I thought since I complained about over-editing last week, I’d share 5 tips which helped me get more balanced and effective images in Lightroom. Keep in mind though that they’re based on my personal preferences and thus mostly apply to colour photography.
1. Solid Foundation
The first tip is making sure that you set a solid foundation which can you start working from before you touch anything else. For one, this means adjusting the exposure to a well-balanced look which of course depends on the type of image. I usually look that my highlights are neither under- nor overexposed and leave the shadows for later. This will give you a good starting point regardless of the overall look you’re going for.
Also make sure to adjust the white balance before you start the real editing. It’s a great way to set a general tone for the whole image. Just don’t overdo it with either of these values. You want to still want to keep a balanced, rather neutral look for the beginning.
2. A better form of contrast
I often find that the contrast-slider makes your images very rough and edgy because it intensifies the dark as well as the bright areas. Over time I realised that what I actually wanted was stronger contrast between shadows and the colours – not between shadows and light. Your image will look better balanced and a lot smoother while still holding a good amount of contrast this way.
Next time you’re editing try this: Actually leave the Contrast-value at 0 or decrease ot to about -10 to -15 and raise the saturation until the colours are strong and vibrant. I tend to go anywhere from +5 to +30 depending on the image but try to be careful not to ruin the colours by setting it too high. If certain colours get too intense inadvertently, use the HSL-sliders to lower their saturation again.
Sometimes the darker areas can look a bit washed out when you lower the contrast-value. If that’s not what you want, simply lower the blacks a bit until you get your rich and deep shadows back. And voilà, you have a punchy image without that hideous look you often get from using the contrast-slider too much.
3. Use the tone curve!
Long time I didn’t really find a good use for the Tone Curve-Tab in Lightroom. But over time I found that it is a great tool to finish off the prior tonal refinements you’ve made. It often works really well to lift up the blacks and lower the whites just a bit. This will make your image softer and appear more natural.
Some images though look rather flat and soft already. Instead of increasing the contrast-value, using the tone curve here is great for creating natural looking contrast while still maintaining a balanced appearance. Even though the image might be lacking contrast already, I still tend to lift the blacks and lower the whites – just not that much (a personal preference, I guess). In order to bring contrast into the image you lower the shadows in the tone curve section until your histogram starts starts touching underexposed values. This way you will get deep shadows while still keeping details in the darker areas.
4. Colour grading
Colour grading is something I’ve only recently learned to appreciate. In Lightroom there a four different ways of adjusting the overall colours. The Tone Curve, the HSL-Tab, Split Toning and the Calibration-Tab. I find that HSL-adjustments can make your image look quite strange as soon as you go overboard with it. Similarly, the Tone Curve is a bit tricky for handling colours. However, Split Toning and the Calibration-Tab are generally the simplest and most effective ways of shaping the overall appearance of your colours.
Split Toning is only really useful for images with both a great amount of dark and bright areas. Choose two opposing colours which fit your image such as blue and yellow or red and green. Balance them using the slider in the Split Toning section and preview everything by holding down the Alt-key. As always, don’t overdo it when setting the saturation. Always check back with the original file as it is very easy to lose yourself in these sliders.
The Calibration-Tab is great for giving the colours a final retouch in general but especially for images where the colours just don’t seem to be right. Each slider doesn’t always seem to do exactly what you think it would, so it’s best to just play around and find a look which fits your image. This section just often gets overlooked even though it is quite useful when handling colours- that’s why I still wanted to mention it here.
When starting off in photography you often hear that vignetting is undesirable and that you should remove it with lens correction features. I think that only bad vignetting is undesirable, when done right however it’s actually a great tool to use.
Vignetting isn’t complicated but there are still a few things you want to look out for. Firstly, don’t set the amount too low as this will just make your image look unnatural and overedited. A value of -15 is usually the deepest I go – often it’s just -5. Secondly, make sure that you apply a high amount of feathering. The vignetting won’t be visible instantly and will thus have more of a subconscious effect on the viewer. Lastly, adjust the midpoint depending on how centre-focussed your composition is. If you’ve done it correctly, the vignetting will put stronger, subconscious focus on your subject and therefore make your image easier to comprehend.
These were 5 tips which I regularly use when editing my images. They don’t really alter the image but instead refine it just that little bit. If you’ve found any of them useful, try them and find your own way of making them work for your way of post processing.
Which tweaks and tips do you have in regard to editing? Let me know 😉