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As photographers, we are of course very focused on Exposure when we are taking an image, but we also might want to fine tune the overall Exposure, the Brightness and Contrast, in an image after the capture. In Lightroom, there are a couple of controls that allow you to accomplish a very similar adjustment to changing the Exposure when the image is captured in the first place. Those are Exposure and Contrast, and in many ways these are the most basic of overall tonal adjustments within Lightroom. The Exposure adjustment is in large part, a white point adjustment.
We're establishing a value for the brightest pixels within the image. We can move the slider to the right to brighten the image, and to the left to darken the image, but we're having the strongest effect on the bright areas of the photo. We can get a Clipping preview of the adjustment by holding the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh. That will show us where in the image we're losing detail. You can see that I now no longer see the photographic image itself, I'm seeing an indication of where I'm losing detail. As I increase Exposure for example you'll see the image is largely black, but I'm seeing some colored areas and even some white areas within the photo, those areas indicate a loss of information.
A color means that one or more channels are losing information, and white means that all of the three channels, red green and blue, are in fact losing detail. If I release the Alt or Option key, you can see quite clearly that there's naturally the loss of information here. Typically the way I approach Exposure is to Hold the Alt or Option key, and adjust Exposure until all of the spots disappear, all of those colored or white pixels disappear so that you see an entirely a black image. You don't want to go to far just to the point where those pixels disappear so you can move to the right until you see some pixels and then move to the left until all of them disappear.
But that won't always produce a perfect adjustment, you can see here that, that gives us a very dark appearance in the image. And the reality is, in some areas of this photo, I'm not concerned about losing detail. For example, we have some bright reflections on this umbrella handle, there are some white areas that are reflecting quite a lot of light, and so those areas I don't need to be too concerned about. I'll go ahead and increase Exposure until the image looks good, and then I'm going to hold the Alt or Option key in order to get a sense of how much information I'm losing in that case. I can even kind of switch back and forth between those views, by pressing and then releasing the Alt or Option key.
And I see that most of those areas where I'm losing information are either white areas reflecting a lot of light or shiny areas that are similarly reflecting considerable light and so I think that adjustment will work perfectly fine. I can then take a look at the Contrast adjustment, and as you might expect moving to the right will increase Contrast for the photo and moving to the left will decrease Contrast for the photo. I tend to prefer an image with a bit of strong Contrast but you still want to be careful not to increase the Contrast too much. This is purely a visual evaluation type of situation, we can't get the clip in Preview the way we do with the Exposure adjustment, but we can fine tune, taking that contrast to the point where feel the image looks its best.
As you can see, Exposure and Contrast are rather straight forward adjustments. But they can be very, very important to improving the overall tonal appearance of your images.
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