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Back From the Brink: The Awesome Power of Lightroom 4.

We all have photographic mishaps from time to time; many of them are only minor, thankfully. Sometimes, however, they can be real howlers and that can be frustrating, especially if they were shots that are not easy to recapture.

In this article we’re going to be looking at an example of a very underexposed image, that, ordinarily we would consign to the trash without a second thought. Before we stab at the delete key, however, let’s see what we can do in the Develop module of Lightroom 4; you will be pleasantly surprised!


Here’s our photo faux pas. As you can see (or not!) there’s very little discernable detail, apart from a few highlights. Looking at the histogram (1), all the data is bunched up in the shadows.


Moving into the Develop module (keyboard shortcut: D) we can start to work on recovering the image. Now I’m a great advocate of the Auto button (2) – cue murmurings of disdain – and will always try it first; there is an undo option, remember? I think it’s done a pretty good job here.


On closer inspection, however, there is an awful lot of noise on the image; it was taken at ISO 320 and we have added nearly 4 artificial stops of light, after all! Scrolling down to the Detail pane (3), we can begin the clean up.


We’ll start with the Luminance noise; this is the harsh light and dark mottling effect. Dragging the Luminance slider to the right; we’ll see the heavier noise begin to disappear. Don’t go too far across, though, as this will make the image too soft. Around 60 is a good balance on this photo. We can also adjust the detail a little for some more subtle tuning; again, not too much as this will introduce more artefacts.


The photo is looking much better. There are still some flecks of coloured noise; we’ll address this now. On this image we can dial the slider right up to 100 and not lose any of the important detail. We can adjust the Detail slider for the Color noise but this time, moving it to the left a little, as this can smooth out the bolder specks.


Now that we have recovered the detail and cleaned the image up, we can fine-tune the overall look of the photo. I’ve set the white balance to daylight, which gives subtle warmth. The Vibrance has been boosted to pop the colour of the stone and grass. I have also pushed the Shadows control up to lighten some of the darker areas.


We could go on tweaking further, of course, but that’s another article in itself; the main thing is that we now have an image that, whilst it’s not going to win any prizes, is definitely a keeper.

About David Asch (32 Articles)
David Asch is an accomplished author, artist and designer based in Brighton, UK. To date he has written two books on Adobe Photoshop Elements for Focal Press: Focus on Photoshop Elements and How to Cheat in Photoshop Elements, now in its 7th edition. He also co-wrote Digital Photo Doctor for Ilex Press and have had work featured in many UK magazines. As well as books on digital imaging, he is also the author of Creative Web Design with Adobe Muse, again for Focal Press. David also designs websites and the occasional logo. When he's not doing this, he likes to roam with a camera, capturing the sights. Some of these are posted to his photography gallery, others may make a guest appearance in his photomontage gallery.

2 Comments on Back From the Brink: The Awesome Power of Lightroom 4.

  1. wei chong // 26/04/2012 at 8:14 pm //

    Hi David,
    Thanks for the article on LR4 (Back from the Brink). Do you have the original of the digital negative, shot at ISO 320, but “properly” exposed? It would be a nice comparison of what you gain from a well-exposed image, as compared to a 4-stop underexposed one.

    Thanks in advance.

  2. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good version of the scene; this really was a real-life photo gaff!

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