Fundamentals: Whites & Highlights
Take control of whites and highlights in your shots, with the help of Lightroom
Explore two tools in Lightroom for balancing out overexposed areas
The tones and colours in any photo are represented in the Histogram, from the dark parts on the left to the bright parts on the right. The furthest information on the right is the White Point, while to the left, it’s the Black Point. Here we’re looking at the lighter side.
The tones around the white point are controlled by the Whites and Highlights sliders in both Lightroom and Camera Raw. Unlike the darker parts of a photo, most of the time you want to have detail in the brighter parts of the image. Fortunately, using raw files helps retain this detail, and the Exposure slider also tries to prevent highlight clipping in operation. Whites controls the brightest part of the photo, while Highlights – with some overlap with Whites – runs from the brighter midtones up. As clipping is a good measure of retained detail, it’s often helpful to see. By pressing J or clicking the highlight clipping triangle on the top right of the Histogram, highlight clipping is shown as a red overlay. If you don’t see any, try moving Whites to the right.
Alternatively, hold the Alt key as you drag the slider. The photo will turn completely black, except for areas that are clipping. The colour shows which channels are clipping: if you see green, the green channel is clipping and losing detail. If a channel is clipped and you reduce Whites, Lightroom will reconstruct the clipped channel from the other two.
Highlights 0: Here’s our before photo with very little done. There’s some clipping evident on the model’s left shoulder.
Whites +25: Some clipping is showing as the red overlay. The sunlit areas are blown – in this case it’s yellow, which still looks OK.
Whites 0: Our start photo. Some basic edits have been done, but the Whites still need some careful attention.
Highlights +100: We’ve still not managed to clip the photo much – even the shoulder – but the whole image appears brighter.
Sean McCormack is a photographer and writer, based in Galway on the west coast of Ireland. He’s the author of The IndispensableGuide toLightroomCC.
Whites -100: Now the sky takes on a more pastel tone, with much lower contrast. The wave is much darker, too.
Highlights -100: Going down further to -100, the sky and top look great. We have lowered the contrast in the image, though.
Whites -50, Exposure +45, Blacks -27: This combination achieves a much better overall balance for the image.
Highlights -45: Setting Highlights to -45, the sky and the model’s top are darker, but the image balance still looks fine.
Whites +100: Going the whole way to 100, most of the sky and parts of the wave are gone, which loses a lot of detail in the shot.
Highlights -45, Contrast +20: To counteract this, I’ve set Contrast to 20. To enhance colour, I’ve also set Vibrance to +20.