quick post to talk about photographic clipping and some ways to deal with it in Lightroom.
Fun stuff- now onto the Lightroom portion of the tour!
Understanding clipping goes a long way toward conceptualizing the way histograms represent an image. In the Develop Module, make sure you have the Histogram Panel maximized.
The screenshot below shows an image with its color histogram on the upper right:
I’ve chosen this photo because, straight-out-of-camera, it has some clipping-specific exposure problems.
A closer inspection shows us that there are runaway peaks at both ends of the histogram:
What you’re shooting for in a histogram is a gradual curve in the center-ish, with no peaks at either end- more or less similar to this one:
Diagram borrowed from The Digital Story blog.
*I’m a non-believer in “proper” or objectively “correct” exposure.
In Lightroom, there’s an efficient and wonderful way to check for clipping in an image. In the top corners of the Histogram Panel are little triangle switches!
On your keyboard, simply press ‘J‘ to activate them! This action causes:
…this [awesome] nonsense to happen. The red coloring indicates blown highlights, while the blue indicates crushed blacks. So now you know exactly where in your image clipping is occurring, and can make decisions as to whether or not that clipping is appropriate/ acceptable to you.
You can leave the triangle switches ‘on’ while you adjust any exposure parameters of your photo, an extremely useful feature of Lightroom.
(‘J‘ acts as a toggle, so pressing it again will turn the color overlays ‘off.’)
Alternatively, you can choose to activate only one switch at a time, either by hovering over it- just for a quick reference- or by clicking it. In this black and white image I wanted to check on the highlights:
You can see there is very little clipping. The clipping here is acceptable to me because this photo is the epitome of a ‘high-contrast situation,’ as it’s a silhouette. Silhouettes are one of the few image types in which dramatic clipping on both ends of the histogram is not only acceptable, but expected.
Most clipping in silhouette photos will occur in your blacks, however:
That’s a lot of missing data! (Which is perfectly fine here because we just want to show the form and outline of the tree and its branches.)
What if you encounter unwanted clipping?
To a very high-degree, Lightroom will allow to you to fix the situation, excepting the most extreme under- and over-exposures.
To fix a peak in the left of the histogram and bring up the blacks, you can try upping the exposure, fill light (use a light hand here!), and brightness. There are sliders for all of these parameters. Most importantly though, is correcting the lows in the Tone Curve Panel:
As always, the switch in the top left of the panel will toggle any changes ‘on’ and ‘off.’
Hot Tip: pressing ‘Alt‘ on your keyboard will bring up the words ‘Reset Region’ in the Tone Curve Panel. Clicking the words while ‘Alt‘ is still pressed will reset anything you did to the curves! (If you do this by mistake you can always go back in the History Panel and click the previous state.)
What about clipped highlights?
Pre Post-processing Tip:
Data in the blacks is easier to recover than data in highlights, so if you’re faced with a high-contrast situation that’s not a silhouette, it’s wise to underexpose by a stopor two.
To correct clipped highlights and recover whatever data is recoverable, use the [surprise!] Recovery Slider, located in the Basic Panel:
Notice that the histogram responds to the slider’s movement by lightening the area that recovery will affect (circled).
Even though I’ve recovered highs to +95/100, the histogram tells me they’re still clipped; you can see how the dandelion is still mostly a white blob, a “uniform area of the maximum brightness.” Some photos just can’t be salvaged entirely.
And that’s why histograms should be checked on your LCD while you’re shooting!