Lightroom Blues

You want accurate or pleasing?

Sometimes you won’t get both. I shoot a lot of performing arts under gelled stage lighting: Color temperatures of the lighting is mostly in the 3000K range, but color gels and moving heads add a different light to the mix. Of course the colors are there for a reason: the band or light tech liked them to have that color. However, our camera has a lot harder time in spanning across the region of possible colors then our eyes do.
Some stage colors are hard to photograph. Most people think red stagelighting is hard but usually, in my experience, purple and blue can be equally hard, if not harder to fix. These sometimes lead to very weird transitions or colors “blocking up”.
While Lightroom 3 is markedly better then Lightroom 2 in some aspects, it still has a few issues. An unfixed adjustment brush bug for one, and, at least at default settings, “the Lightroom Blues” for another.

This article is about the blues

Not the color, but the feeling you get once you open certain images in Lightroom.
One of the first problems is the default DNG profile that LR uses: Adobe Standard.
While quite a bit better then the older “ACR” default, it still sucks has it’s drawbacks for this kind of shooting. As can be seen in the first two images in a previous blogpost There are more blogposts floating around on the internet, and the main problems are in the transitions, as can be seen in this excellent writeup by Todd Owen Young comparing Lightroom 3 to Nikon Capture NX-2. However there’s a bit more to it in some cases, at least with Canon Raw files.


The color this time. Or Purple. Or a mix of the two.
Why I came up with the term “Lightroom Blues” is simple: This is what happens sometimes if you use the ACR4.4 profile on a Canon Raw file with “somewhat” blueish lighting:
And no, this is not the cliping warning. It’s what the file would actually look like if exported out of Lightroom at these settings.

Marike Jager, ACR4.4 profile.

That image was shot using a Whitebalance of 3300K in camera, since the show was mainly lit using tungsten. Not in this case however: A blue gelled moving head (which has a much higher color temperature even without a filter) lit the scene. So technically speaking, the whitebalance is far from correct. And the ACR profile apparently breaks apart at the far edges of extreme conditions.

As said before, the newer AdobeDefault does a much, much better job (no other changes made, only a different profile in the Camera Calibration Tab!)

Marike Jager, AdobeStandard profile.

Lastly, the one I prefer to use as default: “Camera Neutral dcpTool Invariant”. More detail in the guitar and other places, at the expense of a shift from pure blue to a more purple tone. Since I do not care so much about accurate color as I do about pleasing images, I don’t see this as a problem. If you think different, use the normal “Adobe Standard” profile or, better yet, create your own. Finally, if you want to know more about invariant profiles, have a look here, here, here or download them here

Marike Jager, Invariant profile.

Remaining problems

That’s almost a completely different image, isn’t it? If that were all there were to it, it would have been hardly worth a blogpost. Just saying “Do not use the “ACR” profile, but use “Camera Neutral” instead” would have sufficed. However not all is well yet: The hair goes solid blue, the transition in the top left does not look good at all, and neither do the transitions on her arms. Not to mention the clipping warning (which showed no clipping when using the ACR 4.4 profile and minimal clipping when using “Adobe Standard” or “Camera Neutral”) now shows quite a bit clipping indeed.


This is not meant to be a technical write-up, nor will it present you with a fixed solution for every image. The goal is merely to make you aware of some of the options that Lightroom offers, and the way I use them. So YMMV.
By the way, since I’ve tried not to litter this post with even more screenshots and images, and for those of you who feel adventurous and want to give it a try for themselves, I’ve decided to make the Raw files I used available for download. Please respect my copyright, and only use the image for evaluation purposes.

The first Raw file can be downloaded from here.

Possible solutions

First thing to normally do, would be to correct the Whitebalance. That would also take care of the clipping channel in this image. However, in that case we would miss some interesting (at least to me) bits of info that are good to know. Better be surprised now and prepared later. So let’s leave WhiteBalance “as shot” for now.
The blown channel can be fixed by either lowering “Exposure” or using a bit of “Recovery”. Since the image has more or less the brightness I want, I normally would try “Recovery” first (in fact, I use about 15 Recovery as a default). For this post, I decided to compare both however.

Recovery and Exposure. And weirdness

One thing you will see when you start moving either of those sliders, is that a weird thing can be observed: As you slowly add “Recovery”: With the slider at 8, there is less clipping then with the sider at 9. The biggest visual change (ignoring the clipping warning, which is pretty useless anyway) is that after the “jump”, the hair is now white instead of solid blue… If you add more recovery still, details that weren’t visible before, start appearing out of the “fog” in the left.
Same if you slowly decrease exposure for this image: the clipping warning becomes less until you reach -0.34. Then it jumps back up at -0.36. However, you have to use a pretty big negative exposure correction to get the same “details” to appear. You could compensate by adding (a lot of) Fill, but the hair has gone blue again at this point and the clipping is back. Surprise upon surprise: Adding Fill causes highlights to clip in this image. No idea how exactly the math used inside LR works, but it might be time for some bits to be revisited at the outer edges of it.
Give it a try for yourselves, and if you can come up with a good explanation, I’m all ears in the comments…

Now for a more real world approach

As said, I’d usually get the Whitebalance at least in the ballpark where I want to be, before adjusting anything else. So let’s do that now as well to get rid of at least some of the weirdness in Lightroom. On this image, 6100K, Tint -32 seems about okay.

