How To Set The Black and White Points in Lightroom

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry Leave a Comment

If you use Lightroom to process your digital images you will know that version 4 of Adobe’s fantastic image processing software was released recently.

After a few initial hiccups, which was quickly sorted out in version 4.1, I have been very impressed and have now gotten used to the new controls changes that has been done to the Develop module.  The main changes, and the focus of this specific blog post, is the new sliders under the Tone panel.

In the above image you can see the Tone sliders in the highlighted area and how they have been updated in the latest version of Lightroom.

The first thing you will notice, and I quite enjoyed using these adjustments in Lightroom 3, was that the brightness sliders has been canned and that the contrast slider has been moved up to sit just below the exposure slider.  Then, and this is what a lot of people still seem to struggle with, you find the following four sliders:

– Highlights

– Shadows

– Whites

– Blacks

Highlights and shadows do exactly what they say – they control the amount, or intensity, of adjustments to either the highlights or shadow areas of your image.  They have kinda taken over the role of the fill light and recovery sliders but just in a lot better way.

The two slider that I want to look at is the two below them.  The Whites and Blacks sliders.

These two sliders are used to set the black and white points in your images.  In other words, they will help you to define true black and true white in an image.

As with a lot of other Lightroom adjustments, holding ALT is the key to working these sliders correctly and effectively. Let’s start with the Blacks slider.

Once you have selected your image hold the ALT key and then drag the slider all the way to the right.  You should see a pure white screen.

Still holding ALT, slowly drag the Blacks slider to the left until you start seeing some color pop through the white.  It should look something like this.

The areas that you see through the white will be all the black, or at least close to black, parts of the image.  The areas will represent true black in your image and will help Lightroom define the rest of the darker tones, as they get lighter.

Now, while holding your ALT key, drag the Whites slider all the way to the left until you see a pure black screen.  Still holding ALT, drag the Whites slider to the right until you start seeing colors pop through the black background.  It should look something like this.

This time, the areas of color popping though the black background shows the white, or close to it, areas of your images.

Having done the above this is the before and after of my image (without any other adjustments).

Subtle, but you can most definitely see a difference.

Two things to take note of.

Firstly, my image did contain pure black (around the lions mouth and eyes) and pure white (the blown out highlights around the chin and front paws) and this is evident if you scroll back up and check out the two screenshots from when I was setting the black and white point.

Also, it is important to remember that your image might not contain pure black or pure white so you cannot just go ahead and use the above technique on every single one of your images.  You would still need to look at the image and make your adjustments from there.  As a general guideline you can start by setting your black point, as this would be the more common of the two when photographing nature, and then play with the Whites slider to see if it is necessary.

For a quick run through of the steps followed in this blog you can check out this quick one and a half minutes video.

When you next process your wildlife images, play around with setting the black and white points in your images.  It’s just another tool you can use to get the most from your RAW files.

Until next time.

Gerry van der Walt

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