Skip to main content

photo & video

Light Painting

Lesson 9 of 19

Lightroom: Basic Panel

Tim Cooper

Light Painting

Tim Cooper

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2000+ more >

Lesson Info

9. Lightroom: Basic Panel

Lesson Info

Lightroom: Basic Panel

So you've seen us work out in the field, and now we're back in the studio, and I want to go over some post-processing, as a mentioned, pretty important part of the process. Every bit as important as being out in the field and getting the right information, is coming back and processing that. So what we're gonna do is we're gonna talk a little bit about Lightroom, and then we're gonna move into some more advanced Photoshop techniques, all of which I use on a regular basis for all of my photography, and especially light painting. So, let's start off inside of Lightroom here, and one of the first things I like to think about is the overall flavor of the image. Now we spoke about this earlier, when we were talking about picture styles, and we said, gosh, you can shoot in neutral, and that is going to give you the most even, and the most information that you can get. Let's take a look at how that is playing out here. I'm gonna move over to my develop module here, and this is one of the firs...

t images we took last night, and all the way at the bottom, well first, let's do a little introduction here. So here in the develop module, on the right hand side you're gonna see most of our panels that we're gonna work with. We're not gonna go through all of this today. Gosh, we could spend a whole day just talking about this panel right here. But what I want to do is I want to cover the high points of this. Now, we talked about picture styles out in the field, that's setting your camera to a picture style of Camera Neutral or Camera Standard, or Camera Landscape. Let's really get a good idea how this plays out here. All the way at the bottom of your panels, you'll see camera calibration, and when you hit that reveal arrow, you are going to see that it's set to Adobe Standard. Now, what's happening here, folks, is that no matter what you have shot in your camera, if you are photographing in raw, when it comes over here, Adobe doesn't recognize that. Adobe can't recognize it, it's proprietary information within the file, whether it's Nikon or Canon. So basically what we're looking at is Adobe's interpretation of what this file should look like. That's the Adobe Standard, that's what we're seeing right here. So at this point we can say to ourselves, "Well, gosh, you know, I really wanted to shoot this in Camera Neutral," which is indeed what I did shoot this on out in the field, and then there is all of other choices. You can ignore this V2. This is a second generation D4S and so it's popped up with these new versions, but typically most cameras will say Camera Landscape, Camera Neutral, Camera Portrait, Camera Standard, Camera Vivid, without these V2s, but what I'm gonna do here right now is just give you an extreme example. Let's go right to Camera Landscape, and I want you to see how much darker this image gets, and how much more rich those colors get. Now this is something I would typically use for outdoor photography during the day, but you can see here it's a little over the top and gets just a little bit too contrasty. So let's now return to Adobe Standard, and you can see it brighten up again. Now let's go to Camera Neutral, and watch how much the shadows are gonna open up here, and watch how much the highlights are gonna come under control, and the colors get less saturated. This is kind of like a, I'll use the word neutral again, kind of like a neutral place for us to start. And for my night photography, I generally will start with neutral. That doesn't mean that I won't change it every now and again to you know, Adobe Standard or Camera Standard, but especially when we have large areas of very deep black like we have in here, Camera Neutral is gonna be typically my most common camera calibration. Now, if we could take a look at some other images, you can see how these are gonna play out in other examples, and where they might be important. So here we were in Zion National Park, and what I did here was set the ambient exposure for a moonlit night, kind of an overcast sky, and once I got the camera set up, I put it on a self-timer, and literally got in my car and just drove it up the road to get the car trails in there. So Adobe Standard gives us this nice view. We go to Camera Landscape, much more saturated, but also look what happens here, and this is why I brought this image up, is that the way color can be rendered or the transition of color can really change, going from let's say Camera Vivid, you can see there's almost like these hard breaks in the color here. Let me just open this up so you all can see that a little better, these hard breaks in the color compared to Adobe Standard, which is in this case really, I think, the worst of them all. Let's see what Camera Neutral looks like. Not so bad, but I'm still getting a little bit of a hard break, and so once again we'll go back to Camera Standard, and actually, I think that looks about the nicest. So in this case, I would opt for Camera Standard, because it's giving us the least artifact in these really bright areas. So my point being is that while we want to shoot Camera Neutral out in the field so that we can get an idea of what's on the back of our LCD and what we're actually capturing, when it comes to the computer, it's really up to you. Every image is going to be a little bit different, and you should just really experiment to see which looks best for each image. So camera