Right there in Lightroom’s Develop module are two enigmatic sliders. Whites and Blacks. What do these two do? The word “clipping” in the title is a clue. These sliders set the brightest and darkest parts of a photograph. Of course, there is more to it than that. Adjusting only these two controls correctly makes a huge difference in a photograph. See the comparison above. The photo on the left is straight out of the camera. The one on the right has only the White Balance, Whites and Blacks set. Curious about what these magical controls do? Read on…
I believe the best place to start is with an understanding of what clipping is. A clipped portion of a photograph is either completely white or black. Lightroom uses percentages to express the tonal values of pixels. A totally white pixel is 100%. A completely black on is 0%. (White is 255 and Black is 0 in Camera Raw and Photoshop.) Exposing a photograph so the brightest areas have detail holds back a slight amount of brightness. That small bit often makes the photograph POP. A highlight with detail is 95.1% to 95.9% (242-249 in Camera Raw and Photoshop.) Adjusting the Whites slider pumps up the highlights without quite getting all the way to 100% (255.)
It’s easy to set the Whites and the Blacks visually. Hold down the Option key (Alt in Windows) and move the white slider to the right. The screen turns completely black. As soon any part of the photograph reaches 100% (255 PS & CR) a color will appear. Red means that the red channel in that area is as bright as possible. Other colors indicate a value of over 100% (255): green for the green channel, blue for the blue channel, yellow for the red and green channels, cyan for the green and blue channels and finally, magenta for the red and blue channels. Once white appears indicating at least 100% (255) brightness, slowly move the slider to the left until it disappears. The White clipping is now set.
The technique works for the Blacks as well. Again, hold down the Option key (Alt in Windows) but move the Blacks slider to the left until an area appears black. That value is now totally black at 0% (0 in Photoshop and Camera Raw.) Move the slider to the right until just a fringe of color remains. The Black clipping is now set. A word of caution; Blacks is very seductive because it makes the photo have more contrast in the shadows. The effect may be pleasing. At the same time if the detail in the shadows is important, refrain from moving the Blacks and farther left. 7% is the minimum for shadows with detail in Lightroom. The minimum in Photoshop and Camera Raw is 25.
No ColorChecker? No problem
While I much prefer the accuracy for color balance and exposure offered by a ColorChecker reference chart, setting the Whites and Blacks is easy without it. Hold down the Option key (Alt in Windows) then move the white slider until something turns white. Slowly move the slider to the left until it disappears. White point set! With the Option key (Alt in Windows) down move the Blacks slider to the left. As soon as black shows, move the slider back to the right until it goes away. Black point set! Done!
It’s really easy…
Here’s a three-minute video that shows how easy it is to uses the clipping controls. And what a difference they make.