Tonemapping with Lightroom

Here is a fun preset that mimics the look of heavily tonemapped HDR images. Lightroom, of course, cannot create High Dynamic Range (HDR) images in the true sense of the word, but with some effort great effects can be accomplished.

The Steel Preset

Steel is a set of 3 presets (Dark, Medium and Light). This preset is kind of special, as it uses a non-standard tonecurve. In tact, it’s a tone curve that you cannot create using Lightroom’s own user interface. Instead, this tonecurve was created by editing the preset file with an external editor and plotting the curve coordinates manually.

Original

Original

With the Steel Preset

With the Steel Preset

As you can see, it creates the “look” often associated with HDR. Admittedly, this look is not to everyone’s taste, but some people do like it and it certainly gives way to some serious creative experimentation, with, often, quite unexpected results.

The tonecurve

Steel Tonecurve

Steel Tonecurve

This is how the tonecurve looks that is embedded in the preset. You can clearly see how this tonecurve clips the highlights and the shadows.

The preset itself, heavily uses the “Fill Light” and “Recovery” slider, which darkens the light pixels and brightens the dark pixels. As a result, this preset compresses the entire tonal range into a narrower space while increasing the contrast (steeper curve). This is the same principle as tonemapping an HDR image, that is, compressing the high dynamic range of the HDR image into a narrower spectrum.

I have found this preset works great on images that have lots of chrome or steel (like the image above and the hotrod below). Through experimentation, I’ve found this preset also works great on scenes with lots of texture. The high contrast accentuates these textures, which often results in quite dramatic images. What also works well are Cityscapes (streets, buildings, brick walls, etc).

This preset usually gets better results when used on Raw files, simply because it mashes the pixels around quite dramatically. JPEG images do not have enough “headroom” and you can quickly add a lot of noise and artifacts that would not look good. Experiment yourself however, here are a few more examples of different subjects:

Preset works great on steel

Preset works great on steel

And something entirely different

And something entirely different

Download: Steel Preset (set of 3) (46825)


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