DxO Optics Pro started out as an automatic lens correction tool but has evolved into a sophisticated RAW conversion program too. And part of its armoury is the DxO Smart Lighting feature, which lightens the darkest parts of the picture to make the lighting more even.

DxO Optics Pro 11 review

It might sound like an everyday HDR (high dynamic range) approach, which you find in lots of applications these days, but DxO Optics Pro is subtler than that. There are no characteristic ‘glow’ effects, no odd transitions in tone or any ugly flattening of the contrast – it’s much subtler than this, delivering natural-looking pictures with no sign of the ‘overprocessed’ look you normally see with this kind of tonal correction.

But it does have its limits, and it’s not always been easy to figure out or get the best from DxO’s smart lighting options. So here’s a quick guide to the smart lighting tools in DxO Optics Pro 8. They’re simpler, better and more effective – but still not completely obvious.

DxO Smart Lighting

To show how they work, I’ve chosen this picture of the interior of a country church, which combines bright daylight streaming in through the windows with a dark, shadowed interior.

01 Default conversion

DxO Smart Lighting

This is DxO Optics Pro’s default correction. I’m using the side-by-side view to make it easier to see just what the software has done. The lens aberrations have been fixed but it’s only made a modest attempt at fixing the lighting. You may not see much difference between the corrected image (right) and the uncorrected image (left), but a glance at the tools panel shows that DxO Optics Pro has already been hard at work.

There are two key settings to note here. In the Exposure Compensation panel (1) you’ll see that DxO Optics Pro has a Correction pop-up and that this is set to Smart. Underneath, you’ll see it ‘s set the exposure compensation to -0.49EV. It tries to choose an exposure adjustment that just brings the brightest highlights under control – though in this case there’s only a certain amount it can do because the light through the windows is so bright.

Underneath is the DxO Smart Lighting panel (2). Where the Exposure Compensation panel gets the highlights under control, the Smart Lighting panel brings the shadows back up. Here, DxO has defaulted to a Mode setting of ‘Slight’ and an Intensity value of 50. These default settings offer a subtle improvement in shadow detail that benefits most images to some degree – but this one needs more.

02 Exposure correction options

DxO Smart Lighting

First, though, I’ll explain what the exposure correction options do. The default value here is Smart, and usually that’s the best. But you can choose other options, like Centre Weighted Average and three levels of Highlight Priority. Essentially, what you’re doing with all of these is telling DxO Optics Pro how much of the highlight region you want it to recover or retain. The more you claw back, the harder it’s going to be to bring out the shadows.

The simpler, purely manual approach is to adjust the Exposure slider manually. You can move it left or right so that the far right-hand end of the histogram just reaches the end of the scale without clipping – though as I said before, with this image, it’s not going to be possible to get all those highlights back. You do need to assess each picture on its own merits and work out what’s possible and what isn’t.