Looking better already:

Marike Jager, Invariant profile, WB.

I then add about 20 Recovery to get some transitions to shape up and add some Blacks, Brightness and Contrast to make up for the ‘flattening’ caused by the Recovery.

Marike Jager, Invariant profile, Basic Settings.

Still not happy with some of the blown bits (for instance in the arm), so we have to work on that a bit more.
When we lower Vibrance a bit, here comes another surprise out of Lightroom: The image lightens. Not a bad thing in this case. Adding a bit of saturation mainly affects the (warm) background of the image, but I like it.
Marike Jager, Invariant profile, Vibrance.

A bit of sliding is done in the Camera Calibration Tab, to fine-tune. Last thing that’s done is cropping and adding a vignette. Done.

Marike Jager, Invariant profile, Settings used.

Marike Jager, Final image.


Since red light seems to be a problem for a lot people, so I’ll include that as well. There is no “one fix” for all red images in my experience, so here’s another YMMV.
For those wanting to try: here is the raw file.
If you shoot under stage lighting, which is likely to have a fairly low color temperature by itself, and a red gel is added to the mix, things tend to get rather monochrome indeed: Rather warm color temperature + red gels + warm skin = a lot of red.
So the problems you’re facing probably include clipping and saturation issues causing loss of detail. And, because we’re talking about Lightroom, some weird transitions in the highlights get thrown in for fun.
In these cases, the camera profile used matters less: They all have more or less the same problems, although they do differ in color and contrast. I sometimes find myself liking a different Camera Profile better after editing the image. For the sake of consistency however, I used the same defaults as before: “Camera Neutral dcpTool Invariant”, all else at (my) default.
That gives us this:
Artez Examen, Invariant profile.

One obvious way to handle the red clipping and over-saturation, is to lower red / yellow saturation, using the TAT tool for Saturation in the HSL tab. Shortcut Shift-Cmd-Opt-S. That would leave you with an almost monochrome image though:

Artez Examen, desaturated.

Not the best option.

Something else to try

You can also muck about adjust some settings in the “Camera Calibration” tab.
I tend to lower Red Saturation a bit, yet be subtle about it: the image very likely only consists of red tones, so a slight change goes a long way. In the Green and Blue primaries on the other hand, you can move in big steps. You mainly want to tackle bad transitions and bring back detail here, not completely alter colors. Use small steps in the Red hue to compensate for the image going to magenta or yellow. If you have a nasty transition somewhere, lowering saturation of the Blue or Green primary might help. After going back and forth for a bit (in my experience, red images vary more then for instance blue or purple ones, and everything influences each other), here’s what I ended up with:

Artez Examen, Settings used.

That gives us this:

Artez Examen, Invariant profile, Final image.


Can sometimes be even worse then Blues, because of the transitions. Even when using the “Camera Neutral” profile. (In this case, just about any Camera Profile in LR tends to misbehave rather badly, albeit differently for each).
The raw file used here can be downloaded as well
Typically what you could see in an image at default, is something like this:
Artez Examen2, Invariant profile.

Simply adjusting Recovery, Vibrance or Saturation isn’t going to cut it. Sure, you get more detail in the left, and the transition in the lights are better, but there still are some (very) nasty transitions. For instance on the girls face.
Artez Examen2, Invariant profile, WB.

Even the TAT tool won’t help sufficient here. It will lower saturation, but won’t remove the harsh line.
What we need to do to get those nasty transitions out is adjust the sliders in the Camera Calibration tab. Adjusting Hue for “Blue Primary” to -10 has biggest effect on that hard purple line, but this is what I ended up with:
Artez Examen2, Settings used.

Artez Examen2, Final image.


Main problem with green lighting is not necessarily weird transitions or colors going fully saturated. But it does tend to look ugly on skintones. You don’t want to see The Incredible Hulk performing on stage. A bit better looking Hulk can be downloaded here
Artez Examen3, Artez Eindexamen, Camera Neutral dcpTool Invariant profile, As shot.

In most cases, all that’s needed is to yellow it up a bit. I usually use the Tint slider for that. In this case, a simple change of some Basic settings helped a lot:
Artez Examen3, Artez Eindexamen, Camera Neutral dcpTool Invariant profile, Basic settings.

Then a small change in the Camera Calibration tab, to get the skintones a bit warmer, the blacks a bit less green and the hair a bit less “solid”:
Artez Examen3, Settings used.

That gives us this:

Artez Examen3, Final image.


As said, there’s no one solution that will fix any situation. So try a few different options and use whatever gives best results and works easiest for you.
And don’ forget the Fifth Rule of Lightroom: Enjoy!

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