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The Updated Develop Controls of Lightroom Process Version 2012

Users of Adobe Lightroom 4 may well have noticed that the slider controls in the Develop module are different for new images than they used to be for images in previous Lightroom versions. After last week's discussion of what's behind this change, it's time to turn our attention to the new controls themselves.

First of all, it's worth noting that not everything has changed. The changes introduced with Process Version 2012 are limited to the Basic panel in the Develop module, and to only a portion of that. There are three main sections of the Basic panel, grouped as WB (or White Balance), Tone and Presence. The controls for White Balance in both Process Version 2010 and the new PV2012 are the same: Temp (or Color Temperature) and Tint. Likewise, the Presence sliders for Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation are the same in both versions. That leaves us with the middle section, the one containing controls for Tone. It is here where you will find all of the differences between the two Process Versions. And when you do look there, you'll find quite a few differences.

Superficially, both PV2010 and PV2012 each have six sliders in two groupings separated by a small gap, with four in one group and two in the other. But beyond that, everything will seem quite jumbled up between the two. In PV2010 the group of two sliders is at the bottom of the Tone section, while in Process Version 2012 the group of two comes at the top. And the sliders in each group differ radically. Indeed, when comparing all six Tone sliders, only three share common names between Process Versions, and those that are apparently the same generally come in a different order. As I'll get into shortly, one of those with a common name (Blacks) behaves essentially the reverse in PV2012 of what its namesake did in PV2010. If you are used to the old arrangement, things in Process Version 2012 can initially appear quite jumbled up indeed.

Lightroom Tone control sliders in Process Version 2010 (left) and PV2012 (right)
Lightroom Tone control sliders
in Process Version 2010 (left) and PV2012 (right)

Let's go through the changes one by one.

Exposure is a fundamental control in photography, and it takes its rightful place at the top of the list of six Tone control sliders in both PV2010 and PV2012. It's measured in stops (f/stops), and functions the same in both. Increasing it makes the image brighter, and lowering it darkens the image. The effect is the digital darkroom equivalent of opening or closing the camera aperture by the indicated number of stops.

The second Tone control under the new Process Version 2012 list is Contrast, a slider that came last under Process Version 2010. As with all the Tone sliders, Contrast affects the brightness of an image, but whereas Exposure raises or lowers the brightness of an entire image equally, Contrast basically stretches the middle portion of the brightness scale, bunching up middle-to-light areas closer to brightness of the lightest areas and pushing middle-to-dark areas toward the shadows. It combines the affect of both Contrast and Brightness under PV2010. Think of Contrast as being similar to the midtone slider in Photoshop Levels.

These two sliders allow you affect the overall tone of an image. If you've ever adjusted the brightness and contrast on your television set, you already know how Exposure and Contrast work in the Lightroom develop module. The remaining four controls for Tone in PV2012 come in pairs that allow you to fine tune image tone at both ends of the brightness scale.

Highlight and Shadow allow you to recover or hide detail in the respective regions of an image. Dragging either to the right reveals more detail in that region of brightness, while moving either to the left conceals more detail. Both are intended to not affect clipping at the very ends of the scale but instead only to modify local brightness approaching those ends. The old Recovery and Fill Light PV2010 sliders are now gone, with their functions being taken over in PV2012 by the Highlight and Shadow controls. Increasing Highlight is basically equivalent to using the old Recovery slider in Process Version 2010 by working to recover blown out highlight details. Similarly, the new Shadow slider is loosely analogous to the Fill Light control under PV2010.

The final two Tone controls in Process Version 2012 are called Whites and Blacks which may at first sound confusingly similar to Highlight and Shadow, but their effect is definitely different. Each controls the clipping point at its respective end of the brightness scale. Dragging either towards the end it is named for will increase clipping at that end. Drag either away from that direction and you will reduce clipping. That is to say, if you move the Whites control towards the right you will create more clipping at the top of the scale while creating more shadow clipping (more solid black shadows) would be achieved by moving the Blacks slider towards the left. Moving either in the opposite direction (Whites to the left and Blacks to the right) would decrease clipping at the corresponding end.

As I alluded to earlier, it is the Process Version 2012 Blacks slider that will likely cause the most confusion for users upgrading from earlier versions of Lightroom. It behaves essentially the opposite of what Blacks slider did in PV2010. In Process Version 2010, moving the Blacks slider further right created deeper shadows, but in Process Version 2010, moving the Blacks slider to the right decreases black clipping. This change still catches me on occasion I must admit. But if the left-to-right direction of the slider seems confusing, the numeric value it is represented by seems perfectly logical. Moving both Whites and Blacks towards the right is represented numerically as a positive value and therefore adds to the brightness of that end of the tonal scale, while moving either towards the left shows as a negative number, and therefore subtracts from the brightness of the corresponding region. The Blacks scale under PV2010 didn't use relative negative/positive values but instead displayed absolute pixel brightness values from zero on up. Rather than adding to or subtracting brightness, it mapped pixel values less than the set number to pure black. After you work with it a bit, it does make sense, trust me.

Photographers may not always agree with what Adobe engineers intended, but their stated intent was to organize the controls so that a user could generally apply them in order, from top to bottom. It's just that with this version they changed their mind as to what that ideal sequence, and indeed what the steps in that sequence, should be. It's a fact that, as they added to and revised the Tone controls in previous iterations of Lightroom (and Adobe Camera Raw) things had become somewhat muddled, but the complete rethinking of controls may surprise those who had grown familiar with whatever quirks the old controls and their layout may have come with. As I've used the new controls though, I've found that the new Process Version controls streamline things and do seem to flow in a more natural order, even if they have taken a bit of getting used to.

Date posted: February 3, 2013


Copyright © 2013 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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