Here comes another Lightroom before/after. Yay!
Today I want to focus on the importance of recovering clipped highlights. Clipped highlights are areas of an image where no data exists – the information is registered as pure white.
A short time ago if you had asked me about highlight clipping I would have told you “Who cares?!” It didn’t really matter to me if things like bright skies were clipped – after all they’re bright!
Why You Should Care
The problem presents itself in two areas:
When printing areas that have been clipped you’ll often see some gross looking artifacts and discoloration. You may not notice it until someone points it out to you, but once do it’s all you’ll see.
When trying to achieve bright skin tones its easy to end up clipping them.
Clipped skin tones are an even bigger problem than bright clipped skies because it presents tonal information in an unnatural way.
Think of it this way. We’re often faced with bright skies where our eyes can’t handle the brighter highlights (try looking near the sun, or at the sky on a bright sunny afternoon – you’ll squint trying to make out details).
However, its not often we view people’s skin tones and have difficulty discerning detail.
If we have clipped highlights on a person’s skin, it looks quite unnatural. We just don’t see things that way.
Anyways, a long explanation, of why it’s important to take advantage of RAW files and recover those highlights!
Take a look at the following before / after of this whole image. The first and easiest place to notice the recovery is in the out of focus trees in the top portion of the image.
A closer zoom of the image. Take a look at the highlight detail on her arms in these shots. Notice how in the after the recovered skin tones look more natural. (It may also help taking a look at the red clipping mask photo below this one to see where clipped highlights are on her arms and the difference before after)
This is a before image with highlight clipping shown in red. You can turn on the clipping mask in Lightroom by pressing the keyboard shortcut “J”.
Clipped highlights obviously present a problem. We still want our subjects bright, but we don’t want blown highlights.
- Check bright images for highlight clipping by pressing “J” (clipped highlights will be shown in red)
- While clipped highlights are shown use the Recovery slider to bring back clipped highlights as much as possible. Some areas of skies (like the sun) may be too bright to recover, but you should be able to recover most blown highlights on skin and clothes.
- You can also reduce the Highlights section of the Tone Curve when highlights still look too bright. This is a tricky area. It’s easy for skin tones with highlights to come out looking gray – but with practice a perfect mix can be found.
- Diligence. There is no preset or action that will remove clipped highlights perfectly from each image – it’s something you’ll have to do on a case by case basis, but it’s easy enough that it shouldn’t add too much time to your workflow.
Hopefully this was a helpful look at recovering clipped highlights in Lightroom! It’s a quick and easy way to improve the quality of your images, and ultimately, your prints.