Expanding Dynamic Range On Single RAW Files in Adobe Lightroom (with Video)

Chicago skyline at sunset, processed using Lightroom and Photoshop to expand dynamic range.
Chicago skyline at sunset, processed using Lightroom and Photoshop to expand dynamic range.

Dynamic range is a way of describing the range of brightness values your digital camera (or film) can faithfully record. Newer cameras, especially the ones from Nikon and Sony, have sensors that deliver as many as 14 stops of dynamic range. The trick, however, is how to extract that information when processing your shots.

If you use Adobe Lightroom, the Camera Profile (under the Camera Calibration Panel) will dictate the starting point for dynamic range. If you use the manufacturer’s RAW converter, then the as-shot settings (e.g., Nikon Picture Control) is applied by default. The in-camera settings set the contrast (tone curve) and color for how your images are processed. By using a low-contrast setting, you’ll be able to expand the dynamic range of your shot.

Here’s the shot from above processed with the out of camera (Nikon Standard) settings applied:

Chicago skyline, processed using as-shot (Nikon Standard) settings.
Chicago skyline, processed using as-shot (Nikon Standard) settings.

And here’s the same shot in Lightroom when I switched the profile to the Camera Flat setting:

Chicago skyline, processed using the "Camera Flat" profile in Lightroom.
Chicago skyline, processed using the “Camera Flat” profile in Lightroom.

Notice how much shadow detail appears when you change the camera profile setting!

Camera profiles in Lightroom will depend on the make an model of your digital camera. If you don’t have the “Camera Flat” option for your Nikon camera, choose “Camera Neutral.” Canon users can choose the  Camera Neutral profile or use the default Adobe Standard. From there, I can adjust the tone sliders in the Basic Panel to further extract shadow and highlight details, and then send that image to  Photoshop for more refined adjustments.

Get Jason Odell’s guide to Lightroom here 

Watch me demonstrate how to apply this technique:

9 thoughts on “Expanding Dynamic Range On Single RAW Files in Adobe Lightroom (with Video)”

  1. Jason,

    Hope you are well. This was a very interesting article and I tried the technique out on one of my Fourth of July fireworks pictures and really like the results. I am going to write a blog about this and include the URL to the article.

    Regards,
    Myer

  2. Because then the photos look uninspiring out of the camera. Moreover, LR does not apply the as-shot settings out of the box. I use Camera Standard as my default profile, because it works for most shots. But for tricky shots or ones that demand the best processing, Neutral/Flat is the ideal starting point.

  3. Excellent t&t as always Jason, as I only use ACR (& PS CC), are there recommended settings in here? The only camera settings I see here are 2003, 2010 and 2012? I have it set to 2012.

    Cheers
    Marc

  4. Set it to 2012, and then the profile options themselves will depend on the camera model you own. Note that you won’t see options unless you’re viewing a RAW file.

  5. I understand these options are in RAW and hence my ACR question 😉 , so basically there are no other options then Jason apart from the obvious in camera settings?

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