UPDATE: While this was written during the Lightroom 4 beta release, these instructions and video are completely applicable to the official Lightroom 4 release, Lightroom 5, Lightroom 6 and CC!
The Basics panel in the Develop module of the Lightroom 4 Beta may not be the sexiest feature, but the improvements are quite powerful, and the new controls are one of the few new features that you will use many times every day.
Working successfully with them requires that you change how you work with the sliders. The keys to successful work are to (1) understand that Exposure is now midtone brightness rather than the white point, and (2) that the sliders are designed to be worked from top to bottom.
Here is a video I have produced working several photos using the Lightroom 4 Beta. (You may have seen these same photos worked in blog posts and videos related to Lightroom 3).
For perspective, here was my workflow in Lightroom 3:
1. Set exposure for how bright I wanted the brightest tones (white point).
2. Set blacks for how bright I wanted the darkest tones (black point).
3. Use brightness and contrast to affect the midtones.
4. Use fill light if needed to add light to the shadows
5. Use recovery if needed to recover blown out highlights.
Here’s my new workflow — working top down:
1. Set exposure for midtone (average) brightness (ignoring whether I am blowing out any highlights)
2. Set contrast for overall punchiness. If this brightens or darkens the image too much, fine tune exposure.
3. Use highlights to recover blown out highlights and set highlight brightness
4. Use shadows to add light into or darken the shadows
5. If needed, use Whites to further adjust the brightest tones (white point)
6. If needed, use Blacks to further adjust the darkest tones (black point)
7. I can then circle back to any slider to fine tune the adjustments.
If you continue to treat exposure as the white point, you will find that the other sliders, namely shadows and highlights, don’t have the power that you would expect them to.
As with Lightroom 3, the secret to producing stunning photos in the Lightroom 4 Beta is to master the Basics panel!