Lightroom – A simple, yet overwhelming tool for many of us!
Lightroom, with its multiple modules and huge number of options, could leave people in a state of “Oh-fuck!-What-should-I-do-with-these-numerous-sliders-and-controls!” I am attempting to de-mystify this tool in a way that most images that are decently exposed could get tackled by using this post. The process outlined here will work with Lightroom Ver. 5.0 or later. The process has been defined for Mac users.
ONE CAVEAT: PLEASE SHOOT IN RAW FORMAT AND NOT IN JPG FORMAT. THAT WILL ENSURE THAT YOUR CAMERA DOESN’T APPLY ARBITRARY IN-CAMERA PROCESSING TO YOUR IMAGE.
To make life easy, start importing your images through Lightroom. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT JUST COPY IMAGES FROM THE CAMERA CARD TO YOUR HARD DISK. USE LIGHTROOM TO IMPORT IMAGES. This will take the hassle out of cataloguing the images. It entails the following steps:
- Open Lightroom and from the ‘FILE’ menu, click ‘New Catalogue’. Give it a name and a location (could be the computer’s native hard disk or an external hard disk)
- Lightroom will close whichever catalogue was open and will reopen with a brand new empty catalogue
- Click on ‘Import’ button (bottom left of the ‘Left Panel’). A new panel will open that will cover most of the Lightroom window. Let’s call it Panel B.
- Make sure you have chosen the correct source from the list of sources stacked above the import button
- Then, go to the right panel and create a new folder at a destination of your choice.
- Click ‘Import’ (bottom right of the Panel B).
- Panel B will close and you’ll see a status bar above the ‘Source’ panel, next to Lr logo that will show the progress of import. The images will start appearing in the library module as they get imported.
Here are the basic steps to follow for most edits (some images could be more tricky and for those, I could run a MasterClass).
- Select the image you wish to process/edit and click on DEVELOP module (see image below for reference). My starting image was Exhibit A.
- Choose the crop overlay and use the ‘bent double-headed arrow’ to straighten the horizon (see Exhibit B and C below)
- Go down to the ‘Lens Corrections’ sub-panel in the right panel.
- Click on ‘Enable Profile Corrections’ and ‘Remove Chromatic Aberration’ check boxes (See red arrows in Exhibit D). You will see the lens distortion getting addressed in the image. It is starkly visible if the lens has tremendous distortion (This also helps you understand how good/bad your lens is). If there is no visible change, click the ‘Profile’ tab in the lens correction sub-panel (See Yellow Arrow in Exhibit D) and check if profile correction has got applied. If it isn’t, manually select the manufacturer and lens model from the drop downs there. If your lens profile is not there, google for your specific lens profile and add it to Lightroom so you may get to use it all the time in future.
- Go to ‘Basic’ sub-panel in the right panel (It is the topmost sub-panel).
- In ‘Tone’ section of this sub-panel, pull back the ‘Highlights’ slider to -100 and the ‘Shadow’ slider to +100. The image will change tremendously and may not yet be likeable (Exhibit E). Doing this cuts down extra brightness in highlights area of the image and brings out details in the dark areas of the image.
- Next, press the ‘Alt’ key and start moving the ‘Whites’ slider to the RIGHT. Do that till the entirely BLACK image starts to show some spots of colour. Similarly, press the ‘Alt’ key and start moving the ‘Blacks’ slider to the LEFT till the entirely white image starts to show some colour/blacks. This step helps cut down haze and starts to add some life to the image.
- Now move to the ‘Presence’ section of this sub-panel. Here, use the clarity slider and move it to RIGHT (~ +20). This helps add contrast to the mid-tones (not to the whole image).
DO NOT USE THE CONTRAST SLIDER AS IT WILL NULLIFY YOUR ATTEMPT TO CUT HIGHLIGHTS OR RECOVER SHADOWS. YOU ONLY WANT TO BRING OUT CONTRAST IN THE MIDTONES AND NOT THE WHOLE IMAGE.
- Similarly, take the ‘Vibrance’ slider to the RIGHT to about +30 and ‘Saturation’ slider to about +10. Vibrance ups the subtle hues, while the saturation slider ups the colour in the entire image. See Exhibit F above for ‘Before-After’ comparison.
- By now, your image is already starting to look striking. But if you click and see it at 1:1 size, you may notice some noise or grains. To address this, go to the ‘Noise Reduction’ section of the ‘Details’ sub-panel. Here, just add a +40 to Luminosity. This should ideally take care of the grains.
- Next, go to ‘Split Toning’ sub-panel and click on the box next to ‘Highlights’. A colour palette will open and your cursor will become a dropper. Depending on whether the image has less yellow (this reflects sunshine) or blue (this is about the colour of sky/water), you may bring the dropper on to this palette and place it on the desired area. If you place it on blue, you could start from bottom up and choose the correct blueness in the image highlights. Moving this up or down increases or decreases blue. Moving it left or right increase green or red respectively. Your eye will be the best judge to ascertain which tone you should go with in your image highlights. Once done, click ok. Next, do the same by clicking the box next to ‘Shadows’ and add the desired colour to simulate sunlight (yellow) or deeper blues in the clouds.
- With these steps, now you would see that you have managed to transform your image. Try and bring the image as close to what you saw rather than over-processing and making it look unnatural.
- You may now export the processed image. Ideally export it as .jpg (sRGB) since WordPress plugins screw up the colours of .jpg (AdobeRGB or ProPhoto RGB) images.
The edit/processing steps outlined above basically are to get around the limitations of the camera and lenses we use. And these edits are a must for your images to leap off the page/screen.