Perfect Tone in Adobe Lightroom for Your Dog Photography

By Kim Rodgers, Sarah Sypniewski

Adjusting the overall tone of your image is probably the most important part of postprocessing your dog photography images. Tone is the range of brightness levels in your image, from the lightest whites in your highlights to the darkest blacks in your shadows.

You adjust tone through a combination of factors, including exposure, recovery, fill light, blacks, brightness, and contrast. This is where you compensate for an overexposed or underexposed image, where you bump up brightness or contrast if needed, and where you make sure your highlights and shadows contain bright whites and deep blacks.

Essentially, if you didn’t nail your exposure in-camera when you took your photo, now is the time to perfect it! Without perfect tone, an image looks dull and flat because it doesn’t represent the full range of tonal values — deep black to brilliant white. Adjusting tone has a way of making an image “pop.”

Although postprocessing is a powerful tool to have at your disposal, it can only do so much. Getting as close as you can to perfection in-camera is always wise so that you don’t have to make drastic alterations after the fact. Slightly missing your target exposure is fine, but grossly missing it may leave you with unsalvageable photos.

Use postprocessing to take your images to the next level but don’t become complacent when it comes to getting your in-camera exposure as accurate as possible.

Under the Develop Module in Lightroom, click the Basic panel to reveal the following tonal controls:

  • Auto: Simply click Auto and Lightroom automatically adjusts your tonal sliders (the ones that follow in this list) accordingly.

    The Auto button is a great starting point if you’re new to postprocessing. It doesn’t always yield perfect results, but from here, you can fine-tune your overall exposure with the rest of the tonal controls if you want.

  • Exposure: Use this control to adjust the overall brightness of your photo. Move the Exposure slider to the right to brighten a dark (or underexposed) image, and move it to the left to darken a bright (or overexposed) image.

  • Recovery: Often, when you increase a photo’s exposure, your highlights (or the lightest parts or your image) get overly bright (or blown-out). Use the Recovery control to dial down your highlights a bit without affecting the overall exposure level.

  • Fill Light: When you have an image in which parts of the shadowed areas are too dark (for example, half of your dog’s face looks like a blob of black instead of actual fur with detail), use the Fill Light slider to reveal some of the detail lost in that blob of darkness.

    This tool can be very valuable, but be sure to use it judiciously; increasing fill light too much adds noise (or graininess) to your shadows and degrades the quality of your image.

  • Blacks: Your image’s tone should always contain a rich, deep black in its shadowed areas. If your shadows look a bit dull, use the Blacks slider to make them darker.

  • Brightness: Only use this tonal control after you’ve set your exposure, recovery, and fill light, because most of the time, you don’t need to touch your brightness after you adjust these other settings.

  • Contrast: Use the Contrast slider if your image still looks dull or muddy after you’ve set your other tonal controls. Moving the slider to the right causes your photo’s dark areas to become even darker and its light areas to become even lighter. Moving the slider to the left does the exact opposite.

When using sliders to control a particular setting, small adjustments usually go a long way. Experiment with the slider by pulling it all the way to the left or right to really see the changes that take place. Moving the slider too far and then bringing it back to where you want it can be a helpful approach, as opposed to trying to hit your mark in tiny, incremental adjustments.