Darkening Highlights in Lightroom

November 24, 2014

To help me keep up with this site, I've decided to offer a quick tip as often as possible.  Today marks the start of this historic series, and I'll kick it off with something that I've done for a while in Lightroom, but that not everyone seems to know about: darkening highlights properly.

 

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Lightroom is probably the most useful tool that a photographer could have (though alternatives such as Capture One Pro are equally helpful).  However, it is not a perfect program.  One area where it falls short of some editing software is in its ability to make local adjustments, a crucial editing step I take for most of my photos.  

 

If you're selectively darkening highlights in Lightroom, you will probably be tempted to use the "highlights" slider after creating a mask of the area you want to darken.  Why wouldn't you?  Its purpose couldn't be labeled any clearer.

 

However, you may want to darken medium highlights; say, for example, that your photo is very dark, and the brightest spot in the picture isn't much of a "highlight."  In a scenario like this, Lightroom's sliders probably won't darken the photo how you want, since there is no "midtones" slider (in Lightroom 6, that is something I'm really hoping to see).  

 

Instead of darkening that highlight using the "highlights" tab, you should consider using the "clarity" slider instead.  If you lower the clarity of a selected area, it darkens the light midtones far better than the "highlights" slider does.  Below is an example from a crop of the above image (click on the photos and flip between the two for the clearest effect).

 

With highlights at -100:

 

 

Same mask with clarity at -100:

 

 

To take full advantage of this, you may need to lower the "shadows" slider a bit as well, since lowering clarity can brighten shadow detail slightly.  Next time that you need to change around highlight brightness in Lightroom, remember that changing around clarity can be just as useful as the highlights slider, depending upon your photo.

 

That's about it!  These tips are going to be short, but over time my hope is that you learn something new from them.

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