Lightroom Histogram As Interactive Editing Tool

The Lightroom Histogram Editing is a powerful yet often lesser-known tool within Adobe Lightroom. While many photographers are familiar with the basic editing features, the potential of the Lightroom histogram remains obscured to most.

Lightroom Tutorial: Lightroom Histogram As Interactive Editing Tool

In this article, I will shed light on this functionality and explore how it serves as an effective interactive editing tool, capable of streamlining your photo post-processing in Lightroom.

What is Histogram in Lightroom Classic?

In Lightroom, a histogram is a graphical representation of the tonal distribution in an image. It displays the distribution of pixels based on their brightness values, from pure black (shadows) on the left side of the histogram to pure white (highlights) on the right side. The horizontal axis of the histogram represents the range of tonal values, while the vertical axis shows the number of pixels at each tonal value.

What Lightroom Histogram Tells Us?

The Lightroom histogram graph provides essential information about an image’s exposure and tonal distribution, helping you evaluate and adjust the brightness, shadows, highlights, and overall tonal balance. By analyzing the histogram, you can make informed decisions about your image’s exposure and make necessary adjustments to achieve your desired look.

One of the most valuable information that Lightroom Histogram provides is “clipping” information.

Clipped Highlights and Clipped Shadows Information

Histogram clipping in photography occurs when the data in an image exceeds the dynamic range capabilities of the camera sensor for accurate recording or display. This issue usually arises at both extremes of the histogram, namely in the highlights (right side) and shadows (left side).

Lightroom’s histogram includes clipping indicators ( you can toggle them on and off) that can reveal whether any areas within your image have lost detail due to overexposure (highlights clipping) or underexposure (shadows clipping). When overexposed or underexposed regions are detected, they are highlighted in red (for overexposure) or blue (for underexposure) within the histogram.

When you look at the histogram, you can see that both the highlights and the shadows are clipped.

Lightroom Histogram As Interactive Editing Tool 1
Lightroom “clipping” indicator for overexposure and underexposure evaluation

While most photographers use the Lightroom histogram for assessment purposes, many are unaware of its potential as a powerful editing tool.

Allow me to demonstrate how.

How to Use the Lightroom Histogram as an Editing Tool

Regardless of whether you use preset-based editing or prefer a freestyle workflow, anytime you dive into Lightroom’s main editing tools on the right panel, you always need to adjust the basics. What I mean by basics are exposure, shadows, and highlights. I would say that 99% of the time, I need to tweak or adjust those edits.

Typically, you’d access the BASIC editing panel in Lightroom and use the corresponding adjustment sliders.

See also: Histogram in Photography & How to Read a Histogram

There is also one more way to achieve the same results by taking advantage of Lightroom Histogram interactivity.

Using the Lightroom histogram as an interactive tool to edit images is a fun and valuable technique that allows you to make adjustments by dragging specific areas of the histogram.

Step 1

Start by importing your image into Lightroom and entering the Develop module where you can access editing tools.

Step 2

To access the histogram in Lightroom, navigate to the Develop Module. You’ll find the Histogram Panel at the top right corner of the interface. Click on it to open the panel.

Lightroom Development Module

Step 3

The histogram is divided into five areas, including Blacks, Shadows, Exposure, Highlights, and Whites. These areas correspond to different tonal ranges in your image.

Lightroom Histogram As Interactive Editing Tool 2
Midtones corresponds to Exposure

To begin editing, hover your mouse cursor over the area of the histogram that corresponds to the tonal range you want to adjust. For instance, if you want to modify the exposure, place your cursor over the Exposure area.

Lightroom Histogram
Lightroom Histogram - Exposure
Exposure area selected
Lightroom Histogram - Highlights
Highlights area selected
Lightroom Histogram - Whites
Whites area selected
Lightroom Histogram - Shadows
Shadows area selected
Lightroom Histogram - Blacks
Blacks area selected

Step 4

With the area selected, drag it left or right along the horizontal (x-axis) direction. Moving it to the left will decrease the value while moving it to the right will increase it.

