More On Dehaze
The new Dehaze feature in Lightroom CC and Adobe Camera Raw 9.1 can decrease the appearance of haze. Pretty simple, no? But it's introduction has cased some degree of confusion and brought about a number of questions.
First off, many users of the standalone Lightroom version 6 were surprised and a bit disappointed to discover that they were left out in the cold. Even after waiting and waiting, no Lightroom update has yet shown up on their computer. And none will be showing up it seems. When Adobe released both Lightroom 6 and the new Lightroom CC (2015) they promised that Lightroom 6 would indeed receive all the updates for new camera support that its Creative Cloud sibling received. But they also said that Lightroom CC could gain new features that Lightroom 6 wouldn't get – at least not until the eventual update to Lightroom 7 next year or whenever. Many potential users eager to avoid dealing with the Creative Cloud licensing model though were so happy that they could upgrade to a new traditionally licensed version that they never read all that fine print. Surprise. The new Blacks and Whites sliders in Local Corrections are only available to CC subscribers too. No doubt there will be more as the year progresses.
This turns out to be yet another not so subtle way that Adobe is encouraging its customer base to move to the Clouds. If you dig deeper though, Adobe claims they are in fact prohibited from adding this to Lightroom 6 by law. Yes, you read that right. Turns out the Sarbanes-Oxely Act strongly constrains how companies recognize revenue from a sale. They can fix bugs in already paid for products, but they can't add new functionality to goods for which the sale has already been recorded. They'd have to charge for the new features or else defer recording the full amount of the original sale until after the new features were added. This is all somewhat complicated unless you're a lawyer I suppose, but that's the official story from Adobe. You can read more of the details on their website in a discussion forum thread here.
Lightroom 6 users need not give up all hope though. It turns out that some clever folks out there have already come up with workarounds. Take Prolost Dehaze as a good example. This add-on consists of a series of standard Lightroom presets that provide access to Dehaze without requiring a Creative Cloud subscription. You will need to have Lightroom 6.1 though, so those who have procrastinated completely and are still using Lightroom 5 (or earlier) are out of luck. But since Lightroom 6.1 and CC (2015.1) share much of the same innards, the Dehaze feature is actually in both. It's just that only the CC packaging gives you access to it. Which brings me back to those clever folks. Just as has been true between Photoshop and Photoshop Elements that also share a great deal of internal code, enough tinkering can yield ways of getting at those hidden features in the less capable version. So, installing Prolost Dehaze on top of Lightroom 6.1 you give you a workaround to use Dehaze without the subscription requirement.
Now for the next confusing aspect of the new Dehaze feature. You may be wondering why Dehaze is down with the Effects sliders rather than up with the usual Exposure, Contrast and other "Basic" adjustments. I mean if Vibrance and Clarity qualify, why not Dehaze? Truthfully, I don't really know. But I can tell you that this placement does have more of a consequence that causing you to scroll further down to get to it (or click on a different tab if your preferred tool is Adobe Camera Raw rather than Lightroom). Dehaze affects the entire image. You can't use the Graduated Filter or any of the other forms of targeted adjustment filters with Dehaze. At first glance this may sound like an annoying and potentially serious limitation, but so far I honestly haven't found it to be. This seems to relate to how Dehaze works.
I mentioned last week how Adobe describes what Dehaze does: it "tries to estimate light that is lost due to absorption and scattering through the atmosphere." That sounds good, but doesn't mean much since we're talking about real-world software here, not the HAL 9000 computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey or something. Lightroom can't really know what something is supposed to look like. To describe what I see happening in more practical terms, allow me to compare Dehaze with the Clarity adjustment. Up until the advent of Dehaze, Clarity was my go-to adjustment when trying to reduce haze in an image. Clarity is a lot like sharpening, but operating at a generally lower strength, and over a much wider radius. It compares each pixel to surrounding ones, not to define edges, but just to figure out what is "different" from everything else. When it finds things that are sufficiently different in tone or hue, it exaggerates that difference, thus adding "clarity." Lacking any targeted mask or filter, Clarity operates over the entire image. If you want to limit its affect to just the background so you add clarity based on the distance from your camera lens, you have to do the masking yourself. Dehaze seems to do much the same, but it automatically constrains its affect to the brighter parts of the image under the presumption that those are the areas where haze is a factor. If there is legitimate contrast near a pixel, it probably doesn't suffer from haze or else that contrast wouldn't exist. Only in parts of an image that are bright and lack sufficient contrast could haze have been a factor. So if any Adobe engineers are reading this, please forgive me for oversimplifying, but essentially Dehaze is the same as Clarity, but with the masking applied automatically based on brightness and lack of contrast.
So, in many cases, there isn't any need to apply Dehaze in a targeted fashion since its affect is inherently limited to where it's needed. This isn't always true, but if you don't like what Dehaze does, you can always fall back to using Clarity and masking things yourself. Or, if you really must use Dehaze and do the masking yourself, there's always Photoshop layers. Simply create a document with two layers, the bottom one without Dehaze, and the top one with the maximum degree of Dehaze you feel might be needed. You can then add a layer mask to the top layer to blend it with complete control into the layer underneath. You can also tone down the entire Dehaze layer by adjusting the Opacity slider. With all of us moving towards Lightroom, don't forget that Photoshop is still the place where you can exercise the most control over how your images look.