Friday, July 17, 2015

Pretty As A Peacock



Bad news. Bad light. Good peacock. Good Lightroom.

So how did I manage to create such a poorly exposed image? It was easy. What went wrong? Nothing. How was it fixed? I'm glad you asked.

This captive peacock was strutting his stuff in a very shaded area. There was sunlight on the foliage behind him, but very little light on his face or body. My tripod was in the car, and I was sure that if I returned to get it this moment would be gone, so I would have to handhold my 100-400mm zoom lens. To avoid the appearance of any hint of camera shake I knew I needed a shutter speed of at least 1/500 sec. And I wanted an ISO of no more than 400 in order to avoid too much noise showing in the image.

I quickly set my camera to those settings, which meant that the aperture would HAVE to be wide open at f/5.6. I took a shot and saw that the histogram showed an underexposre of almost 3 stops. And here is why it pays to understand your image optimization software. I knew that Lightroom would save an image underexposed to this extent.

Why did I have to underexpose it so much? Because the only way to get a more accurate exposure would have been to either increase the ISO which would have introduced too much noise, OR to set the shutter much slower which would have potentially shown either camera shake or subject movement, resulting in a less than sharp image. So I hedged my bets and took a chance on the 3-stop  underexposure.

You can see how dark the original exposure was in the Before image above. But here's the real benefit of knowing your software  -  I did NOT use the Exposure slider in Lightroom to lighten the image as shown in the After image. The Exposure slider is the LAST thing you should resort to when dealing with an underexposure. It can introduce more issues than you started with, and is not the best tool to use in most cases.

It is best to use other options in Lightroom, like Shadows, Highlights, Clarity, Saturation, and Luminance. It is important for you to learn your software, and I highly recommend that you take a Lightroom workshop from a knowledgable and competent instructor. Online tutorials are fine as far as they go, but they are generally not suited to providing a real learning experience.

I will be teaching two Lightroom Unleashed workshops this fall. One is in Massachusetts  October 13 -  15, and the other is in Northern Virginia (outside Washington, DC)  November 7 - 9. These are both in-depth and hands-on workshops that will cover everything you need to know to use Lightroom like a pro. For information or to register, email, or call 757-773-0194.

Shutter Speed 1/500 sec.  ISO 400.  Aperture f/5.6.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II, set at 349mm. Camera: Canon 7D Mark II handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere."  -Chinese Proverb


  1. Would it not be possible that you got more noise as a result of the underexposure than you would have if you increased your ISO? I know from experience that brightening underexposed images always results in noise, and I am an experienced lightroom user. thanks!

  2. Thanks so much for such a great question! You are absolutely right that generally underexposed areas are more prone to showing noise than properly exposed areas. Noise is much more apparent in smooth areas (like sky, or a blurry background as in this image), and is much less noticeable in textured areas. So in this case I was lucky that the green background was in good light and was not underexposed; it was the peacock that was underexposed and the bright color and feather texture served to minimize or hide any noise that was there. I also used a normal amount of Noise Reduction in Lightroom.