I've been watching a number of how-to videos on Lightroom, and one general workflow I've seen is performing the Basic adjustments first (white, black, highlights, shadows, etc.), followed by adjusting the Tone Curve. When I try this workflow in my own RAW images (using Lightroom 6.14), I typically end up with photos that are too dark after making the Tone Curve adjustments. I will typically just try out the Tone Curve presets (medium contrast or strong contrast), and both appear to have an overall darkening effect. This results in my having to return to the Basic panel to boost shadows a second time to pull out detail that was lost.

Is there a better order of operations for adjusting contrast in an image? Should I avoid adjusting the highlights and shadows sliders in the Basic panel, opting for the contrast settings in the Tone Curve instead?

I've read the following questions, but they don't appear to discuss the overall order of operations that might work best:

  • \$\begingroup\$ Naturally, you've adjusted the ambient lighting so that it's not too bright (~60 lux centre screen) with the monitor off. Of course, you've calibrated your monitor and the gamma is 2.2 and the brightness and white-point has been adjusted. You can see and print a standard file with some consistency. \$\endgroup\$
    – Stan
    Jun 28, 2018 at 4:56

2 Answers 2


My approach is a bit different from the mentioned above and I have own reason about. I start from bottom to the top.

  1. Lens corrections, this correct distortion and give me view of the end picture (before crop if applicable).
  2. Then I apply Transform to get (again) the end view in sense of size and objects location
  3. Next is Details. I prefer to set details and noise reduction before I touch the Whites, Blacks. IMHO this give me more precise picture of what I need to do with sharpness and noise. If I apply significant changes in dark areas maybe I return again to this point.
  4. Then is Tone Curve. I apply only if I see need for it.
  5. And after all above I apply Basic.
  6. Next are HSL, Split Toning, Effects ... (not in this particular order)

In some cases as point 0.5 I touch Camera Calibration but mostly on landscape type images

This workflow help me have (in most of the cases) well balanced (in sense of blacks and whites) image.


you need to do camera and lens correction firstly. In this question, let us focus on the basic panel. This is my work flow and the reason just for reference:

  • Reduce the contrast to -50. This is for flatting the 'gamma' to linear (stated in Real World Camera Raw). For a high-contrast image, it will help us to customize the black&white point as well as the details.

  • Adjust the 'exposure'. Low/High-key image corresponds to different exposure, hence, the histogram will stack on the left or right respectively. No histogram is always correct. The exposure slider is very important to adjust the overall key of image. You can adjust it beyond this step because it can provides additional headroom for shadow or highlight adjustment.

  • Black and White sliders. These two slider are similar to adjust the white or black clip by curves ( merely roll-off but not hard clip). If you wants to maximize the overall contrast, pushing the sliders as much as possible. During this step, you will find that it is very hard to maintain the details. Don't worry, we'll recover them in the next step.

  • While the black and white sliders killing too much details, using 'shadow' and 'highlight' sliders to recover the details. The algorithem of this two sliders is beyond the tone curve and with the local contrast enhancement.

For your question, you need to know, 'too dark' may caused by either wrong exposure or detail-less shadow. Therefore, adjusting the balance between 'shadow' and Black clips. Your purpose should be balancing the tone vs. details of shadows, so only these two sliders are not subtle enough, so you can allocate the tones by curves.

In fact the whole basic panel should paticipate in the process of balance. But I have told the mechanism of these sliders. The highest purpose of using each tool is balancing the details (highlight/shadow sliders) and tones (other tools including curves).

Finally, observing the tone between each part in image, if you can not find a balance for overall scene, you may be better to realize the local adjustment is necessary, by brush or other tools.

Apologize for my poor english : )


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