Looks so good, but…

A reader asked me this:

Okay so the last few times I have loaded an image into lightroom, the colors changed from the initial great preview to some weird blah shit when it loads in the develop window. Grrrrr: do you know why it’s doing it?


Many cameras by default have the “Auto Light Optimizer” (Canon) or “Active D-Lighting” (Nikon) set to “ON”, which is a mistake. If you shoot RAW (as you really ought to), turn those ALO/ADL functions OFF.


What does ALO/ADL do to your RAW image? Nothing. And you shoot RAW. So why does it matter? Here’s why.

If you set ALO/ADL to ON, your camera will, where necessary, apply “fill light” to the data that comes from the sensor, and use the result to make its little embedded JPG. That will make dark areas lighter. In other words, the camera makes your not-so-great images “look better” by, if you will, “photoshopping the preview”.

So, the RAW image is bad, but the little embedded JPG is “photoshopped”, so it looks great. And that little embedded JPG is what you see on the back of your camera. \

So when you look, you will see a well-exposed picture. Happily, you shoot more. But in fact, unbeknownst to you, the actual data is darker: you are in fact underexposing the dark areas of your picture!  And you wonder why when you import your image into Lightroom (which does not honour that same “fill light” setting) it looks so much darker than on the camera. Or rather, you wonder why the histograms are so different (you should probably not judge exposure just by the image on the LCD).

So when you turn ALO off, the camera no longer shows you an “enhanced mini JPG”; instead, it shows something closer to the real RAW image. And if that is dark, you can fix it by adding light, not by tweaking bits (which can add noise).

In other words:

Making a bad image, but using in-camera “photoshopping” functions to make it artificially look better (at the expense of quality): BAD. Making a good image: GOOD.

In addition, read this previous post. And you’re welcome.


I have one spot open for my Flash course on Saturday, 10AM. If you are interested, let me know now!

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