I wanted to take a few moments this afternoon to discuss the often underused Luminance tab that’s contained in the HSL Adjustments panel inside of Adobe Camera Raw. I thought of this tab the other day as I was working on editing a photograph. One of the goals I had for the photo was to brighten it up, but I wasn’t too fond of the typical method I use for such things. Because of that, I wanted to use a new way to go about doing the same thing that would give me a similar, if not more pleasing result. As it turns out, this new method did give me a much appealing result than the old. It’s more targeted and it just seems “better.”
In today’s post, I’m going to quickly work through a short project where I add some enhancements to a photo of a girl looking through her camera. She’s sitting in the middle of the road at night, posing for a photograph. When I saw this photo, I thought about how neat it would look if she was somehow showcased a little bit more as the primary subject of the photograph, some of which she already is. I initially thought that I’d make the enhancements in Camera Raw, like I usually do, and then move the photo into Photoshop, like I usually do. In Photoshop, I would add an adjustment layer that brightens the entire image and then paint away the areas I don’t want brightened. While this approach would work well, it would still brighten potions of the image I don’t want brightened. I’d much prefer a method that targets certain areas, so that’s what I’ll work on today. And to do this, I’ll use the Luminance tab inside of the HSL Adjustments panel.
I think the Luminance area of Adobe Camera Raw is oftentimes overlooked for a few different reasons. First, most of us really don’t consider lighting nearly enough while we edit our photos. And if we do, we head straight for the Exposure slider in the Basic panel. The problem with this approach is that the Exposure slider is a blunt instrument. It alters the exposure of the entire photograph, even things that you might not want lightened or darkened. I know, I know, we can somewhat work around this pitfall by adjusting some of the other sliders, which will enhance the contrast between colors, but still, it’s really blunt. The second reason I think we overlook the Luminance area is by default, Camera Raw displays the Saturation tab when the HSL Adjustments panel is opened. I know this might seem strange, but many budding editors out there who aren’t yet well versed in the ways of editing might either ignore or simply not see the Luminance or Hue tabs. That’s a real shame, because those two areas are so helpful and can do so much. For some strange reason though, I’ve seen people focus on color saturation more than anything else in these types of applications.
The last reason new editors may avoid the Luminance tab is because when they do try it out, they don’t get the results they’re looking for. When it comes to saturation, yes, the difference they can make is quite straightforward. Either color is added or color is removed. With luminance, it’s very easy to make an image look terrible. Brightening or darkening specific areas isn’t the simplest thing to accomplish in an image and I think folks give up far too quickly. But these are just my opinions. I may be off base.
Besides brightening the center of this photo, I’ll also make some other changes down the line in an effort to give the image an overall better look. I’ll start off by comparing the result of overall increased exposure and the effect of a more targeted one by using the Targeted Adjustment Tool and the Luminance sliders.
Without further ado, I present today’s demo image. I think it’s going to be perfect for this tutorial.
Comparing Exposure & Luminance
Both the Exposure slider and those in the Luminance area have the ability to brighten and darken areas of a photo, but they go about it in different ways. In this first image, I’ll show you what things would look like if I increased just the Exposure value so it reads +1.00. I’ll also go ahead and push a few of the other Basic panel slides now so things later on are more consistent. Let’s take a look.
Here are the sliders I pushed.
Okay, for this next shot, I set the Exposure value back to 0.00 and I moved into the Luminance tab inside of the HSL Adjustments tab. Once I was there, I used the Targeted Adjustment Tool that’s up in the top toolbar to click and drag on any areas I wanted brighter. What this tool does is brighten or darken any color it’s clicked on. So, it can be challenging to work with a photo that has somewhat of a color cast as this one does, but I did find some good results. There were enough differences between the oranges, yellows and reds to offer some distinction between areas of the photo. Let’s take a look.
Do you see how only the center of the photo has been brightened? The edges have maintained their original luminance, which is what I wanted. To get as much as I could out of this demonstration, I manually pushed the Orange and Yellow sliders to their maximum values and the Red slider to its minimum (this is the way they were heading anyway). Also, if you’ll notice between the two resulting photos, in the second photo, the girl’s hair hasn’t been brightened. Only the oranges and yellows were brightened as opposed to everything, as I mentioned happens when using only the Exposure slider.
But just FYI, my goal was to brighten only the orange area that’s surrounding the girl, and leave the dark outer edges alone. Those outer edges just happened to be very dark reds. I clicked on those orange areas with the Targeted Adjustment Tool and dragged to the right, which resulted in increased values (luminance) for the oranges and yellows.
This is exactly what I was referring to earlier when I spoke of a “targeted luminance adjustment.” There were some objects that I didn’t want brightened at the center of this photo and with this better tool, they weren’t. Of course, results will vary with different images, but you get the idea.
The Final Photo
I’m going to go ahead and reduce the Blacks value, increase the Dehaze value and add a slight vignette to this photo for more contrast and call it a day. Here’s the final result.
I think that looks really sharp. Much better than the original and exactly what I wanted. So, the moral of this story is that when you would like to brighten or darken an image when using Adobe Camera Raw, the Exposure slider isn’t the only available option. You can also get some really great and oftentimes more targeted results from the Luminance sliders in the HSL Adjustments panel.
I hope I clearly explained how to use the Luminance sliders in Adobe Camera Raw and how they can compare to the Exposure slider under certain circumstances. If you have any questions regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!