calibration typically my first stop when I'm working on images. I'm gonna begin there, that's gonna set the tone that sets the overall flavor of the image. All right, next step. We've got white balance, and we've talked about setting the white balance in the field and how important that is, but remember, you can change it when you're back here in Lightroom as well. There's been a lot of talk about altering white balance and how much that affects your image, especially amongst me and my friends at NPAN, but I think the idea is we want to get our white balance as close as we can out in the field so that we're not drastically shifting back on the computer, so a lot of people say, "Oh, well, you can change your white balance because it's a raw image," and yes, you can. So the real question remains is how much damage are you doing to your file if you do go ahead and change your white balance back here. And what we've kind of come up with is that listen, if you're just making small little shifts, no big deal, but we want to avoid going from 7,000K all the way down to 2,000K, because that just may affect your file, so we want to be close. When it comes to white balance and it comes to raw files, we have the ability to really fine tune the white balance in a way that's gonna be much more difficult out in the field. Out in the field we can certainly set our Kelvin temperature and get that pretty accurate, but that's pretty much just a blue/yellow shift. Now you can go into the guts of your camera, way down into that menu system, and start pulling out a magenta/green axis shift, but it's really pretty difficult. So take an image like this, and let's just see where we shot this at. This is, as shot, I shot this at 3,250, and this is actually looking pretty good. But we also have these sliders here that we can move and this is why I say sometimes it's easier in Lightroom because we're seeing it very visual at the time that we're playing with it, rather than out in the field where we have to go into the menu, make a change, take a shot, go in, make a change, take a shot again. So I think the key point is here to realize is that ... Let's see, which image do I want to use here? This is probably shot with, as shot, yeah, that's pretty warm. Let's see it, put that to daylight, so had we shot this in daylight out in the field, you can see this really heavy sodium vapor cast. Now what you saw me do is move in here and I went to this drop-down menu. Each one of these things is simply a pre-set setting of these sliders down below. So by going here and changing it to tungsten, you see how the sliders have just moved. That's no different than me going down and manually moving these sliders. So you can do either one. Some people feel comfortable just using, just going with the words and knowing where they want to go, but I encourage you guys to play with this to get some subtle shifts as well. Here you can change your blue/yellow axis just in the most minute degrees. Now, while we're in here changing these things in minute degrees, one thing you can think about is you know, if you tend to be a little bit over-caffeinated these sliders can be somewhat rough. So what I typically do is I usually double click in this field right here and use my up and down arrow keys to change it 10 points at a time. And that's gonna give you a little bit more control if you're looking to just make a small general shift in your image, rather than big, gross, large shifts. So once again, if we shot this in daylight, it's gonna be super orange from the sodium vapor, so I can come in here and say tungsten's gonna be close. Now I take a look at it, and it probably will be close, but I can certainly fine tune this if I want. I can make it a little bit more blue. I'm gonna go in here and drop this down a little bit, highlight that field, down arrow, couple clicks, and I think that's a little too blue. Somewhere right in there. I don't mind these lights being a little bit yellow, but that sky feels nice and blue, and the bricks feel kind of neutral. And when we're dealing with night photography, especially in the cities, if we tend to completely neutralize a color cast, it can tend to look a little false. So for example, let's take this one as a good look. This is down in Vegas, and this was shot at, you know, and let's take a note of this, it says 4,850, and what that was, is my camera was actually set to daylight, which again, technically should be 5,500K. But because the raw image is coming into Lightroom and Lightroom doesn't have access to everything that that camera provides as far as information goes, this is Adobe's version or interpretation of what that file is, so even though my camera actually shoots at you know, 53, 5, for daylight, Lightroom is saying oh, that's a 4,850. So don't get confused on that. If you shot it at daylight and it's not saying exactly 5, don't worry, it's just Adobe's interpretation. Take it for what it's worth. Likewise, if you go to tungsten, tungsten is pretty typically 3,200. We get here and it's 2,850. Again, it's just a number, don't get hung up on it. But let me go back to as shot, so ultimately what my point here is that we don't want to take scenes and remove so much of the color cast that we remove a little bit of the ambience, or the flavor of the image. One way to do that would be just to you know, crank down this blue until this area becomes white. And if you really wanted to make something truly neutral in tonality, you can use this little eyedropper here. When I click on this eyedropper and bring it over and hover it over a tone that should be white, I can click. Now once I click, what's gonna happen is