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Slugline. Simple, elegant screenwriting.

Red Giant Color Suite, with Magic Bullet Looks 2.5 and Colorista II

  • Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
    Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz

What's Wrong With Lightroom 2?

Since the release of Lightroom 2 I've been doing little else than playing with it. And I do mean playing—the review at has exactly the right title: "Turning Work Into Play." Developing raw files with Lightroom 2 is almost pure joy, and feels not one bit like work.

I've gotten many flattering requests for a tutorial on how I approach Lightroom 2 Develop Module work, usually accompanied by mention that my flickr photos have improved greatly in the short time since Lightroom 2's release. I take that latter bit to mean that I'm a better colorist than photographer, which is fine with me! I'm kind of sick that way—sometimes I feel that I shoot just so I'll have something new to play with in Lightroom!

But sadly my first post on Lightroom 2 after its release is about a problem with one of its vaunted new features. Lightroom 2 adds a post-crop vignette feature, acknowledging that many photographers (like, all of them) enjoy using the vignette-reduction functionality of Adobe Camera Raw to introduce additional vignetting. This effect is tied to the original framing of course, and can therefore break for extreme cropping cases, so Lightroom 2 adds the ability to dial in a vignette that is tied to the cropped framing. Awesome.

Except that in practice, the Lightroom designers have also chosen to render post-crop vignettes differently than the primary vignette control.

This image is heavily cropped in Lightroom 2. It also has exposure and contrast boosted quite a bit, enough that the sky behind the girl has become blown out. I'd like to use some vignetting to counteract this, and to give the shot more focus. What's so cool about Lightroom's primary vignette control is that it happens very early in the image processing pipeline. Reader's of The Guide will remember the importance of order-of-operations when designing color correction. Part of Lightroom's success is its well-considered internal order of operations, and vignetting is a great example of this.

Here's another (uncropped) shot in the same lighting, where Lightroom's vignette control has recovered lost detail in the sky and fence (that detail is there in the raw file because I exposed for it). This is the look I'd like for my close-up on the girl. So I reach for post-crop vignette, and here are the results:


Clearly the post-crop vignette is being processed after all the other corrections, even after the recoverable detail in the highlights has been clipped. The effect is graphical rather than photographic, and is not something I would ever desire for my photos. Looks like I won't be using post-crop vignette.

Fortunately, Lightroom 2 has local adjustments. You saw me using them heavily in my Lightroom 2 Speed Session. Unlike post-crop vignette, the local adjustments are properly situated within the order of operations. So what I ultimately did for my shot was hand-paint a vignette using the exposure brush:

That's the look I want, but not the workflow I want. Part of the delight of Lightroom is that making your images look better is so easy that you wind up doing it a lot. Hand-painting vignettes is not fast or easy (the speed and interactive feedback of the local adjustments in Lightroom 2 is nothing to boast about, a fact that is easy to overlook given how exciting the local adjustments are). The rationale for the pipeline-placement of Post Crop Vignette only becomes clear when you push the slider in the "white" direction—in that case, the overlay effect makes a white vignette that looks quite a bit like something you'd make in a darkroom. But I never use white vignettes, so to me the Post Crop Vignette feature is broken in a way that highlights how easy it is to achieve visually poor results with a simple mistake in image processing order of operations.

What do you think? Have you tried Post Crop Vignette? Have you found cases where it does something you like? Are there times where this kind of look would be desirable?

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Reader Comments (13)

Wow, kind of a shocking oversight.

I wonder why the post-crop vignette is an Exposure (as opposed to Gamma) adjustment? The earlier vignette looked nice, as a gamma vignette. The effect is entirely different - I'm not sure why OOP alone should affect that.

Aperture seems to reposition the vignette on crops, too, but I haven't noticed any real problems with it. Perhaps because I'm not doing excessive amounts.

August 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAllan White

Allan, I don't think the post-crop vignette is an exposure effect. If it was, it would look good. The primary lens vignette is done with exposure and looks great. My hand-painted vignette is also accomplished with exposure. They look good because "real" lens vignetting is a function of exposure, and because there are recoverable highlights in my raw file.

