My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

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Lightroom is a mature, fully featured photo-processing app. It has tools bursting out at the seams, from lens corrections to color corrections and even camera styles and mode emulations. That doesn’t stop you from having some favorites though. These are the ones that I seem to use on every photo that I choose to edit.

My five favorite Lightroom sliders

So, here are my five favorite Lightroom sliders in no particular order. I’ll use two different photos to walk through but will give other examples as well. Here’s our two starting photos, both raw files that have been exported as JPEG with no settings applied.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

#1/2 – Shadows/Highlights

My first two favorite sliders are used as a pair. The Shadows slider changes luminosity of the darker areas in the photo. The sliders in the Basic panel are all interactive and affect each other, so pushing the Shadows sliders to the right will also affect the darkest part of the photo typically controlled by the Blacks. Because of this, you’ll often need to bring the Blacks slider down a bit to compensate.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

The first photo with Highlights at -100 and Shadows at +100. Notice how it resembles HDR tone mapping.

The Highlights slider affects the brighter parts of the image. I use this most often to bring back detail in these areas. A great trick for underexposed photos is to increase Exposure to brighten the photo, then bring down the Highlights slider to rescue lost highlight detail.

Together the Shadow/Highlights pair act as tone mapping controls in Lightroom. By bringing Shadows to +100 and Highlights to -100, you can get a natural look faux HDR photo from a single photo. In fact, the Auto control in Lightroom’s HDR tool sets Shadows to +70 and Highlights to -100 most of the time, which isn’t too far off this cool look.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

The second photo with our faux HDR settings applied.

I’ll generally apply this to any landscape or cityscape as a Lightroom Preset, and then refine it as needed.

#3 – Clarity

During the development of Lightroom, the Clarity slider was called Punch, which is a great way of describing what it does. Contrast work across the whole image. Clarity, on the other hand, tends to increase or decrease edge contrast on the tones that are neither the darkest nor lightest tones in the photo. 

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Clarity slider set +43.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Basic panel settings so far for photo number one.

Pushing it to the right intelligently creates more punch in the image, without increasing contrast in the blacks and whites.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Clarity +25

On portraits, Clarity is like a grit slider, bringing character to male portraits.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Before and after Clarity +52 has been added to this male portrait (right).

Moving Clarity to the left softens out those mid-tones. While I’ve seen other mention that it doesn’t affect the colors, I feel that it does add a small amount of saturation. This soft look is great for skin, especially female portraits. I don’t use it globally in those case though, I use it as a local adjustment with the Adjustment Brush tool, allowing me to apply it only to specific areas.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Here’s what negative Clarity looks like. While it’s softened the skin, it’s also softened all the mid-tones in the photo.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Here’s the same setting, but only applied to the skin. It makes a huge difference and provides an effective way to retouch skin in Lightroom.

#4 – Vibrance

Sticking to the Basic panel, Vibrance is located in the Presence section right below Clarity. Vibrance is a special form of Saturation. Saturation works by increasing the intensity of each color until they’re a pure tone. Too much can be garish, and this is where Vibrance steps in.

Vibrance works on a more relative scale. It affects colors that are already saturated less than muted ones. This means it takes a lot longer to look garish and balances out the saturation of all colors in the photo.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Our first photo with +31 Vibrance added to the previous settings.

Our second photo with Vibrance +23.

The Vibrance slider in Lightroom has one other trick up its sleeve though. It prevents skin tones from becoming saturated. This means you get to increase the saturation of your portrait location, without giving an Oompah Loompah tone to your subject. That’s a big win in my opinion.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Even with Vibrance of +50, the skin tone still looks reasonably natural, avoiding the orange look that Saturation would have at a similar setting.

For landscape photos this does mean Vibrance pushes greens and blues more than reds and oranges, so for sunsets and sunrises, I usually mix Vibrance and Saturation evenly.

#5 – Dehaze

Dehaze is a Lightroom CC only feature. You can use it in Lightroom 6 with presets though. It’s not as convenient, but access to the feature via presets is still useful even if you don’t have the Dehaze slider. 

The Dehaze slider is located in the Effects panel.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Dehaze of +60 on a foggy shot from Venice.

