Post-editing is something that, if done correctly, can really help to give shoots that little added bonus or polish and getting to grips with the plethora of tools available to help with editing can be a bit of a challenge. To help relieve us, Andrew Mitchell shares his tips for getting used to using Lightroom to edit your shoots.
If you’re seeking to up your photography game, then Lightroom just might be for you. Lightroom is one of the best editing programs on the market. Of course, any new editing software can be overwhelming. So, I’ll help you get your footing by teaching you the six basic steps I use when editing my photos using Lightroom.
Once in the Development section of Lightroom, your focus should be guided to the basic settings tab on the right. This holds all the basic settings you will use. I always begin editing with a pinch of contrast and clarity. Typically, I go +25 on each but sometimes I’ll push it higher if needed.
Clarity helps make weathering on a figure stand out more because it increases definition to edges and sharp corners. Clarity looks awesome on Stormtroopers and Acid Rain figures. But, it’s helpful to tone it down in the world of portrait photography.
Contrast helps make your subject more distinguishable by defining the highlights and shadows in an image. If you have a careful eye, you will notice that the more contrast you put on an image, the more the histogram, in the top right, will start to stretch out. The stretching of the histogram represents the difference in the highlights and shadows being changed by the Contrast.
The Black & White Points.
You don’t want to crush (over/under exposing) either the blacks or the whites. I see a lot of photos where the blacks are crushed. And, let’s make it clear, there isn’t a single photo that looks good with crushed blacks.
If you’re just starting out, a good way to know if your blacks are crushed or not is to hold down Option (Alt for PC users) while your curser is on the blacks’ slider. It will make the entire picture turn white (only while actively holding Option) and it will outline the areas with crushed blacks. If the blacks are crushed pull the slider back until the subject is only outlined just a little bit.
Highlights & Shadows
Highlights and Shadows are somewhat self-explanatory; shadows affect the shadows in the image while the highlights affect the highlights in an image.
If your wanting more detail in the shadows of an image you’ll want to raise the shadows and vice versa for the highlights. I personally like lowering my shadows and increasing my highlights depending on the figure and mood of the image. If I’m shooting a portrait of a scout trooper, I might want to lower the shadows and bring the highlights up brightening the figure which would naturally attract focus to him.
Sharpening & Noise Reduction.
A lot of people use just clarity to sharpen their images. However, the real magic happens under the Sharpening tab. You will see four sliders; Amount, Radius, Detail and Masking. If you want to be bold, you can mess with the Amount slider but I don’t recommend it. The radius tool shouldn’t even be there because it has never enhanced one of my photos.
It basically gives the subject this weird distorted outline that looks disgusting.
The opposite of the Radius tool is Masking. Masking never hurts. I just slide it up to +100 and boom, instant enhancement! It essentially removes all grain outlining the subject and has never hurt one of my pictures. I usually go +100 on the detail slider too for safe measure since it also hasn’t had any negative affect on my pictures.
Now, the Luminance slider under Noise Reduction can be tricky. The tool removes grain. On the outside, that sounds like the best Lightroom tool out there! But it’s not. If you use to much Luminance, the picture turns into a painting and looks glossy. Almost like one of those Prisma Filters that almost single handedly ruined toy photography. I always go a solid +10 on the luminance just to remove a bit of grain but not make anything look painted.
The next step is optional for most people; but not for me! The brush tool is simple and highly affective and I use it in nearly every photo that makes it off the cutting room floor.
The brush tool has its own tab, which is practically identical to the one you just learned to use but controls the settings associated with the brushed areas. If I want to add some contrast to my subject, I could just add contrast in the basic settings tab. However, that would add contrast to everything in the photo. Instead, the brush tool allows you to add contrast or whatever setting you want to just the area that is brushed. If I want to add clarity and highlights to my scout, I can just brush in some clarity and highlights onto him. If I tap O on my keyboard, all the brush strokes get highlighted in red like you see in the picture. That’s useful because I can see exactly what I’m brushing and where which allows for more accurate results.
Let’s take a look at this image taken by my brother @matt_square and how I utilized the brush tool to make his image pop. I used a ton of different brushes each having their own settings stored in the grey dots. I used the brush tool and ran it along the horizon of the mountain. In order to do that, I had to zoom in and brush just the top to get the look I wanted.
I decided to cut it up into 10 parts on the mountain ridge. I then brushed the stripes on the road using seven different brushes and one for the vegetation on the side. By brushing in highlights on the roads and mountain ridge, I brought out leading lines. Leading lines naturally guide your eyes across an image and keep you looking at it more. (Lines on the road act as Leading Lines) That is just one example of how the brush tool can have such a positive effect on an image if used correctly.
The last step to editing a picture is a crop. Cropping is easy and helps bring focus to your subject. One of my all-time favorite pictures is this action shot. Now you might not know that what you’re seeing is only half the image. Yes, there is a lot more to this picture, but it isn’t anything that adds value to the image, it actually takes value away. I shoot extremely low budget so I don’t even have a tripod that’s low to the ground. So for this shot, I simply laid my camera on the ground and manual focused it there.
When I did that, the ground was about half the frame but I didn’t realize that until after I came inside to edit. Removing the ground was an easy fix, I just cropped it out and brought the focus to the figures rather than a massive tan blob covering half the picture. So in hindsight the crop tool helps draw attention to the subject and helps remove unwanted distractions.
That concludes my six basic steps. It’s a fairly simple process compared to some others I’ve done. Lightroom has truly changed the way I take pictures and has helped shape my photography style. I’d to thank the Exclu Team for letting me share this and I hope it helped you get a better understanding of Lightroom if you didn’t already.
A massive thank you to Andrew for shining a light on his tips and tricks to help us get better acquainted with Lightroom to help with post-shoot editing. Be sure to catch more of Andrews photography over on Instagram @worn_out_trooper and for more behind the scenes features stayed tuned to Exclu.