Five ways to add contrast in Lightroom

If you shoot "raw," meaning you use the raw file format instead of JPGs, then your images come out of your camera a little "blah." Raw files are naturally void of contrast, extra color, sharpening, or noise reduction, all things that are added to JPG files in camera. So, that means you need to do all those things to your images in post processing. Today I am focusing on how to add basic contrast.

Global Contrast

There are four ways to add contrast globally - meaning to the entire image at once. You can use only one, or a combination of two or more. Just be careful not to add too much contrast; it's a fine balance.

  • Contrast - move the slider to the right to add contrast
  • Blacks - move slider to the LEFT to add contrast
  • Clarity - move slider to the right to add contrast (I'm not a fan of using this to add contrast, but because it does have that effect, I'm adding it to the list)
  • Tone/Curve - choose between 'medium' and 'strong' point curves, or create a curve yourself to add the perfect amount of contrast for your image

The reason I don't like using Clarity to add contrast is that it's more of an 'edge definer' and if you have a subject, like a baby, child, woman, then you will accentuate any edges on their skin, which may not be a good thing.

Adding contrast with the Basic panel in Lightroom

Adding contrast in Lightroom with the Tone Curve panel

Local Contrast

The previous paragraph was about "global" ways to add contrast, meaning applied to the entire image. There is a fifth way to add contrast, and that is "locally" with the local adjustment brushes.

The brush menu has the same options as the Basic panel does, so simply utilize one or all of the following sliders:

  • Contrast
  • Blacks
  • Clarity (remember this isn't a great way to add contrast, although it does)

The radial and graduated filters could be used to add contrast, but I didn't include them in my list because those tools are programmed to fade in/out effects, and contrast isn't typically something you want to be faded in or out. With the brush, you can apply it to wherever you choose, at full effect.

Adding contrast in Lightroom with adjustment brushes

Pretty Presets Workflow

Adding contrast is fairly fast and easy, but I still default to using the Pretty Workflow collection when I am working towards a "clean edit," meaning an edit that makes the image look as good as possible but still looks like it came from the camera that way. It's just quick and easy because I can click on presets that set the amount of contrast, color, exposure, noise reduction, sharpening, vignetting, etc., that fits my image.

Before and after adding contrast in Lightroom