The previous Exposure Tactics post, explored understanding the difference between how Lightroom, Photoshop, and light meters measure exposure.  Now we continue to look at working with the files in postproduction.

Exposure Tweaks in Lightroom & Camera Raw

Calibrated computer monitors are great for displaying color and brightness. Unfortunately, the human visual system just can’t tell if a photograph is properly exposed by looking at it. The screen capture below looks great. The histogram shows detail in both highlights and shadows with zero clipping. A check of the numbers tells a different story.

This photograph looks like a good exposure. The numbers reveal it is actually underexposed

This photograph looks like a good exposure. The numbers reveal it is actually underexposed.

  • The screenshot above is from Camera Raw 8.4.
  • The exposure controls and histogram for Camera Raw and Lightroom are shown on the right side of the graphic.
  • Color Sampler #1 is on the white patch of an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport that has the standard twenty-four patch target as the original from the eighties.
  • The #2 Sampler is on the black patch.
  • The highlight numbers (#1) read R:216, G:215, B:215 (LR5 R:87.8%, G:87.5%, B:87.5%.)
  • This patch represents white with detail or numbers in the 242-248 range (LR5 95.1% give or take a tenth of a percent or so.)

Two thing have happened here. One, the light is coming from Hope’s left. The incident meter, pointing at that source of illumination read f/8 at 1/200th of a second ISO:100. Two, the ColorChecker is pointed directly at the camera. It is not getting the same amount of light as the meter did.

Angling the ColorChecker toward the light source makes for a more accurate reading.

Angling the ColorChecker toward the light source makes for a more accurate reading.

The highlight numbers are now just below the lower highlight with detail threshold. Notice that the left side of Hope’s face is the same brightness in both of the above photos.

Adding a third of a stop of exposure in Camera Raw or .12 in Lightroom hits the target numbers.

Adding a third of a stop of exposure in Camera Raw or +.12 in Lightroom hits the target numbers.

The overall brightness of the photograph is controlled by the Exposure slider in both Camera Raw and Lightroom. Hope’s face (above) is brighter than the previous two. The numbers confirm that this exposure has white with reproducible detail.

Shadow detail

Increasing contrast or making the shadows darker in Camera Raw / Lightroom often causes issues later. Contrast can always be increased in a photograph. If it begins with shadows that are too dark, there are precious few remedies. I always make sure that the shadow details are open. By that I mean they are well about the threshold numbers of 25 RGB in Photoshop or 7% RGB in Lightroom. The first photograph of Hope is underexposed. The shadow numbers are right at the detail limit. The next two show almost double and double the amount of shadow detail. When using the ColorChecker, anytime the shadows drop below 25 / 7%, there is a great possibility the photo is underexposed.

Proper exposure as the basis for creativity

A file that has as much detail as possible in both highlights and shadows allow extreme post processing. The dense data packed into a RAW file provides the headroom to work an image in ways that seem to defy imagination. Below, the photograph on the left is the original. The exposure was set using the process outlined in the Exposure Tactics series of posts here on Photofocus. The two on the right are interpretations of the original. Both versions were made exclusively in Camera Raw / Lightroom.

A properly exposed RAW photograph offers almost unlimited creative possibility.

A properly exposed RAW photograph contains data for almost unlimited creative possibility.

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About Kevin Ames

Photography is life. Kevin Ames is living it to the fullest. His career encompasses commercial photography, authoring books on Photoshop, Lightroom, as well as on photographing women, two magazine columns (Digital Photographer’s Notebook) in Photoshop User, (Lighting Photographer’s Handbook) in Light It! and speaking engagements in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia at Photoshop World, WPPI and Photo Plus Expo. Through it all he maintains his studio in Atlanta, Georgia working with clients including A.T.&T., Westin Hotels and Honda Power Equipment. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Time, Atlanta Sports and Fitness and exhibited at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art and on corporate websites, brochures and catalogs. Kevin is a Sigma Pro and Dynalite VIP. Read his blogs on: and


Adobe, Gear, Lighting, Photography, Shooting, Software, Technique & Tutorials


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