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Learn Photography

Lightroom > Develop Module >

5 - Tone Section

Look in the upper-right corner of Lightroom, and make sure you're in the Develop module.

We're now going to look at the Tone section of the Basic panel.


Basic Panel: Tone Section

The Tone section is for adjusting the exposure and contrast.

Shadows / Midtones / Highlights

You need to look at the shadows, midtones, and highlights.

It may seem obviously easy to do so, but most people have had little practice doing so.

Therefore, when you're about to edit a photograph, ignore the subject.

Instead, look for the shadows, midtones, and highlights.

You'll be better able to compare what's happening in these areas if you look for them first.


If you're new to editing, click the Auto button so you have more of an idea of what you can do.

As described, compare the original version and the Auto version.

Do one of the following.

• Windows: Press Ctrl + z and then Ctrl + y.

• Mac: Cmd + z and then Cmd + Shift + z

• Press y.

• Press \.

Undo Auto

To undo what Auto did, double click Tone, to the left of Auto.

Use the tools in the following order, as needed.


A photograph that's too bright or dark can be rescued here.

A JPEG version of the same photograph is not as amenable to the same amount of correction as a raw file.

The slider uses Exposure Value, which is like using exposure compensation on your camera.

The Exposure slider creates a linear adjustment.

All of the pixels are brightened or darkened equally.

If you move the slider too far, you'll clip the photograph.

Clipping is the under- or overexposure of a photograph.

Beginners may want to jump ahead.

Return to the clipping section later.


Clipping means areas in the photograph are completely black or completely white.

You would probably want to:

• Lighten the black areas.

• Darken the white areas.

For example, let's say the sky is clipped.

The photograph would look better if the sky was darker.

But, you can't easily darken the sky.

There's nothing there—no pixels—to darken.

That's the trouble with clipping.

Clipping can occur when:

• You take the photograph at the wrong exposure setting.

• You move a slider too far when editing with Lightroom.

Let's look at each clipping situation.

Exposure Clipping

If a scene has shadows and bright areas, clipping may occur.

There are two ways to check for clipping.

Check #1 - LCD Screen

On many cameras, clipped areas "blink" on the LCD screen immediately after exposure.

Check #2 - Histogram

Most cameras can display a histogram of the the photograph.

If there's a spike on the left or right ends of the graph, clipping is present.

Editing Clipping

As mentioned, if you move a slider too far, the image may become clipped.

Histogram Review

The histogram at the top-right corner represents the number of pixels in each brightness level.

Number of Pixels

The y-axis, the vertical axis, is the number of pixels.

Brightness Levels

The x-axis is the brightness levels.

There are 256 of them.

The brightness level of 0 denotes underexposure—clipping.

There's no image information there.

From 1 to 254, the brightness levels go from shadows to midtones to highlights.

255 denotes overexposure—clipping.

There's no image information there.


No Pixels: Underexposure/Clipping

1 - 254

Pixels: Shadows to Midtones to Highlights


No Pixels: Underexposure/Clipping

Color Channels

A photograph is composed of red, green, and blue channels.

You can clip only one or two of these channels, or all three.

The colors below appear in the histogram.








All 3 Colors


Blue + Green


Red + Blue


Red + Green

How to Tell if Clipping Is Present

There are three ways to identify clipping.

Method #1 - Spikes

If the photograph is clipped, a spike will appear on the left or right ends of the histogram.

A spike on the left end means a portion of the photograph is underexposed—clipped.

A spike on the right end means the photograph is overexposure—clipped.

Left Spike


Right Spike


Method #2 - Triangles

There's a triangle in each upper corner of the histogram that changes color if clipping is present.

The shadow triangle, on the left, is black if there's no clipping.

The highlight triangle, on the right, is white if there's no clipping.

If one of the triangles is colored, click it.

Shadow clipping, underexposure, shows as blue areas on the photograph.

Highlight clipping, overexposure, shows as red areas on the photograph.

Method #3 - Alt or Option Key

While using the sliders (except Contrast), press and hold Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac).

Here's a chart of what you'll see when you use the sliders while pressing and holding Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac).


Black: No Clipping

White or Colors: Clipping


Not applicable


Black: No Clipping

White or Colors: Clipping


White: No Clipping

Black or Colors: Clipping


Black: No Clipping

White or Colors: Clipping


White: No Clipping

Black or Colors: Clipping

Prevent Clipping with Your Camera

When you're photographing, check the LCD screen after pressing the shutter release.

Over- or underexposed areas will blink on many cameras.

If an area is small and unimportant, ignore the warning.

But, for example, if large portions of a sky are blinking, use exposure compensation to reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor.

You can also check for clipping by looking for left- or right-edge spikes on the histogram on your camera.


The Contrast slider adjusts . . . the contrast.

The Contrast slider applies an s-curve around the midpoint of the tones

This is a non-linear adjustment.

The pixels are not adjusted evenly.

Pixels are darkened below the midpoint, and are brightened above

Highlights & Shadows

These two sliders are used for photograph that are high contrast.

1 - Highlights

Use this slider to add tone to a too bright area.

If all three color layers are clipped, Highlights can't function.

If only one or two color layers are clipped, Highlights may be useful.

2 - Shadows

This slider makes underexposed shadows brighter without lightening the darkest blacks in the image.


This slider moves more of the highlights to pure white.


This slider moves more of the shadows to pure black.

Increasing the value can give photographs more structure or depth.

Summary of the Sliders






Darken highlights


Brighten dark shadows


Little used


Add structure, depth


Double click the name of a slider to reset it to the default setting.

Double click Tone to reset all of the sliders.