked-up shadows--that's Fill Light. Let's talk about the Recovery slider first. The purpose of the Recovery slider is to protect highlights from being clipped. Ideally, you want detail in the highlights--the very brightest parts of a photo-- except when you're shooting something reflective like glass. A clipped highlight is one that doesn't have detail, like the plain white area of the clouds up here, or of the mountains over here and back here.

Applying Fill Light and Recovery

The Basic panel has two sliders-- Recovery and Fill Light--that are aimed squarely at fixing two common specific photo problems, blown-out highlights-- that's Recovery--and blocked-up shadows--that's Fill Light. Let's talk about the Recovery slider first. The purpose of the Recovery slider is to protect highlights from being clipped. Ideally, you want detail in the highlights--the very brightest parts of a photo-- except when you're shooting something reflective like glass. A clipped highlight is one that doesn't have detail, like the plain white area of the clouds up here, or of the mountains over here and back here.

The good news is that you have a good chance of recovering detail in areas like these using the Recovery slider, particularly if you're working with a RAW photo. Sometimes it's hard to see highlight clipping from just looking at a photo like this, and that's one place the histogram can help. Let's go over to the histogram and notice that there's a spike on the right side of the histogram. If you see a spike there, you know that there are clipped highlights. And if you hover over the Highlight Clipping Indicator triangle here and you see red marks in the photo, you'll also know you've got clipped highlights.

Those red marks tell you exactly which pixels lack detail. I'm going to click on this Highlight Clipping Indicator to keep it activated, and then I'm going to go down to the Recovery slider, and I'm going to drag it to the right to try to bring back detail in the areas under the red clipping marks. I'll drag to the right, and as I do, those marks disappear and the spike on the histogram goes away, and that means that I've brought back detail in those areas. Let's take a closer look at the image to see the results. I'm going to move over and click right on that mountain to zoom into 100%, and now let's do a before and after to compare.

This is how this area now looks after the Recovery adjustment, and I'll press the Backslash key so we can see the before view without the Recovery adjustment. So you can see that there really is more detail after than there was before. So I'll go back to the after view. Of course, I would usually check the other areas too, but for now I'm going to go with this result. Of course there are some photos, like extremely overexposed photos, in which recovery may not be enough to bring back all the blown-out highlights.

In those cases, along with a Recovery adjustment, you might also try dragging the Exposure slider a little bit to the left to decrease exposure. But use a light hand when you decrease exposure too, because that will darken the entire photo, whereas Recovery darkens just the highlights, and that's the beauty of the Recovery slider. One caveat about the Recovery slider: it was designed to be used on photos with actual clipped highlights, so before you use Recovery, check the histogram to see if there is a spike on the right; and if you decide to try Recovery anyway, double-check that it doesn't introduce a gray overcast to your photo.

Let's look at the other slider in the Basic panel that's for a specific tonal issue, and that's the Fill Light slider. Fill Light brightens just the shadow areas in a photo, similar to the effect you might get with a Fill Flash on a camera. It's useful in situations in which the shadows are blocked up, in other words, too dark and lacking in detail. A typical example is a backlit photo. Here, the sun is coming from behind the flower, causing its center to go too dark to see detail there. If there is detail in the shadow areas, we can try to tease it out by dragging the Fill Light slider to the right. And sure enough, now we can see a lot more detail in the center of this flower.

One downside to using the Fill Light slider is that the photo can start to look a little chalky, or washed out, and if you look closely, you'll see that here. That's because moving the Fill Light slider to the right makes the blacks in the photo less strong, and you can see that in the histogram too, where the mound of tones that represent the dark areas of the photo are now pulled away from the far-right of the histogram. To fix that, when I use the Fill Light slider, I almost always move the Blacks slider a little bit to the right as well. You can see when I did that in this photo, it took away some of that chalky appearance.

Back lighting like this isn't the only situation in which the Fill Light slider is useful. Give it a try on any photo in which there's uneven lighting that might be balanced out by opening up the shadows. There is one more control in the Tone section of the Basic panel that we haven't looked at, and that is the Auto button right here. Auto Tone tries to automatically set the six sliders we've covered so far in this chapter: Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, Blacks, Brightness, and Contrast. I usually don't recommend any auto feature as a final solution, but sometimes Auto Tone can give you a good starting place which you can then fine-tune manually by moving the sliders.

Let's see what it does to this photo. And it certainly does bring out the shadows in this photo. Now because Auto Tone happened to increase Fill Light here, I'm also going to manually increase Blacks. So that's how I might use Auto Tone. Now we've covered all the controls in the Tone section of the Basic panel. These are the sliders you'll use most often to do a basic photo correction. But to take a photo a little beyond that, to add some punch, try using the Clarity and Vibrance sliders down here at the bottom of the Basic panel, which I'll cover in the next movie.

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Up and Running with Lightroom 3

29 video lessons · 11081 viewers

Jan Kabili
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