LESSON 23: LIGHTROOM EDITING
You frame the shot, position the lens, click the shutter, and now you’ve got yourself a photo. But even if the image looks great on playback, there’s still some work to be done before your photo is ready for its debut. Though there are several post-processing programs and editing platforms you can use, Lightroom is one of the most accessible, which is why I’ve decided to hone in on its offerings in this guide. So, let’s take a look at some aspects you could be missing out on in Lightroom — your photos will thank you for it.
Where to Start
These are basic editing features that every photographer should have under their belt. Practice these functions and familiarize yourself with Lightroom’s processes.
REMOVE CHROMATIC ABERRATION
First off, be sure to remove chromatic aberration (also known as “color fringing,” which creates an unpleasant, generally red or purple glow around objects in the photo) from your photo. You can do so by selecting Lightroom’s “Lens Correction” tool near the bottom of your Develop panel and clicking “Remove Chromatic Aberration.”
The last thing you want is to complete all of your processing only to realize that physics is trying to ruin your fun.
STRAIGHTEN YOUR PHOTOS
This may seem like a bit of a no-brainer, but it’s not. Guess what: my most-liked photo on Instagram isn’t straight. She’s crooked and my everlasting shame. Don’t be me. Straighten your photos.
UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VIBRANCY AND SATURATION (AND USE THEM)
When editing your images, it’s important that you know the difference between these two tools. From there, you can understand how they’re related and how you can use them to your advantage. Below, you’ll see my edit, my chosen vibrancy, and then my chosen saturation.
Look at the third photo to get a better sense of saturation. Saturation is the intensity of color, and it’s a righteous mess if used improperly because it doesn’t care about which colors are already intense; it considers all colors equally and bumps up all of them. In short, saturation affects the intensity of all colors without consideration, whereas vibrancy is a tool that considers under-saturated colors and increases them accordingly.
Vibrancy is a tool that selects colors based on the current intensity of their colors. When you adjust the slide, it changes colors according to each individual intensity. According to Adobe, vibrancy “adjusts the saturation so that clipping is minimized as colors approach full saturation.”
See the photos above — red is a predominant color in the first image, so if you were considering adjusting the color of the entire photo, you wouldn’t want the yellows and reds to be overdone. To avoid this, select “Vibrancy” to intensify the other colors (the blue in the sky, the purples in the mountains, etc.). Overall, vibrancy does a pretty solid job balancing the overall color palette, shown in the second photo.
FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH TONE CURVE
Tone curve is a tool rarely visited unless you’ve applied a preset, but it’s a massively important tool that enhances the mood you’re going for.
This tool is how you get lovely contrast in your skin tones as well as beautiful, muted hues. If you master tone curve, nothing can stop you. I suggest playing around with it before you even touch your colors to establish the mood you want in your images. Then, adjust your colors to that feeling. Why? It’s much easier to mute your tone curve and then adjust the colors around it. If you alter the colors first, you’re probably going to have to edit the colors again afterward — it’s just a hassle! So, remember to address the curves first, then the colors.
LEARN FROM PRESETS
Repeat after me: presets are not a point of shame. Do I use them now? No. Did I? Yep, and they taught me a lot.
To start off, find a preset that you like, and then play with the settings to figure out why it looks good. I don’t believe in one-click resolutions — you can slap a Band-Aid on many things, but you still have to put in the effort.
Shown below, you can see an Out of Camera shot with a preset applied. I did some basic adjustments (as seen in the third photo), which made it look better, but it’s far from perfect. Then, I played with the tone curve and this is what I’ve got.
Even if the final product is meh, you’ll learn so much by playing with presets, and there’s no shame in learning from a template.
This final image reflects a collaboration of learning from this shoot and two years of experience having worked and experimented with presets.
So, my advice is: don’t be ashamed of your presets. But do learn from them so that you can find your own voice.
For Seasoned Editors
The following tips are for those who really know their way around Lightroom’s editing suite. While basic edits will certainly elevate your photos, these tips will give your images some extra oomph.
TWEAK YOUR CAMERA CALIBRATION
My first suggestion deals with camera calibration. Though this will take some time to get used to, the process makes all the difference.
Adjusting the camera calibration setting affects your images’ color profile (in Lightroom, that profile is defaulted to ProPhoto RGB). To get started, move the tool’s green, red, or blue sliders around to modify the amount of each hue present in the photo (note that every other color will likely be affected as well). While your colors will look silly first, be patient: remember that adjusting red will affect green and blue (unless you have a pure red), adjusting blue will affect greens and reds (unless you have PURE blue), and so on.
