Optimizing Photos in Lightroom CC

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At the time of reviewing the job you made while shooting your photographs you may say: “okay, it’s good, do I need to postproduce them?”. The answer is yes.

Postproduction actually helps us to fix mistakes done during the shooting process. But which adjustments are actually needed? Let’s take a look at the key points of optimizing photos in Lightroom CC.

Cropping and straightening images in Lightroom

Before we get started, it’s important to remember that Lightroom uses what’s known as non-destructive editing. This means that your original images are actually safe. Any changes you make in Lightroom, including cropping or straightening, doesn’t change the original image. And those changes can be appreciated when you export the picture, no when you close Lightroom. So be tranquil about working and if you make a mistake there are two ways of fixing it: going backwards till the point you made the mistake or reimporting the photo.

To access the Crop tool let’s go to the Develop tab and click at the Crop overlay icon (next to the Spot Removal tool)

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As you can see, Lightroom creates crop guides for easier use. The crop panel in Lightroom gives us the option to change the ratio aspect (with many options for doing so), to change the proportional ratio of the cropping area (by unlocking the picklock) and also to adjust the rotation of the image (at angle).

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Angle may serve to straighten the picture if for example it was misguided somehow, or if we want to create a more dramatic effect by tilting the image sideways.

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If you want to change the cropping area from landscape to portrait all you need to do is to grab one of the corners up to the opposite diagonal and then drag down again. You notice how now the cropping area is now portrait oriented or landscape if you go again all the way to cover the entire image.

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Adjustment Brush

Perhaps one of the most hard to control tools in Lightroom is the Adjustment Brush since perhaps when you are new to it you actually don’t know how it works.

It is a sort of masking element that allow us to make adjustments into selected areas.

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One of the most appreciated adjustments the Adjustment brush has is the Clarity tool, which can save backlit pictures in just a few seconds.

As you can see we can control either the size or feather of this brush, as well as it flow, and how dense the mask we are making is going to be. Also Lightroom allows us to configurate two kind of brushes with the tool (A and B options) which comes handy for larger work areas.

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When you actually get the hold to this tool you are going to love it, as when working in photography post-production, most of the time we want to fix tiny areas who, for example, are underexposed or you want to sharpen the details at some point, which the Adjustment Brush can handle without correcting the entire picture.

Basic Adjustments Panel

As the name says, it contains all of the necessary elements to do a proper post production.

Just as always, your eyesight will be the judge of the adjustments you make, as they need to please you before anyone else.

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The first part of the Basic Adjustment Panel regards to White Balance correction, then we move on to familiar settings as the Exposure and Contrast control.

Highlights, Shadows, Black and Whites need to be handled with caution. Even the Lightroom method is non-destructive, the point is to avoid losing time fixing mistakes rather than doing so. Always keep an eye at the Histogram before adjusting the picture.
Histogram in Lightroom is your best friend and the easiest way to know where did you failed with your adjustments.

For example, one common mistake is to have Clipped Highlights, which translates to larger areas of white uniform mass.

If a large peak builds at the far right end of the graph, you’re starting to lose tonal variations in the brightest areas, meaning that you should lower the highlight value to recover the tones you are losing.

Overall, it’s just keeping everything balanced for a nice looking image. It won’t serve to have a properly corrected WB, as well as a nice looking contrast if my shadows are too dark or the sky is completely white due to huge highlight value.

In which regards to Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation adjustments, also handle them with caution. Clarity will brighten the entire image, but sometimes if you brighten it too much it won’t look real. Use it mostly for cases of poor illumination conditions (like sunset or dawn).

Vibrance will punch up the entire image to look more colour-charged, sort of saying it. Again, too much value is not realistic, and zero value makes the image look dull.

Saturation controls how much colour the entire image has. 100 value means a full saturated color, which results in a vibrant coloured image, unpleasant to the eyesight, and 0 translates to a black and white image.

Tone Curve

For me, one of my favourite adjustments since you can fix many details on the same step.

Histogram will show you how good you are handling the values, and since Lightroom is so friendly-using, it will tell below each part of the graph which adjustment you are tweaking.

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Also If you don’t feel confident in using the curve adjustment, try the sliders, as they will give you much more control to the changes overall.

But as a good way of starting with the Tone Curve is the following: my experience told that a good adjustment worth trying is to lower a bit the values of the shadows to make more intense shadows and increase a bit the highlights. Then you will notice if you need to tweak a bit the darks and lights.

Keep a close eye to the Histogram. As I mentioned before with the Highlights at the Basic adjustments, it also applies here.

HSL/Color/B&W

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This sliders controls every tone adjustment to our image, and are the proper way of adjusting misbalanced colours (as if our image has far too much red, you can compensate it with the red slider, same applies to other colours).

Since it is also splitted into Hue, Saturation and Luminance, you can also compensate colours for each stage. And in the saturation tab comes actually handy for removing certain colours of the photograph itself.

Use B&W only if you are working with a Black and White image, otherwise it will turn your image to a black and white look.

Split toning

Even though it is used mostly for landscape photography in order to achieve more creative effects, it can be used as well for portrait photography, but use it with caution in that case since splitting the tones can quickly impact over the skin tones of the subject.

To use split toning, you have to choose a colour for the highlights and shadows. Start with the highlights. Here is your choice if you want to add warmth or if you want to cool your image

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Since I want to add warmth, I choose a colour somewhere around 50. You can either type in a number or use the eyedropper tool to choose a colour. Then move the saturation slider to the right to the desired amount. If you want to achieve a sort of old polaroid look, try to go to the 30s range.

Next comes the shadow colour. I picked 232 for this image since I wanted to balance the warmth effect with some cool shadows. You will notice if your shadows are too bluish since the changes you are applying are live.

And done. This tool is magnificent since it brings such life for certain scenes such as beach landscapes or scenes where the sunlight is coming right in front of you.

Detail tab

The Detail tab has the tools for working around with Sharpening and Noise reduction effects.

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As always is up to you, but in general every picture thanks some sharpening details. Try and work your best way. Perhaps in landscape is not as noticeable as it will be to portrait photography or highly detailed photography as cars or some buildings.

Lens Correction

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It fixes up the possible lens deformation but only if you know which brand of camera was used for taking the photo (quite a problem if you are working with someone else’s picture and doesn’t have any exif data), or if your camera brand is listed over there (Lightroom unfortunately doesn’t have every brand available).

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Of course that you can toy around with some of the basic tools as perspective correction adjusments (Auto mode works pretty well over here), or remove chromatic aberrations at the color mode; but in general Manual mode works best if you don’t know your camera brand or don’t have the info on that.

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Also notice that always appealing vignetting effect is listed under the Manual adjustments of the Lens correction.

Other adjustments to make

You can test the Effects tab if you want to add (even more) Vignetting effect to your picture, but notice that the effect will be a post-crop vignetting and, in my opinion, with the Lens Correction vignetting is more than enough for most pictures.

Also you can add film grain to the photo if you want. It gives that old-look effect to the photo.

Feel free to test whichever adjustment you feel comfortable with and have fun!

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