Every so often I get an email asking me about the difference between the exposure and the brightness in Lightroom.

  • The exposure slider makes the photo darker or lighter. The exposure affects everything: the shadows, the mid-tones and the highlights.
  • The brightness slider affects mostly the shadows and the mid-tones. The brightness slider makes the photo sparkle and jump out of the screen without burning the highlights.

Some people like to first set the exposure/recovery/fills and blacks then deal with the brightness. I prefer to work backward. The exposure is the last thing that I do.

  • The default brightness is +50. It’s usually too bright for me. The vast majority of the time, I lower it back to the 30 range.
  • With a calibrated system the output shouldn’t matter but… I have found that it does. I usually have to “pump up” the brightness for prints especially with matte paper to compensate for the lower dynamic range and the smaller gamut than semi-gloss or glossy papers. For prints, my brightness in the low 60 range.