In this tutorial I will show you how you can quickly recover under-exposed shadow areas of your RAW images by using tools within the Basic panel of Adobe Lightroom 5.
The source image of this tutorial is under-exposed, and as a result the main subject of the image – which is mostly black – has almost no detail. Even if this image was properly exposed in-camera, the subject would still be under-exposed due the high dynamic range of the image (very dark subject against bright white clouds).
Underexposed shadows at 100% zoom
Step 1: Increase the Shadow Brightness
Using the Shadows slider, move the slider to the right to brighten the shadows of the image. One thing to keep in mind: as you brighten shadows of an image, the noise also increases; As a result try to keep the slider value as low as possible to achieve the desired result.
Step 2: Adjust the Blacks
Next, we want to ensure that the deep blacks in the image are still “black”. You can do this by holding down the Option key on the Mac (Alt on the PC) and dragging the Blacks slider to the left until just a small amount of black shows up against the white screen. These are the areas that are completely black.
Step 3: Adjust the Overall Exposure
Next, we want to adjust the overall image exposure. This image is still a bit dark, and by looking at the Histogram we can see that there is nothing in the image clipping in the highlights. To increase the overall exposure, I move the Exposure slider to the right slightly (+30).
I find it helpful to watch the mid tones of the image and move the slider until I am happy with the result.
Step 4: Boost the Highlights
Lastly, since we still have some room in the highlights, we will move the Highlights slider to the right to make sure our whites are pure white. This can be done the same way we did for the blacks; Hold the Option key (mac) or Alt (pc) and drag the slider to the right until white blotches show up.
And that’s it! By using just 4 sliders in the Basic panel of lightroom, we are able to rescue the shadow details of this image. It’s always best to get the exposure correct at the time of capture but a couple of adjustments in Lightroom can still produce great results!