it's gonna take that and exactly neutralize these RGB numbers. You can see R is 95, green is 93, and B is 82, and when I click on that, that should pretty much neutralize those numbers back to almost an even setting. Now those numbers are gonna be a lot closer, 92, 92 and 92. What that's saying is this is a perfectly even and neutral white, but look at the photograph. It's completely sterile. This looks nothing like reality. I'm not saying that you have to stick to reality, but it just, it's too sterile. Sterile's the best word I can come up with. So yes, we can white balance, and yes, we can remove a color cast, but don't go so far as to remove the flavor of the image. So, I think in a photograph like this, I would start it off at tungsten and say, "Gosh, that's just way too blue," and I would start pushing this slider back up. So ultimately what I'm looking for is a little bit of color contrast here, and somewhere in here we still have a little bit of yellow left over, we've got the blue in the sky, so now we're getting that yellow/blue color contrast, and it keeps the flavor of the image. So white balance in the field or white balance in Lightroom, yes, both. Start it off in the field, get as close as you can. Then when we get back to Lightroom, we can fine tune it by either using these drop-downs or actually using the blue/yellow and the green/magentas sliders. So let's go to our next item here, basic tonal processing. This is where, in the basic panel, where we're gonna do really most of our heavy lifting. Let me just hide this histogram for a second, and let's point our attention here. We've got our tone section of what's called the basic panel. You guys can see that up here. And right in here's where we're gonna do most of the, as I said, heavy lifting. This is going to alter our file in ways that it's impossible to do just out in the field with the exposure. So exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites and blacks. Let's take a peek at how they look, and I think to keep some continuity here, let's go back to that same image that we started with, which is right here. And this was our first image of the night, and we'll begin by setting our camera calibration and I think we set that to Camera Neutral, so that's good, excellent. Next thing we'll set our white balance. All right, now out in the field we started off on daylight and we kept getting cooler and cooler and cooler, until we finally got down to, I thought I had put in 3,600. But it still feels a little bit orange to me, and it actually feels a little green too. So I'm gonna come in here and I'm gonna double click on my field to highlight the number, and use my down arrow keys as I am looking at the color of the sky up here. I'm not so overly concerned about where my flashlight has been painted, but mainly I'm looking for the ambient. So we'll just drop that down a little bit more, and that's starting to look somewhat neutral. If I get that perfectly neutral, folks, this will turn into an absolute gray, and that won't really be appealing either, so having a little bit of color in there is fine. All right, so we've set our overall white balance. Now it's time to start dealing with our basic panel down in here, so how does this work and what do all these tones mean? What's the difference between a highlight and a white, or a shadow and a black? I think the easiest way to understand this is to associate these words here with the graph or the picture up in here. We've talked about our histogram now, so we know where these tones are. We know this is the deep black area, this is the dark grays, middle grays, bright grays, and then our pure whites. But notice that when I put my mouse over the field of the histogram, I get this area, and that area relates directly to these sliders down here. So now what I want you to do is watch these sliders as I move here, that's my whites. So this is the area that the whites slider affects. This is the area that the highlights slider affects. This is the area where the mid-tones or the exposure is affecting, and then we move down to shadows, and then blacks. And you could do the same thing in reverse. You could put your mouse over these sliders, and you'll see highlights here, and you'll see up in the top that gray field up here. So the more that we know our histogram, the better we're going to be able to, number one, make good exposures out in the field, but also number two, come back here in Lightroom and adjust it in just the right ways. So for example in this image we could say, "Gosh, you know, those highlights, they seem a little bit bright to me. We're starting to get a little smudging in here. They're not really well defined," so what I could do is move my highlights slider and I could pull that down. I could look at my shadows and say, "Oh, they're a little too dark," and I can pull that up. So it kinda gives us an idea as to where to go, but before we get down to the highlights, whites and blacks, let's talk about our exposure slider. This is the one that affects the mid-tone areas, and we say it affects the mid-tones, but it really affects the mid-tones and then a little bit kinda going out on each side. So it's not gonna just affect these images and then drop off, and this part of the histogram here not be affected at all. It kinda ramps down so that we get a smooth gradient in between tones. So we should remember that, but mainly I think of the exposure slider as the slider that says, "You know what? If the image feels a little bit too bright, bring your exposure down. If it feels a little too dark, bring it up a little bit." It's almost as if you're saying, "I didn't get enough