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Tips & Tricks

Lightroom Trick To Get More From Your Shadows Than Your Shadows Slider Allows

By Kishore Sawh on February 16th 2015


As photographers, we are forever searching for ways to get our images to look as we envision them. One of our primary problems comes from the fact that camera sensors, as clever as they are, aren’t quite as clever as our eyes – at least as processed by our brains. Our eyes have the ability to all at once see very different levels of ‘exposure.’ Looking at a sunset, for example, we are able to see the correct hues and highlights of the bright sky in great detail, whilst at the same time, the same for the more ‘earthly’ portions of the scene. Typically, in a camera, we can only expose for one area precisely, so we meter for the brights or the darks, or somewhere in between.

In an effort to mitigate this problem, we are eternally searching for new or better ways of recovering detail from the highlights, and more commonly the shadows. It’s one of the huge benefits of shooting in RAW, and why we love our shadow recovery sliders so much. They allow us to expose for the brighter areas, and bring back detail from the shadows in post. Even as I always shoot to get it right in-camera, I tend to underexpose my images more than most and recommend the same since our software tends to do a better job at bringing back shadow detail than highlight detail, in my experience. Now, Matt Kloskowski from onOne has shared a different way to use Lightroom to get even more out of your shadows than your current Lightroom Shadow slider allows for.



Shadows brought back with Shadow Slider


Shadows brought back with Fill Light, and not to maximum

Prior to Lightroom 4, the ‘Shadow’ slider existed as the ‘Fill Light’ slider, but it seems the algorithm was a bit different and that the old version was quite a bit more powerful. Here, Matt shows you how you can very simply revert back to the older process version of Lightroom to take advantage of this old slider, and maybe even some other options. This should not be confused with reverting your entire application to an older version, as that’s not at all the case. How to: Go to Settings>Process>2010. That’s it.

There is, as with everything, a slight caveat, and that once you enter that older profile, and manipulate your image, you will not be able to revert back to the current Lightroom platform within that particular photo. It’s also good to keep in mind that the Fill Light slider is not the only difference, and you may miss certain options you like, and then there’s the different color profile which may require some adjustment of your image. At Matt’s suggestion, you may prefer to create a preset that lets you see the shadow detail benefit of the switch before the switch is actually made.


[REWIND: Spot Metering | How To Get Perfect Exposures In One Shot]

It should also be said that if you find the Shadow slider unable to get your image to where you want it to be, you may have to sacrifice quality of those shadow areas too much to make it worth it. It’s a balancing act.

If you’re looking to really squeeze everything out of Lightroom, and save time doing it, then it’s worth your time to check out our Lightroom Image Mastery and vaunted Lightroom Preset System. Or you can go whole hog with the collection.

Find more from Matt here an onOne

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Geri Geraldhi

    nice sharing

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  2. Jason Teale

    This has been all over the internet these days. Until matt pointed this out, I always wondered about those settings.

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  3. Kyle Stauffer

    I’ve never been a fan of lifting shadows over a large area such as the example photo. In my opinion it makes the greens and any plants such as tree’s look fake. The only time I test the dynamic range of my image is when it’s been underexposed or needs light in a certain area where a reflector wasn’t used. To each their own.

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  4. Ron Fya

    There is another way, more flexible too.

    Dezoom a bit, create a narrow gradient filter and place it outside the picture.
    Twaek its shadow slider as needed.
    You can even stack a few of them for even better effects (color leaks and so on).

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  5. Bogdan Roman

    why not make use of your current Shadows slider and if that is not enough simply add some brushie brushie to the zone one wants to recover details and use the brushie’s very own slider?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Well this is the question really. Generally if my image needs that much recovery I won’t use it, BUT, form what I understand, the brushes, even when stacked, won’t do quite the same job.

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  6. Mark Henry Dela Torre

    How about stacking shadow brushes. Will that work.

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  7. Duc Hong

    really nice trick, but I’m not sure whether this will work well with SLR Lightroom Preset v6

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  8. James Bearce

    You say:

    “I tend to underexpose my images more than most and recommend the same since our software tends to do a better job at bringing back shadow detail than highlight detail”

    But, yet, almost every other article I’ve read talks about recovering more detail from the highlights, given a) noise inherent to the blacks and b) the fact that more tonal information is captured from the right of the histogram.

    Why do you think software tends to do a better job at bringing back shadow detail?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I do understand that James, though I wouldn’t say all other articles tell the highlights are where all detail is to be recovered. Highlights, from my experience, if not exposed for properly, can certainly mask a lot of detail. I think this is why it’s spoken about so much. It’s actually precisely this reason that I prefer to expose more forgivingly in favor of the highlights, than of the shadows. When brought back if blown out, highlighted areas can come with strange effects, from aberration-like halos, to banding, and more. While noise does like to hide in the shadows, I find modern sensors and software still do a better job at their recovery than of highlights. One only needs to look at what can be done with the Nikon D750 to see how much can be brought back, and just how well.

      To see a bit of this check out my review of the D750 and Jay’s of the D4s:

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    • Stephen Jennings

      I think it depends on the camera sesnor as to whether shadow/highlight is better. From my experience with Nikons shadows are always a better bet to pull detail from, while highlights the detail is lost if too-over exposed. So it’s more of the extremes — way under exposed you retain detail, way over exposed you lose the detail. I just tested a photo of a sunset and the area over exposed by sunlight is a big white bloch if I drop the exposure slider to it’s lowest setting, but if I crank it up the entire forest hidden in the shadows shows up in detail (albeit grainy detail).

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    • James Bearce

      Thanks Kishore. I’ll check out the reviews. Certainly not all articles promote recovery from the highlights, but most I’ve seen do, so I’m still curious why some people take the opposite view.

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    • Hannu Siika-aho

      It really depends on the camera/sensor. My experiences with my few cams have been different for different camera. For example, you need to protect the highlights of Olympus Pens and Pentax DSLRs (models from few years back). Nikon was much more forgiving to burnt highlights. Also, with my Fuji X I can recover a great amount of overexposed highlights.

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    • Graham Curran

      This may be a bit late but there is a good article on the Adobe site about how digital sensors capture light and why we need to expose to the right.

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  9. Brandon Dewey

    cool trick, thanks for sharing

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  10. James Rogen

    how do i delete a comment?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I got you James, you spammer! ;-) Fret not, I’ll take care of it. And we’re actively sorting out the spam issue. Thanks for your understanding.

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