Enhancing a low contrast image with PV 2012

I just showed you some of the advantages to using PV 2012's Basic panel controls in compressing the tones in a very high contrast scene. Well, here is an example of how you can do the opposite and expand the tones more effectively in PV 2012. In the following examples I'll be using Lightroom 4. These same adjustment sliders are also available in ACR 7.

This photograph of Eliean Donnan Castle in Scotland was taken in pouring rain, using a telephoto lens. The primary editing task here is to increase contrast.

With a low contrast image like the one above, the easiest way to increase contrast is often to make the shadow regions darker. Doing that in PV 2010, however, usually involves two separate steps, as I'll demonstrate below.

PV 2010 default raw file settings. To produce the image shown
below, I moved the Blacks
slider to 53.
Working in PV 2010, here is the result after applying a Blacks adjustment of 53 in order to set a relatively high black clipping point and thereby enhance the contrast. Adjusting the Blacks slider certainly helps to pin down the deepest blacks, but in doing so, the shadow detail has become 'clogged up'.

In the image above, the darkest tones in the image have been set to maximum black. Overall contrast is improved, but the effect here is a bit overdone, with too much shadow detail missing. I then used the Fill Light slider to open up the shadow regions; a reduction in contrast for the sake of more image detail.

I used a Fill Light adjustment of 19 to bring out more detail in the shadows I created in the previous editing step.

PV 2010 often requires adjusting both the Blacks and Fill Light sliders in tandem to find a successful combination that allows you to clip the shadows and retain detail in the deepest shadows.

Still in PV 2010, here is the result of adding a Fill Light adjustment of 19 to regain shadow details that were lost by the aggressive Blacks slider setting in the previous edit.

The image above has increased contrast compared to the original image and contains more shadow detail than the previous edit. Yet in PV 2010, the Blacks slider has a 'knock on' effect, boosting saturation. The green trees and foliage look a bit unnatural in this context.

Let's compare this with the revamped Blacks slider available in PV 2012. Due in part to its adaptive nature as well as to the existence of a separate Shadows slider, the Blacks slider in PV 2012 makes it much simpler to set the clipping point without losing excessive shadow detail.

 PV 2012 default settings. I moved the Blacks slider to
a value of -51.
Here is the result of using a single adjustment in PV 2012; moving the Blacks slider to -51.

As you can see, setting the black clipping point is a one step process in PV 2012. All you have to do is adjust the Blacks slider and you are done. You can of course make further adjustments to the other sliders in order to achieve the desired result, but the new Blacks slider on its own does not have the same 'knock on' effect we saw in PV 2010.

Conclusion

We've just seen how the changes in PV 2012 can provide you with better results than its predecessor in more extreme editing situations. Spend some time using it in Lightroom 4 and/or ACR 7, and I think you'll quickly find that PV 2012 offers benefits with less extreme images as well. I do encourage you, however, to experiment specifically with images of very high contrast. Where I once used Photomatix or Merge to HDR Pro to blend exposure-bracketed images together, I am finding that using just a single median exposure image and PV 2012 adjustments like those I've shown you here, I can often get similar, if not better results.


Martin Evening is an award winning advertising and fashion photographer based in London, England. He is also a best-selling author of instructional titles such as The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Book and Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Photographers.