Lightroom 3.6’s Much Improved Recovery Tool

The Recovery tool in earlier versions of Lightroom introduced unwanted side effects like color shifts. Lightroom 3.6 fixes many of those.

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Filed Under: Develop Module
Topics: Lightroom 3

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I’ve always mostly avoided using Lightroom’s recovery tool. The concept is promising–it helps recover details in image highlights–but I’ve usually been disappointed with the side effects. What I’ve found particularly frustrating is the pink color shift that it’s always seemed to add, something that discolors whites and makes blue skies more purple. It’s a bit like adding a red shirt with the washing. And while it’s possible to correct with something like Nik’s Viveza, that’s not exactly an elegant solution–it adds more steps and more hassle and is hard to get consistent results. And so I’ve generally avoided using the recovery tool altogether, or, if I really have to use it, using it with a very light touch.

Until now, that is. The most recent versions of Lightroom have a much improved recovery tool. The color shift side effects are now pretty much gone, making it a much more useful tool. And it means that the advice to ‘expose to the right right’ by slightly overexposing the image in order to take advantage of the mathematics of digital capture makes much more sense (in short, there’s more image data in the lighter end of the spectrum (or right on the histogram) than in the darker end (or left), so if you expose for that you can maximize the signal to noise ratio; here’s a more detailed discussion).

Below are some real-world examples comparing Lightroom 2.5 with Lightroom 3.6. Both are using the same original RAW file (in this case, a Nikon NEF). Both are using exactly the same develop and export settings. For each set, the only change is in the recovery tool–all the other settings remain the same.

You can see that in the Lightroom 2.5 versions, there’s a definite color shift that’s very noticeable in the sky changing color. In the Lightroom 3.6 versions, the highlight recovery is much more neutral (and much more usable). I’ve also included the histograms at each setting so you can see what effect the recovery tool is having on that at those settings. And while I generally would never push it to 100 in actual use, even at that extreme the results are very usable. And it’s also a promising sign for Lightroom 4, which will have develop tools that are better yet.

The Recovery Tool in Lightroom 3.6

Recovery 0 Recovery 30 Recovery 100
Lightroom 3.6 Recovery 0 Lightroom 3.6 Recovery 30 Lightroom 3.6 Recovery 100
Lightroom 3.6 Recovery Tool Detail 0 Lightroom 3.6 Recovery Tool Detail 30 Lightroom 3.6 Recovery Tool Detail 100
Lightroom 3.6 Recovery 0 histogram Lightroom 3.6 Recovery 30 histogram Lightroom 3.6 Recovery 100 histogram


The Recovery Tool in Lightroom 2.5

Recovery 0 Recovery 30 Recovery 100
 Lightroom 2.5 Recovery 0 Lightroom 2.5 Recovery 20  Lightroom 2.5 Recovery 100


A Partial Workaround for Earlier Versions of Lightroom

If upgrading isn’t on the cards for you right now, there are some things you can try to reduce the effect. Your best bet is to try to reduce the exposure first (drag the exposure marker to the left), then use the shadows and brightness sliders to bring back some detail in the shadows. The risk with that, though, is that you can easily introduce noise in the shadows.

David Coleman / Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my travel photography here. I've been using Lightroom for years, from back before it was Lightroom (RawShooter). More »

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