Dehaze is aptly named as it removes haze from an image. That sounds simple, but it’s really doing a lot of work to figure out what’s happening in the photo, so it knows which areas are affected by haze, and applying the correction based on the haze at that point in the photo.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Photo one with Dehaze +30

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Photo two with Dehaze applied.

It works as an effect on images without haze as well, where it increases contrast and saturation. It does tend to darken the photo, so you generally need to boost exposure as well when you’ve used it. Dehaze can also be used in reverse, to increase the haze in a photo, giving it more atmosphere.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Negative Dehaze can make a photo look foggy.

Haze in and of itself isn’t a bad thing and does add mood to a photo. It’s when areas of the photo are more substantially affected than others that it comes into its own. For these times, Dehaze is available as a local correction via the Adjustment Brush, Graduated Filter, and Radial Filter.

My 5 Favorite Lightroom Sliders

Develop settings for our second photo.

And you?

So those are my five favorite Lightroom sliders. Do you have any favorites that you use all the time? Please add a comment below and let us know.

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Sean McCormack

is a Fuji X Photographer and author based in the Galway in the west of Ireland. He’s the author of The Indispensable Guide to Lightroom CC. When he’s not writing or creating YouTube content, he shoots people, places and even things.

  • Brandon Mount

    Great tutorial Sean. I like to use dehaze first, then brighten again to my taste, and apply global or regional shadow and highlight adjustments.
    Your tips on vibrance and clarity effects on skin tones are new to me I will have to explore thanks!

  • Sean McCormack

    Cheers Brandon. It’s all about what pleases us visually of course. Under the hood Lightroom applies the settings in a strict order that’s nothing to do with the order we edit in, so ultimately it doesn’t matter how we do things.

  • Luis Matias

    Hi Sean
    I totally agree with your options.
    Good explanation and exemplification of the effects of each of the sliders
    I add a slider – Blacks – in step 3, coordinated with Shadows. I usually add negative blacks.
    In my version of Lightroom I do not have Dehaze (I still use LR5).
    Usually the steps I follow are:
    1 – Tone – Auto
    2 – Exposure (small adjustments)
    3 – Highlights / Shadows / Blacks (Cheking clipping on histogram) / Whites (rarely)
    4 – Clarity (most often around +20)
    5 – Vibrance (most often around +15)

    I also use all these sliders, but mainly Exposure, in Graduated Filters and Adjustment Brushes.
    And I usually do not use anything else (no presets, no effects)

    To make BW photos I go to the HSL panel after the above steps… 🙂

  • Brandon Mount

    I did not know that! Time to Google it.??

  • Sean McCormack

    A quick B&W trick is to just decrease the saturation and increase contrast a lot. In fact, some of the earlier Lightroom B&W factory presets did exactly that..

  • Reid

    Luis,

    Even without looking at your photos, I have a good sense that you know what you’re doing, as your process is exact;y the same as mine – – and I teach Lightroom! Auto tone is frequently too bright, so I bring it down, but it sets the Black and White points and makes the image look better than if a RAW file were imported with not adjustments.

    I would also echo that I think the Black slider is one of my top five. There’s nothing like crushing the blacks down, clipping them just a little bit, to get a good rich black, giving good contrast in the photo.

    Reid
    http://www.lumiograph.com

  • Luis Matias

    Hi Reid
    You described my method better than I did.
    Exactly how I do it and the Blacks give a marvelous punch to the image.

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  • Bob Dumon

    Excellent brief overview of how these sliders work. I also pretty much follow your guidance on the use of these sliders. Good stuff, thanks!!!

  • Sean McCormack

    Cheers Bob!

  • Debbie Langer Borato

    Great article!!! I have the stand alone LR6. My question is about Dehaze, you mentioned a preset. Is there a preset available? Thank you

  • Sean McCormack

    I did mention the Blacks in passing, and also the Exposure with Dehaze, but I was concentrating on the ones I like the most 😉

  • Sean McCormack

    Hi Debbie, I believe there may be some in the packs at https://resources.digital-photography-school.com/, but I’m not sure which. You may also find some via internet search.

  • Debbie Langer Borato

    Thank you, Sean

  • Lovely article – definitely a few of my favourites in there. I am fairly new to LR and so i tend to slide all the way, left (like Tinder) and then all the way right see what the slider does. But these are great.

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