Night photography retouch tips – Lightroom version

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Sometimes when we shot under tricky circumstances like after-sunset light conditions, or at places with many reflective surfaces, we might not be getting the best from our cameras. That’s why Lightroom helps us to bring life to our images. Follow up this guide on how to get the best of night photography with Lightroom 6!

Determining White Balance

After importing your image inside Lightroom, the first step on what could be an easier workflow for this kind of task is correcting the White Balance of the image. Of course, we are doing this priory any other adjustment assuming we are lucky enough that exposure values on our shot are decent.

For this tutorial, I am using a tiny image since it comes from the Instagram app on my iPhone. Start by importing the file inside Lightroom and move to the Develop tab.

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An interesting approach on this would be using a Filter prior adjusting the WB value since you can’t use the Dropper tool for sampling given the fact there are no neutral greys on this image. For this reason, I applied a Direct Positive filter on the image. The results are pretty obvious since it gives way much life to the tint of the image.

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Now with the sliders, I will start compensating WB values. Move a bit to the blue on temperature and apply some magenta tint for that always common post-sunset feel.

First Corrections

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Move the sliders and start playing with the values for Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Black. My approach was the following:

  1. Highlights: Since there are several LED and Neon signs at the image, reduce a bit the highlights (even if Direct Positive has already lowered the values) for compensating further the loss on details
  2. Shadows: Increase the shadows slider for recovering some detail data
  3. Whites: Increase the whites to add some life to the picture
  4. Blacks: Reduce the blacks for compensating loss of detail

Let’s compare a Before&After to see how things are working on right now.

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Results are pretty obvious, now the image doesn’t look that dull and it has brought back some detail data that was far too dark. But since I prefer shots more like a panorama output, I am going to crop a bit to change the aspect ratio on this image.

Further adjustments – Core part of the image feel

The image has now a more appealable look, so we can move on to add further adjustments. Using the Adjustment Brush tool, I started masking some areas where I wanted to increase, most of all, the clarity values; also there is applied to it corrections on contrast and shadows. The result is much vivid look at the second plane of the image, which was almost covered by dark; also lights are more noticeable in those buildings as well as adding some details on the plaza.

Apply a graduate filter, diagonally positioned. The adjustments are for increasing temperature values in that area, as well as adjusting contrast and highlights. By doing this you are getting an amazing post-sunset effect at the horizon line.

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Move now to the Split Toning section. Even if you don’t actually need too much this adjustment, change the highlights and shadows value to soft tinted greyish red and blues respectively. This effect is pretty subtle but will affect the White Balance of the whole image.

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Finally, for wrapping up our image, I’ll add some vignetting as this always looks appealing to the eye. And we are going to compare the Before&After of our entire process.

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In my opinion, now the image looks quite eye-catching, and even though it’s not shot with a professional camera it still looks good enough to fit into the portfolio of a mid-experienced photographer doing some night photography retouch adjustments.

Conclusions

For this kind of retouchments always keep in mind what kind of effect you want to reach, then focus on what elements you can take for enhancing. Of course, it will be more complicated if the image has only one kind of tint (which happens often on pure night photos). Remember that when you bring back detail by adding clarity or reducing shadows and dark you are also bringing back noise; since I don’t care for this kind of image, I didn’t control the amount of noise affecting the image, but if you are planning to print your image afterwards, keep an eye on how much noise we are adding. A good solution to this would be adding some film grain if we can’t compensate the amount of noise present at the picture.

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