For example, if I need to adjust the Exposure in my photo, I select the biggest area in the middle of the Histogram Panel and drag it to the left if I want to decrease the exposure or to the right if I want to increase it.

Below the histogram, you’ll notice the selected parameter’s name on the left and its value on the right. This provides a numerical reference for the adjustment you’re making.

And here are the corresponding editing sliders from Lightroom Basic Panel:

Lightroom Histogram - Editing Panel

As you drag, you’ll immediately see the impact on your image in the main preview window. At the same time, the value of corresponding editing sliders in the Basic Panel will change as well.

This interactive process allows you to fine-tune the image’s exposure, shadows, highlights, or other tonal aspects.

Related: Lightroom Workflow Tips

This visual and interactive tool makes basic adjustments both a very rapid and fun process.

Lightroom Histogram Editing Case Study

Today, I am going to demonstrate how to use the Histogram Panel only to edit the image.

Here is the original, unprocessed RAW photo I took while driving from Arizona to Utah during my latest Southwest trip.

Lightroom Histogram - Workflow Step 1
Original unprocessed RAW image

Step 1: Highlights and Shadows Recovery

The first step is to recover Highlights and Shadows.

I select the Highlights ​area of the Lightroom Histogram panel and dragged it all the way to the left until I reaches value of -100.

Next, I select the Shadows area and dragged it all the way to the right. I set the maximum possible value of +100.​

Lightroom Histogram As Interactive Editing Tool 3
Lightroom Histogram As Interactive Editing Tool 4

The result of the recovery was somewhat flat and unappealing.

Lightroom Histogram - Workflow Step 2
Shadows and Highlights recovery

Step 2: Contrast and Saturation Boost

Next, by boosting the Whites and Blacks I can increase the contrast and saturation.

I set the value of Whites to +55 and value of Blacks to -69. Once again, I can achieve it by selecting appropriate area and dragging the on x-axis.​

Lightroom Histogram As Interactive Editing Tool 5
Lightroom Histogram As Interactive Editing Tool 6
Lightroom Histogram - Workflow Step 3
Setting Black and White points

As you can see, you can boost the contrast and saturation without using the dedicated Saturation and Contrast sliders.

Step 3: Adjusting Exposure

The last step is to select Exposure area in the middle of Lightroom Histogram and drag it to the right until the photo looks properly exposed.

The Exposure value of +0.40 looks about right.

Lightroom Histogram As Interactive Editing Tool 7
Lightroom Histogram As Interactive Editing Tool 8
Exposure adjustment. Final photo.

Image Transformation

Below you can see the Lightroom before and after transformation. Please note, it took me only 4 simple adjustments without using the main editing tools.

Lightroom Histogram | Final Thoughts

As you can see this technique allows you to use Lightroom Histogram as a visual interactive editing tool. This approach works well with preset-based workflows when you need to adjust the Exposure before or after applying Lightroom Develop presets.

by Viktor Elizarov
I am a travel photographer and educator from Montreal, Canada, and a founder of PhotoTraces. I travel around the world and share my experiences here. Feel free to check my Travel Portfolio and download Free Lightroom Presets.

4 thoughts on “Lightroom Histogram As Interactive Editing Tool”

  1. Cool stuff. Thanks for creating this Viktor. I look forward to trying out your new presets (though it’ll take some time to wean me off of Color Efex Pro).

    Reply
  2. Great illustration, Viktor. I learned about it a while ago, but often forget to use this useful trick. Can you do an article comparing the Highlight, Shadow, etc. sliders in the Basic editing area vs. the ones under the Tone Curve adjustment? They should be the same, but setting one does not automatically set the other and this can be confusing for users.

    Reply
  3. Thank You so Much, I really enjoyed this info and expect to use it.

    Reply
  4. Clearly you cannot always take highlights and shadows to their maxima. You may end up clipping one end or the other of the histogram. I also usually move the Blacks as far to the left as possible without clipping them. Sometimes a little clipping actually looks best.

    Reply

Leave a Comment