exposure in the field. I could have used another stop of light or another half a stop of light, so I'm gonna go to my exposure slider." And that's a very different decision than going right to your highlights, whites or blacks. So the exposure slider's gonna be our first stop. So as you can see as I grab my highlight slider and I start to pull it up, ultimately some of these whites are getting brighter as well, all right? So it is affecting outside of this range. This range is just saying where it's being most affected. All right, so ultimately the most realistic look that we're going to get from either brightening or darkening the image is going to be by moving the exposure slider. What I mean by that is one strategy is to say, "Hey, you know, these shadows in here are a little bit dark, so I'm gonna go right to my shadows and lift them up." But when we do that and we push our shadow slider up, you're likely to get sort of a false feel to the image. So I think the more realistic approach would be to take your exposure slider, move it up a little bit, then if your highlights start to get too bright, move your highlights back down. That's gonna give you a more realistic look to your image. Now, let's just go ahead and reset all this, and I'm going to reset all this, you guys, just by simply double clicking on the word tone, and bringing that back to zero. All right, now in this image we did set our camera calibration to neutral, so we don't really have any deep blacks. Even though we look at this image and we say, "Oh, yeah, you know, it's really dark in here." If we look at the histogram, it's not quite yet to that corner. So that's where we would actually take our blacks slider and bring that down a little bit. Now once this image information reaches the corner, there will appear a dark black somewhere in the image. So along with the idea of bringing up your exposure first to brighten the image, and then bringing your highlights down a little bit, there's also the idea that if you want to brighten up your shadows, you should bring your blacks down a little bit 'til they hit that edge, and then bring your shadow slider up a little bit. That is also going to give you a more realistic brightening effect for your image. So let's take a look at a few other images that you may come across doing night photography, things like this. We've got some star trails here over Yosemite, and overall this image is pretty classic as far as its tonalities go and the histogram looks, right? So our histogram is bulked up here on the left hand side, which suggests this is a nighttime image. Well, if I take my exposure too far up, suddenly it's gonna look like the middle of the day with some weird white streaks in the sky. So while you can make this histogram out in the field and that's fine, we're ultimately going to want it to look something a little bit more like this, so it is, you know, slightly darker towards the darker edge. Are we reaching any deep blacks? We are not, right, so let's grab that blacks slider and pull that down. Now when we pull this blacks slider down, it really is working this bottom edge and it's bringing this in closer, which is anchoring a deep black, say in this area. That's really pretty different than what the shadows slider would do, which it's gonna take the bulk of this information, and once again, here's where the shadow region is, it's gonna take that and try to push it over into that area. So if you're looking just to anchor those blacks, that's gonna be your blacks slider, all right? So overall, I think this image is looking pretty good. I'm not overly in love with the color of that sky, but we'll deal with that later with the HSL panel. So let's see what else we have as far as adjusting our images. Oh, here's a classic one. So in this image the overall photograph just feels a little dark, and that is because it's been darkened down here, so let me reset all this. There we go, that was the way it was shot. So this is the image coming back from my camera, and again, you can see I've hedged my bet by pushing more of the image information to the right. Now again, if we look at this, it just looks like a weird daytime photograph with some weird streaks in the sky. But we want to make it look like night, so don't be afraid to give it a little extra exposure out in the field. That gives us more head room, more latitude, when we're actually adjusting our images back in the computer. All right, so if the image feels a little overall bright to us, that's our cue to go to the exposure slider. So we're gonna pull this down. Now at this point I haven't reached a deep black, so our deep black is right here, so this would be grabbing my blacks slider and pulling that down. And now, it feels pretty good but it lacks a certain punch to it, and that's because it's low in overall contrast. So if we can stretch this whole histogram out, we're gonna get more overall contrast, which is gonna give us the punch. So now I'm gonna move to my whites and I'm gonna pull them up. And at this point you can see what's happening down in here. I want you all to keep your eye on this part of the image as I lift those whites. So I'm gonna grab here and lift my whites, and we can start to see, even though I'm not on my exposure slider, I'm not in my shadows slider, this area is really starting to get illuminated. That's because that white has pulled way down in here. Even though it claims to only work in this upper area, it lies to us. It's actually pulling tones from all the way down in here as well. But you can see we've exacerbated the problem in the sky. Now we have some issues with this white sky, and so that's too