Cover Image for State of the Art Highlight and Shadow Recovery in Darkroom

State of the Art Highlight and Shadow Recovery in Darkroom

We're thrilled to release a major upgrade to our exposure recovery sliders that introduces state of the art recovery to highlights and shadows. This was a major technical investment for us that enables a whole new set of edits that were simply out of reach previously.

Five sliders in Darkroom have been rebuilt from the ground up: Exposure, Whites, Highlights, Shadows, and Blacks. These enhancements are available for all image types, though they are particularly powerful for RAW editing workflows, since RAW photos have a lot more detail to recover.

Because highlight & shadow recovery is so central to photo editing workflow, this is among our most consequential updates to Darkroom's rendering engine since 2018 when we added RAW editing support.

The importance of highlight & shadow recovery

Unless you're at a Hollywood production stage, you're at the mercy of environmental lighting when taking photos. More often than not, the sky will be brighter than you want, and the shadows will be darker than you want. As a result, photos straight off the camera don't look the way your eyes were perceiving the scene, and that's where highlight & shadow recovery becomes critical. By recovering details that are hard to see, more of your scene is comfortably visible, and your photo tells a more nuanced and complete story.

You can now make edits that look as if you turned on the lights outdoors, without losing any detail.

If you shoot with a dedicated camera (as opposed to an iPhone), you'll be all too familiar with this process. On an iPhone however, the native camera app steps in to try and resolve this problem for you at capture-time. AI-powered algorithms capture multiple photos with different exposures, and blend them seamlessly. This can often be exactly what you need, but in certain cases, the effect can misjudge, or the corrections can be too intense, so you still need access to these sliders to take creative ownership over your photos.

Strong Technical Underpinnings

This release is the culmination of 9 months of hard work trying to balance multiple advanced algorithms across a variety of image types and conditions, while improving performance and stability.

Under the hood, these new sliders combine three algorithms:

  1. A luminance curve that adjusts the dark or bright areas of the image. This is the starting point, but as you recover highlights and shadows simultaneously, the midtones tend to get flattened out.
  2. To counteract that flattening of the midtones, we use a histogram-equalization algorithm to enhance the clarity of those regions, to ensure the entire photos is structurally sound.
  3. We also built a frequency-domain algorithm that detects busy areas of the image and enhances the contrast in those highly textured regions.

These algorithms are also spatially aware, so if you have a scene with a large soft sky and a field of grass below, the two areas will be affected differently, depending on their internal structure.

Our spatially aware algorithms ensure your shadow edits will not effect the midtones and highlights, and vice versa.

How to Upgrade your Existing Edits

The new implementation of the five exposure sliders lives side by side with the previous one. All your previously-edited photos remain unaffected and will continue to use the old implementation. This ensures that your edited photos won't look different when you open them again. If you would like to upgrade a previously-edited photo to use the new version of our sliders, please first reset your edits by selecting the "Original" preset, using the “Reset Edits” option in the actions menu, or using the “Reset” option the History tool.

When applying any preset, regardless of what version it was made with, we will use the new recovery algorithms. This ensures that community presets and existing presets won't be stuck with the old legacy recovery implementation.

A goodbye to the Photos Edit Extension

This new implementation of exposure recovery is much more resource-intensive than our previous one. As a result, we were forced to make the tough decision to deprecate the Photos Editing Extension from Darkroom. This means you will no longer be able to make edits from within the Apple Photos app using our extension.

There were three reasons for this:

  1. The Photo Editing Extension does not provide us with the full resolution image. This prevents us from being able to provide the same tools in the extension as we do in the app, and we do not want the editing experience to diverge any further.
  2. Photo Editing Extension is a very memory-constrained environment, and these new and existing advanced algorithms cannot run reliably in it. We couldn't guarantee its performance at a level we were happy with
  3. Not enough of our customers were using it to justify its continued investments, and due to the aforementioned constraints, it took an inordinate amount of resources to maintain.

As a replacement, you can use our Share Extension to quickly open a photo from the Photos app in Darkroom. In the Photos app, you can tap Share, then tap Darkroom in the suggested app section of the system share sheet. If Darkroom doesn't appear, scroll to the end of the suggested app list (right), tap the big three dots (•••) and add Darkroom as a favorite.

We understand that a number of Darkroom customers who relied on the Photos Edit Extension will be disappointed, but we hope you understand our reasoning for removing it.

Darkroom+ Bonus

We added 3 new app icon variants, available to our Darkroom+ subscribers. Shadow provides a dark on dark version of our current icon, a wink to our impressive shadow recovery. Holo is the bright variant, to balance out the dark. And the Album option harkens back to skeuomorphic heydays off icon design. Bringing the total number of icons to choose from to a whooping 30!

Three new app icons; Shade, Holo, and Album

If there’s something you’d like to see in the future please let us know by leaving it on our suggestion board, or by sending us an email or tweet at us. For a full detailed list of all changes please visit our updates page.

As always, we’re very thankful for your continued loyalty and support, and look forward to sharing everything else we have in store for you soon.

The Darkroom Team

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