Histogram in Lightroom Soft Proofing – by Tim Grey

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Today’s Question: Lightroom has added the ability to soft proof an image before you print it. The implementation seems quite nice and useful and the ability to make a proof copy seems also of utility. My question is – how to read the histogram when softproofing is turned on? What is it telling me and how should I react? What changes should I make in Develop to optimize the print for the paper I have chosen based on the softproof histogram?

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Tim’s Answer: The ability to soft proof an image before printing from Lightroom 4 is most certainly a very helpful feature. The basic process of enabling the soft proofing display is quite simple. You start in the Develop module by turning on the Soft Proofing checkbox on the toolbar below the image preview area. You then choose the profile that matches your printer, ink, and paper combination from the Profile popup on the right panel. You can then specify whether you want to use Perceptual or Relative as the rendering intent (I generally use Relative, but it is best to review the effect of both), and also turn on the option to simulate the color of the ink and paper you’ll be using.

Lightroom 4 Soft Proof Example with Red River Paper

With the options set, the image preview now provides a simulation of what you can expect the final print to look like, within the obvious limitations of using a device that is emitting light to present a preview of output that depends on reflected light. The histogram, as you suggest, is also updated based on the profile you selected. As a result, the histogram will update if you switch between different profiles as you finalize your decision about which paper to print to, for example.

In a very general sense, I tend to focus on the preview image rather than the histogram when it comes to getting a general sense of what the print will look like. However, if the histogram shows clipping for the highlights or shadows when there was no clipping for the “normal” image before turning on the soft proofing feature, then I would probably make some adjustments to compensate for the printed output.

Specifically, I would tend to increase the value for Blacks to prevent shadow clipping, and reduce the value for Whites to prevent highlight clipping. You can also turn on the output clipping preview display by clicking the button at the top-right of the histogram display, but this will only show you black clipping and out of gamut colors, not highlight clipping.

So, overall, I would focus on clipping of the shadows and highlights, and possibly on maximizing tonal range for the image, when reviewing the histogram while using soft proofing. But overall I tend to focus on the preview image for general color and luminance issues.

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Author: Red River Paper

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