Enhancing Detail and Dynamic Range in Lightroom 4

In this Lightroom 4 tutorial, we will be showing you how to enhance the detail and expand the dynamic range of a single raw image using the Lightroom 4 Preset System and techniques that we teach on the Lightroom 4 A to Z DVD.

Enhancing Detail and Dynamic Range in Lightroom 4

As always, for those that may not have the LR4 Preset System, we will show you each step of the process as we walk through this Lightroom 4 edit.

The goal and vision is to create an image with enhanced detail, contrast, and dynamic range without crossing over into the “overdone HDR” territory.

Mixology Recipe and Tutorial

For those that already have the SLR Lounge Lightroom 4 Preset System, we will be using the following presets and brush settings. (For those that may not have the LR4 Preset System, don’t worry, we will cover all of the relevant settings in detail below using screen shots with the appropriate values):

  • MY MIXOLOGY > 00 Standard Import
  • MY MIXOLOGY > 25 HDR Strong
  • BASE ADJUSTMENTS > 02 Darken

In addition to the initial overall adjustments, we will do additional detail work using the following brush and graduated filters:

  • DODGE | BURN > 02 Burn (Darken) -1 stop
  • DODGE | BURN > 12 Sky | Cloud | Ocean
  • DODGE | BURN> 13 Nature | Color

Continue reading, or watch the video to see exactly how the preset adjustments are applied.

Shooting the Image

Today we are using a raw image that was shot at the top of our camera’s bracketing sequence, meaning that it is going to be overexposed in certain areas. It was shot at the lowest native ISO in order to retain as much dynamic range and detail as possible.

We will use the entire bracketed sequence in upcoming tutorials that will be featured on our upcoming HDR tutorial series. But for now, let’s just assume we only shot one image and we want to do whatever is possible in post production to improve dynamic range and detail.

Here is our original raw image as shot from our Canon 5D Mark III and 17-40L lens.

Shooting the Image

Step 1 – Basic Adjustments

We need to expand our dynamic range for this image by first pulling down our Highlights to -100 and Whites to -70, while also boosting our Shadows to +70 and Blacks to +60. This will add detail to our highlights and shadows by darkening the highlights and brightening the shadows.

This overall adjustment will also require us to darken the overall Exposure by -1.2 to compensate for the brightening of the shadows. In addition, these adjustments are going to flatten out our contrast, so we will need to boost Contrast to +50.

Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation are left alone for right now. We are going to bump those up manually a little later. At this point, the image is a little too warm so we are also going to make our final temperature adjustment from 6400 to 6250.

Step 1 – Basic Adjustments

Here is our image after these Basic Panel adjustments have been made. We can already see a great improvement in the overall detail and dynamic range in our image.

Step 1 – Basic Adjustments

Step 2 – Tone Curve

At this point, I also want to add a subtle S-shaped tone curve just to boost a bit of the overall contrast a bit more. Take a look at the final tone curve adjustment below:

Step 2 – Tone Curve

Step 3 – Detail & Sharpening

We are going to use our standard detail and sharpening settings for this image to boost overall sharpness while not adding too much additional noise/grain. These settings are shown below :

Step 3 – Detail & Sharpening

Step 4 – Crop & Straighten

Before any manual adjustments are made we straighten the image and give a final crop to avoid painting unnecessary areas. We set a custom crop of 2:1 Aspect ratio to give a nice panoramic look that works great with this image.

Step 4 – Crop & Straighten

Step 4 – Crop & Straighten

This is also a great time to straighten the horizon line if needed.

Step 4 – Crop & Straighten

Step 5 – Enhancing Detail via Filters & Brushes

Now for the fun part. We still want to bring out some of the detail and colors in this great sunrise scene. Using a Graduated Burn brush preset we pull out more color in the sky, as well as amplify the colors in the trees, foliage, and river.

Step 5 – Enhancing Detail via Filters & Brushes

For the top of the image we burn about -0.5 and -0.7 for the bottom. This gives a nice, natural graduation that deepens the color and detail. It is important to avoid hard graduating edges, called posterization, which creates unnatural edges of detail that are blown out next to areas that are not.

To further enhance the sky, we use another brush preset, Sky | Cloud | Ocean, to enhance the contrast, saturation, and sharpness. We burn in the sky, avoiding the mountains and trees by subtracting with a large, soft brush. (* If you dont already own the preset system, just follow the values on the screen shot below)

Step 5 – Enhancing Detail via Filters & Brushes

Step 5 – Enhancing Detail via Filters & Brushes

To enhance the rest of the image we use our Nature | Color preset and paint over the entire image. Holding down <alt>
, <option> for MAC, we feather off the sky so that the effect does not appear so heavy handed. We also feather out any individuals in the frame.

Step 5 – Enhancing Detail via Filters & Brushes

Step 5 – Enhancing Detail via Filters & Brushes

Step 6 – Vignetting for a Subtle Edge Burn

The final touch we will put on our image is Lens Vignetting found under Lens Corrections. By subtly darkening the edges of the frame, the eye will be drawn to the center of the image.

Step 6 – Vignetting for a Subtle Edge Burn

Final Before & After Images

RAW Image

Final Before & After Images

Final Image

Final Before & After Images

About This Tutorial

This tutorial was written by the fine folks at SLR Lounge.  As I said many times before, SLR Lounge brings some of the best Lightroom tutorials I’ve seen on the planet. If you enjoyed this tutorial, consider getting the entire packed Lightroom training system over at SLR Lounge.

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