Sunset editing in Lightroom

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Bringing life into photos with tricky lighting conditions such as sunsets or sunrises is quite the challenge. Not only you have to be quick in order to readjust your aperture, exposure, and shutter speed values, but also you have to keep a firm pulse on the same motion to avoid blurry details, as well as waiting for the right moment to take the picture, but not too long to miss it.

Since it is a complicated task to approach, especially for new photographers, Lightroom gives us tools for enhancing our sunset shots in quite an efficient way. Follow up this guide on how to get the most by doing sunset editing in Lightroom.

We are going to work with this sunset street view. As you can see, the picture looks a bit underexposed, which happens to be a common mistake when shooting sunsets; therefore, my approach now is correcting this underexposure. But first of all, let’s adjust the White Balance so we can be sure about further adjustments.

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As we learned at the previous tutorial on White Balance, we can adjust it either using the Dropper tool (my favorite method), via temperature slider or via tint slider.

With the Dropper tool, I am going to look for a neutral gray to sample the WB value, and after I picked it since I prefer a pinker tint for this scene, I will move the slider back a bit towards magenta value at the tint slider.

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Now we can move on to further adjustments; in this case, I will apply this following values.

Set exposure to +0.6 to enhance light a little bit but not to burn the scene.

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Increase the contrast value to +50 to bring more life to the sky and river reflection; don’t worry about darkening the buildings right now.

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Reduce the highlights to -19 to avoid disturbing light at the sky.

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Set shadows to +62, as this will reduce the darkness of the image.

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Reduce the whites to -30

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And finally reduce blacks to -10, since increasing the values won’t give the natural feel of a sunset.

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This will end with the tone adjustments, follow-up with presence adjustments.

I will bring clarity to +85 to bring the most from this picture without making it look too much “edited look”.

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Vibrance goes +30

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And saturation +10.

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Let’s check up the results by now.

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In my opinion, it looks quite notorious, meaning we are heading in the right direction, but there is still work to do.

Adjust a little bit the tone curve so it ends up looking like this (for new users, I adjusted highlights, darks, and shadows values.

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As with HSL, we don’t need to mess up with, I am going to add a bit of split toning to this image since it always helps the overall look. Work with the values I am going to show below for highlights and shadows. Just as always, this will depend not only on the feel you want to achieve but also at the conditions of your image.

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Finally, for this initial set of adjustments I will enable the Lens Profile Correction, as well as adding some Vignetting under the manual mode.

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As you can see, our image looks pretty stunning this way, but I’d like to fix some extra stuff. Then I am going to work with the Adjustments Brush at some points that still look underexposed or need more tint. Most especially I will work with the still underexposed buildings so they can look as stunning as they are at our scene.

And this is the result. The points indicate the locations where the brush has its center point applied.

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Let’s compare the two results for now.

Pretty much the opposite, right? Now I have 3 approaches for this:

  1. Export the image as it looks like right now
  2. Export the image and continue editing it inside Photoshop for extra effects
  3. Add presets inside Lightroom to keep working with it until exporting.

Since I am pleased with the results of this image and I wanted to do universal adjustments every Lightroom user can achieve, I’ll stick with the first option. Please consider that if you apply filters to your image you may end up adding noise to the image, therefore, losing detail, which in this case is something we don’t want to.

Final

Find a workflow that suits your needs, and as always, this is just practiced to train your eye in order to see the beauty coming from your pictures.

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