View Full Version : Pulling out detail in whites

Diane Miller
05-09-2014, 01:46 PM
I thought I'd toss up a very quick post on the most basic step in maximizing detail in light areas. It can apply to bright areas as well as "whites."

Here's a dogwood blossom shot on a cloudy day. The exposure was high enough to begin to see "blinkies" on the back of the camera. This shot looked awful on the back of the camera, with the whites showing no detail, but the image there is not accurate for color or tonalities, as they are affected by the brightness of the display. And in addition, it represents an on-the-fly JPEG and a lot more detail in bright areas can be recovered in raw processing. The histogram on the camera is accurate but of course it only represents the JPEG.

Here's a very simple example, with only two moves of the sliders in the Basic tab of Lightroom. (Adobe Camera Raw, the adjunct converter included with Photoshop, is the same.) Different images will, of course, be different, but this is a good way to start with many.

Here's the image as it came into Lightroom:


And here it is after about 5 seconds of work. Note how the lighter tones in the histogram have been stretched, revealing the wider range of tonal detail that is available in the raw file. The differences may seem subtle, and don't appear dramatic here, but I now have a good basis for further tonal enhancement in Lightroom and in Photoshop, primarily with Curves and tools such as Nik Color Efex Pro's Detail Extractor.


Diane Miller
05-09-2014, 03:17 PM
I couldn't resist one further step of tweaking, pulling Highlights down all the way (not always necessary to go that far) and Whites up a little more, and adding some Clarity. It's quite a change from the original.


Sanjeev Aurangabadkar
05-11-2014, 05:04 AM
Excellent tutorial Dianne. Thanks a lot.

Diane Miller
05-11-2014, 10:31 AM
You're welcome! I should have added that similar principles apply to detail in dark areas, but noise can become an issue there.

05-14-2014, 08:44 PM
that is an eye opener!

Diane Miller
05-14-2014, 09:33 PM
Thanks, Willie! Everything I know I learned the hard way!

Tobie Schalkwyk
05-16-2014, 10:32 AM
Diane, I'm glad I saw this because I always worry about the coloured spikes in the histogram surpassing the top of the frame. What does it mean in simple English? Is it something to worry about? If so, how do one fix it?

Daniel Cadieux
05-16-2014, 12:05 PM
Tobie, you need not worry about the top of the histogram...only the left and right edges. Left=black, right=white, top=how many pixels at that particular value along the histogram (the reason they spike up beyond the frame is that there is no room to include the height of the graphic for all the pixels there...the histogram would need to be so much higher and take up too much space).

Diane Miller
05-16-2014, 12:46 PM
Yes. If you have a lot of pixels in one tonal range (or in practicality, a narrow range of tones, due to noise and normal small tonal variations) such as a clear sky, you will have a large spike needed to represent the large number of them. Each individual histogram could be scaled to include the highest spikes but that represents extra calculations, and then the other tones would be left very flat, so the spikes, beyond some certain point, are allowed to go off the top. There is nothing you can or should do about it -- it's just representing the nature of the tonalities in certain images.