much, so I'm gonna have to readdress this. But before we do, I just want to point out one area up in here that's very important, and that is these highlight here and shadow clipping warnings. What these will do is they will, indeed, warn you of clipping, whether it's going to be the shadows or the highlights. Now a lot of people like to turn these on by clicking on them, and that activates them, and you can see, if I was to zoom in, that you're gonna see these little white boxes. That indicates to me that it is active. If I click it again, now it's inactive. All right, so we click on 'em and make 'em active, and what that does is that when you begin to clip your values, so let me take these whites and just move 'em up. We can see the edge of the information is right here right now, which is good, but if I go too much further, then we start to see a color appear in that triangle. The first bit of color that appears in that triangle, that's telling you the channel that you're clipping in there. So this is all well and fine, leaving it on. The only problem is it introduces this red in here, which is a nice visual for some people, but what happens to me is I'll leave this on, and then other images that I've photographed for, let's say, HDR, or in different folders, wherever I'm going through, suddenly I have these bits of red, bits of blue splashing all over my images. This drives me nuts, so what I like to do is keep these off instead and work in a different way. What I'm gonna do is when I'm adjusting my whites or my blacks, I'm just gonna keep my eye on that little triangle right there and the first bit of color that appears, we'll get it right up to there, blue appears, I pull it back, and now I'm no longer clipping, and now I'm not faced with having those big red and blue splashes across all my images in my library. Now we've brightened up our whites as much as we can without clipping, but what about our shadows? It does show that it's clipping. Well, you know what, that's fine, you guys. We moved the black down here to anchor a deep black. But sometimes if you just keep it at that edge, and don't actually clip anything, it doesn't feel, well number one, it doesn't feel like night, and it feels more flat. So don't be afraid to clip a little bit in the black areas like that, even as much as that. Go visual, look at your image. Yes, we want to look at the histogram, this is the science. This is the heart, or the art of the image. So we want to combine them both when we're processing, rather than just focusing on one or the other. So this image started off a little bright, so we're in the process of darkening it down. I started with my exposure, then brought my blacks down, and then it felt a little flat, so I brought up my whites. The only other thing we could now is maybe lift our shadows up a little bit. Now we're starting to pull some more detail and information out of here. We can start to see, yes, we are actually getting some detail in here. You can see I need to clean my sensor. We got a little dust spot up in there. But overall we're getting just a little hint of detail out in here, but our blacks are still clipped. So what we've done here is through the basic panel, we've taken a well exposed photograph, that seemed a little bit bright, and we made it into what could be a better nighttime photograph. There's still plenty of work I'd like to do on this, but as far as this basic panel, I think we're done, so let's recap. I brought my exposure down. I'm gonna double click on tone, reset everything in one fell swoop. I brought my exposure down. That started to look good, I got my overall brightness where I wanted it, but I'm still lacking some blacks. So then I pulled my blacks down, started clipping. Then I pulled my whites up, again, to stretch this out and get some good overall contrast just until it starts to clip. Color appears, I bring it back. Now it still feels a touch dark in the shadows, so I lift up my shadows until I start getting some separation in there, all right? So that's kind of an overall look at how I would use that basic panel. Let's check out one more image, perhaps something from our field shoot. Let's return to this image, and in this case, I think these blacks are just a little heavy for me. So what I'll do is I'll start with resetting this to where it was. I'm gonna start with my exposure and bring that up just a touch. All right, that looks good. Now my highlights are a little bright, so I'm gonna go to my whites slider and I'm gonna pull that down. Or I'm sorry, rather my highlight slider, and that's giving us better separation in here. It's not so blocked up, and then next what we're going to do is perhaps open up the shadows just a little bit, but then always anchor those blacks. You see when I brought my shadows up, look at where my blacks are, way off that corner. And something more like that. And I think that's gonna do it for that image. So the basic panel, folks, really, really important. Remember, we're thinking about adjusting the image visually, as we're seeing it. We're thinking about adjusting our images scientifically, with the histogram, thinking about how these sliders relate to the histogram, and how the histogram relates to the image, and you just want to work all of those things together to create the basis, or the beginning of our work, because ultimately we're gonna get into local adjustments, ultimately we're gonna get into changing individual colors, or even the brightness and darkness of individual colors. So there's a lot left to do, but this is the big start. This is where you're gonna get going.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

