Add Blacks to Give Low Contrast Images Some “Pop”.

Shot in low-contrast, overcast light, this colorful scene lacks pop, but that can easily be fixed in post-processing.

If you shoot photos in even lighting situations (like on a foggy or overcast day), you will probably end up with a lot of low contrast images. These photos may have good colors and textures, but they’ll seem a little flat or drab. I see beginner Photoshop users trying to fix this through sharpening, but that’s not what’s needed here. By using Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), you can quickly get these images to “pop” by making just one or two adjustments. The above shot suffers from this flat look because it is lacking black. I exposed the scene to be bright enough so that the majority of the histogram was bunched up in the middle because this image is primarily mid-tones. With the overcast light and lack of shadows, you’ll notice that there are no blacks in the scene as can be seen by the gap on the left in the histogram below.

The histogram for the RAW image out of the camera.

To correct for a low-contrast image, add black using the blacks slider in Lightroom or ACR.

So using Lightroom 3, I simply added +40 on the black slider and added a little bit of vibrance (I set my default vibrance to +15, clarity to +25, and saturation to+5.) This immediately added some pop to the photo, rendering the colors in the scene the way I saw them when shooting the image. One key to using this technique is to expose the image properly in the field. Since the scene is primarily mid-tones, you want to make sure you expose your photo so that the big hump in he histogram is in the middle or slightly to the right of middle. It will look drab on the screen and when you first view the RAW file on the computer, but as you can see with this example, adding blacks fixes this quickly. If you underexpose the photo in the scene, it might look more colorful one the screen, but you’ll end up with “muddy” midtones that could get noisy if you try to brighten them up in post. Here’s the final image:

Hay bales and fall foliage, on a farm in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Please post any questions in the comments section below.

Until next time…


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