The key is to only adjust as needed. Learning your calibration will allow your colors to pop, a similar effect to what adjusting your tone curve and contrast will yield, but it will also change the entire image to whatever color “base” you select. That base will act as a sort of template for the rest of your color edits.
Need some examples? Follow along with the photos below to see how I edited my subject’s skin tone (note: I typically shoot in “Camera Neutral” on my Canon).
- Out of Camera — without any edits.
- I adjusted my reds to a stronger red hue and upped the saturation. This increased her lip color and gave her cheeks more color. However, you will notice that now there is a weird hint of green throughout the photo, especially in the background. Adjusting my reds affected my greens, so next, I’ll need to adjust my greens.
- Now those greens pop straight out of the frame! My yellows are popping as well because I adjusted my greens to be more yellow, which gave her skin less of a green tone and warmed her up a bit. It still looks odd though, so next, I’ll play with the blues.
- Now there’s a problem with her shirt. I might be tempted to think that everything is ruined but her skin is finally on point. So fear not, friends — this is what local adjustments are for. Once you have a satisfactory color on your primary subject, you can always use them to edit down specific features.
- Let’s adjust our tone curve like we learned above.
- After a few more adjustments, this is my final Lightroom work. Don’t worry — after a week of practice, this will take you less than five minutes. Practice, practice, practice!
UTILIZE LOCAL ADJUSTMENTS
After toning and calibration, you may notice that specific elements need some love. Maybe you want your subject’s eyes to pop, maybe you notice that the darks and lights in their skin tone aren’t quite balanced, or maybe the color of their shirt is off, as in the example above.
Local adjustments affect a specific area of your choosing for basic edits by way of brush, gradient, and radial gradient. Anything more in depth will require Photoshop, but Lightroom conveniently links your Photoshop and Lightroom adjustments back and forth.
In my portraiture, I go heavy on local eye adjustments because I tend to use natural light. Below, I have used Out of Camera, three radial brushes, and my adjustments, seen in the example photo.
Local Adjustments is like miniature Photoshop: you can change specific elements as opposed to changing the entire photo.
LEAN ON AUTOMASKING
Automasking saves so much time — have you been painting and erasing your life away whenever you use a mask? Do I have a solution for you!
The tool automatically finds edges based on sampled colors so you don’t have to feel like a five-year-old trying to draw inside the lines.
To try it out, open your “Adjustment Brush” on the top right of your toolbar. Set the “Feather” to 0 and the “Flow” to 100, and hit “Show Mask Overlay” on the bottom window above your library (you may have to show this taskbar). From there, hit “Automask” back in your “Adjustment Brush” panel, near the bottom. You can also toggle this with ‘a.’ Now, start painting! As you paint, do so relatively near the edges — Lightroom will start to draw outside if you go too crazy. Also keep in mind that Lightroom selects pixel by pixel, sampling similar colors.
Stop taking hours to meticulously paint and erase your masks: use automasking.
STACK YOUR BRACKETS
Lightroom is capable of compiling multiple exposures — bracketing, to be more specific. What this means is that if you take a dark, medium, and bright exposure, Lightroom can stack each one and create a .DNG file with a balanced final result.
This gives you full control over your photos.
To edit with bracketed exposures, first select your desired photos. Right-click on one and hit “Merge Photos,” followed by “HDR.” Lightroom will then process your photo in a pop-up. Once merged, Lightroom will throw out an HDR .dng file that will have balanced darks, middle tones, and lights if you shot correctly.
If you’d like more information on bracketing and HDR, I’ll be releasing an on-site and editing tutorial on my Twitter and YouTube. Both Bracketing and HDR are skills that require their own articles, but do know that if you start shooting HDR, Lightroom is available as an option to stack them.
- Remove chromatic aberration from photos after importing into Lightroom.
- Straighten your photos and make sure that the horizon line is level.
- Adjust Vibrancy and Saturation to achieve the desired color intensity.
- Use a Tone Curve to help you achieve certain looks and styles.
- Use presets to inform your editing style.
- Utilize Camera Calibration to achieve the perfect color profile.
- Use the Local Adjustments function to edit specific aspects of your photo.
- Consider the Automasking function — it makes Local Adjustments easy by finding edges.
- Editing using Bracketing and HDR stacking often elevates your photos, but this is for experienced Lightroom editors.
Whether you identify as a Lightroom pro or an editing novice, let us know if these tips helped in the comments below!