Avoiding Clipped Highlights and Shadows with Lightroom

Jan 16, 2017  By William Royce

One topic that must be understood by the successful photographer is how to avoid blown out highlights and featureless black shadows, often referred to as clipped tones. There are times when these are desirable in an image, such as a high key image or one with a dark silhouette. However, this article assumes you wish to have a full range of tones and no clipping.

Good tone control starts with a good exposure in your camera, which actually determines the mid-tones in your image. You should consider using the histogram function on your camera when you view the image you just took. Is it showing highlight or shadow clipping? Adjust your exposure accordingly and re-take the picture as needed. For M digital cameras, I can tell you from personal experience the M 240 is more tolerant of highlight clipping than the M Monochrom 246, which is very sensitive to highlight clipping. On the other hand, the M Monochrom 246 can handle underexposed shadows much better than the M 240.

Figure one below shows a range of tones from total black on the bridge structure to blown out areas in the upper part of the clouds, which amounts to significant clipping. Depending on display quality, this may not be obvious when viewed during image development in Lightroom. This image was taken using aperture priority auto exposure with an M 240, which for typical scenes, usually works fairly well. In this case, however, the brightest and darkest tones show little to no detail.

figure 1: Golden Gate Bridge image before clipping corrections applied.


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