Gamma is a reasonable way to create a creative vignette effect if you expect to have to deal with clipped whites in the source, but Lightroom doesn't do that kind of cheating. Instead, it has clever internal tricks to make sure clipped whites stay bright even as you reduce exposure.

The closest thing Lightroom has to a gamma control is what it calls "brightness." You can paint in local brightness adjustments in LR2, so you could actually compare a hand-made exposure vignette with a brightness vignette. And/or you could dial in a combination of the two effects.

The post-crop vignette looks like a very simple A over B composite of a mask layer.

August 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStu

Thank you so very much for posting this article-

I was shocked to see the way the post-crop vignette operated on the image when I gave Lightroom 2 a spin. I thought, however, that I would be one of few people who cared and had no hope of getting it done properly.

Hopefully, with the weight you and other professionals hold in the eyes of adobe, they will repair this.

August 4, 2008 | Unregistered Commentersemicolon

Hey Stu, good post...hugely different results, and yes, if there's any way to keep those adjustments to reach into the raw data at all stages before 'downconverting' to a non-RAW file type, it would certainly be better for all of us.

Agreed on the workflow criticism. being an adaptive species, I guess the workaround is the rule at this point.

August 4, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercareyd

So, are we going to see a Lightroom for video/film processing?

August 4, 2008 | Unregistered Commentergl

Hey Stu -

Good post. I noticed the same problem as soon as I started playing with the post-vignette feature. 'Blech' is right. Hopefully Adobe is listening and at the very least will give us an 'use exposure' option in their next iteration. In the meantime, I appreciate and will use your workaround!

August 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

THANK YOU for posting this... I was so excited about the new post-crop vignette, until I tried it and was hugely disappointed. The way they have chosen to implement it renders the effect completely unusable for me, and makes the vignette look terribly amateurish.

Agreed, this is an unfortunate case of oversight or laziness on adobe's part, hopefully they will provide an update soon.

August 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNate

I also tested it and it turned out awful no matter how I tweaked the dials. It's of no use to me, but perhaps in some cases it would be nice to have an exposure vignette, who knows.

But to add: I'd like to be able to adjust the gamma vignette both post-crop and without. Sometimes an image looks perfect only with vignette on some corners of the picture and in that special case gives it a more "organic" look.

August 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMassimo

Massimo, please read my above comment. The problem here is not one of gamma vs. exposure, the problem is order of operations. Lightroom 2's post-crop vignette is applied after the other corrections, after the overexposed values are clipped.

I know Aperture offers both exposure-based and gamma-based vignette control, and that seems to be representative of a general difference between Aperture and Lightroom. Aperture has several features that give multiple options and choices for the user. More control at the expense of more complexity. Lightroom's engineers seem to spend most of their effort trying to keep the user controls simple and the underlying technology very adaptive and powerful.

August 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStu

Have not yet used post-crop vignette, but something that really bugs me (like, a lot...):

No Bezier tool for local corrections. In film and video I use this all the time in CC, and would not even consider the brush. Similarly in photos, I have tried the brush, and hate the friggin' thing.

Beziers would be more in keeping with the non-destructive approach, I believe, and be infinitely more useful.

August 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCharles

Charles, what works for film and video is not always what's right for stills. At first I too thought Color-like spline masks was the only way to do local corrections, but after using Lightroom 2 for a while I began to wish I could use brushed-on corrections in video!

If you want to try bezier masks on stills, you could try the demo of Lightzone. I did and found that it took much longer to set up a basic local adjustment than it does in Lightroom 2.

August 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStu

I'm also terribly disappointed with the effect Lightroom chose for the post-crop vignette. "Unusable" is right, unless you want a dark trek down into the 90's

But is it really a problem with the order of processing? Is it not simply the blending mode Adobe chose for this effect?

Anyway, if there's any group petition I can sign, or any other way to storm the developers at Adobe, let me know

September 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBert

Here's hoping others might put in an official feature request:
Use this link to storm the Adobe fort:

September 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBert
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