Shooting at night can create dynamic landscapes or portraits through long exposures. By using a wide range of tools, you can add light to your night photographs to create dynamic highlights or unique shapes. Painting with light opens a door into night photography that will keep you out until the wee hours of the morning. Tim Cooper is the author of The Magic of Painting with Light and in this course, you’ll learn:

  • The basics of light painting from accessories to camera considerations 
  • How to use test shots to capture your focus and exposure in the dark 
  • How to post-process your night images in Lightroom 
  • How to use layer stacking in Photoshop to build up light in your photographs  

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Tim's Lightroom Presets

Tim's Gear Guide

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


DiDi Hendley

The BEST class ever! Learned so much--Tim is a great instructor. I highly recommend to the creative photog looking to expand his/her arsenal of tools, talents and products. Appreciated the patience and thoroughness that Tim offered students. Great pacing and information. I can see how I can very easily take his instruction out at night and produce something. I also appreciate that this session demonstrated images that weren't created in total darkness.

Gene Chamberlin

Tim is an outstanding teacher - I love his style, thorough and basic without being too elementary or condescending. I will be looking for other classes by Tim in the future. I'm am excited to apply the things I have learned from Tim and create my own style from the tools he has given. I never would have give much thought to light painting in the past. I have already notice a change in the way I scout my shots, now that I have added light painting into my tool box. Thanks for sharing your experience with the world Tim. Gene

Andrew Gow

Really enjoyable course. Clear instruction and surprisingly easy to put what I learnt into practice, which I did for the first time last night. This is also my first exposure to Photoshop, which initially put me off buying the course. However, Tim is a great instructor and explains his approach very clearly, so as well as an introduction to light painting it's a great introduction to what Photoshop can do.