How to Use Histograms To Properly Expose RAW files in Adobe Lightroom Part 3 of 3 – The Importance of Proper Exposure to Workflow

The perfection of any photograph is almost always first judged by how well it is exposed, and in 5 minutes I’ll show you how to expose for sunset photos perfectly.


Bonjour! Most of you probably came from either Part 1 of this article here where I covered what a histogram is and how to adjust Shadows and Highlights; or Part 2 here where I covered adjusting the whites and the blacks.

I mentioned in Part 2 that I would cover when these techniques won't work as well as an interesting Lightroom histogram trick to show you what areas of a photo have lost visible detail. If you want the RAW files for this tutorial and all my other free presets and goodies, just subscribe to my newsletter here. And if you want to follow along with the video you can find that here.

Let's cover the trick first.

How to use the Histogram tool to show you lost detail

Let's have a look at this image: 



It looks pretty overexposed right? Kind of like I exposed for the shadows. Which is a mistake for this type of photo.

Now let's look at the histogram:



As you can see there is a large portion of information in the Whites part of the histogram.


Now look at that little arrow/triangle on the top right.



Click on it or hover it and watch what it does to your image:



As you can see there is a massive part of your image which is now covered in red. What is this? Areas where the color values have been clipped, which is to say they are 100% white and hold no detail. If you were to click on the triangle over the blacks on the histogram it would show you the details clipped in the blacks portion.

Pretty cool trick right? Okay. Moving on!

Trying to apply my workflow to a photo exposed for the shadows

Now let’s try and do the Lightroom Shadows and Highlights adjustments on this image and see what happens.


It still doesn’t look so good does it? Why?

Because this photo wasn’t exposed for the highlights. Instead I would have to bring down the highlights, bring down the exposure, bring up the shadows and bring down the blacks. To get a somewhat usable photo with values distributed across the histogram.


And this is the result on the photo:


It’s not terrible. But now let’s look at the same photo exposed for the highlights and see what the workflow does with it.

Applying the workflow to a photo exposed for the highlights


This is the original photo exposed for the highlights which in this case is the sun:

Here is the histogram with the Highlights and Shadow opened up and the Whites and Blacks set properly:



And this is what the photo looks like:

Overall a much better image with a better exposure as shown in the nice spread on the histogram.

What? You still don’t believe me??? Okay. Okay. I’ll show you again. Watch closely this time as I dazzle you by pulling a rhinoceros out of a hat! A very very large hat! Just kidding. Let’s take another photo, here is the original image:


And there you are thinking, oh man, Serge is really gonna eat his words, he really stepped in it this time. There is no way that exposing for the highlights in that shot was the right thing to do. Wow! Look at that histogram, darker than the soul of a 7th generation used car saleseman from Tijuana. No way is this gonna work. Says you. Watch this says I.

Here is the original histogram compared to the Lightroom Shadows and Highlights opened up and the Blacks and Whites set:



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