Lightroom Workflow: Mundane to Beautiful

Making better pictures comes in three forms – better setup, better composition, and better post production.  You will make your best shots if you improve in each of these areas.  So, today, I’m going to share a technique I’ve used in my Lightroom workflow to take boring and bad photos to make them beautiful in post production.  Here’s where we’re going to go:

The Final Product from my Lightroom Workflow!

So, the final product looks pretty good here, right?  It means we must have had a keeper to begin with, right?  Well, not necessarily – the first shot looked like it was under-exposed, and could easily have been thrown out.  Take a look:

The Beginning before my Lightroom workflow!

Yeah, it looks pretty bland – there’s no pop, the shadows are too dark, the blues in the sky are bland, and it’s something that we might just blow past as an under-exposed shot.  The truth is though – we’ve gotta trust the histogram when using our Lightroom workflow.  Take a look:

Histogram in my Lightroom Workflow

What we have to remember is that there are no blown highlight details or shadow details lost according to our histogram.  We’ve got detail on both ends.  What the histogram is telling us though, is that more of our photo is in shadow than in highlights.  We do have some of both, but we need to bring some balance to it.  So, let’s get started!

Step One in my Lightroom Workflow

Step 1

In getting started, we need to bring out the shadow detail more, but I also want to bring some of those highlights down a little too, because it just looks a little too harsh.  Here’s the default scene inside of Lightroom.  Let’s see what happens when we bring the highlights down – and when I say “down”, I mean way down!

Step Two in my Lightroom Workflow

See how the harshness of the sky on the right has been pulled back?  Much better, but we still need to bring out some of that shadow detail on the next step in the Lightroom workflow, so, let’s take a look:

Step 2

Step Three in my Lightroom Workflow

Now we’re talking!  We can see the details in the red rocks.  It’s still kind of bland though, without a lot of pop to it.  This is where the Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation sliders for my Lightroom workflow come into play.  Here, it’s a matter of personal tastes, and any one persons preferences are so subjective, I don’t want to say “Do it this way”.  But, for my taste, I like my pictures to pop, so here’s my results from adjusting the CVS sliders:

Step 3

Step Four in my Lightroom Workflow

Remember, it’s just my personal tastes, but I like the settings of 50-15-15 through to really get some eye-dropping pop in my photos.  It’s pretty nice, but if I push these sliders much further, it will start to look garish.  This means I need to dabble a little with the tone curve in my Lightroom workflow to get the pop that I am looking for.  So, in remembering the histogram, I am wanting a bit more detail from the dark and the bright areas need to pop a little more too without getting lighter.  Here’s where I made some tone curve adjustments:

Step 4

Step Five in my Lightroom Workflow

The pop is really starting to take shape here…but the red still need a little more brightness to them to really keep the look and feel consistent wit what I want the image to look like once all is said and done.  To do that, I dive into the color palette, grab the red luminosity slider in my Lightroom workflow and crank it up all the way.  The results are pretty nice!

Step 5

Step Six in my Lightroom Workflow

With the develop panel moving down toward the bottom, I am revealing the details of what I did wrong during capture…my ISO settings were too high given the exposure levels!  I was shooting at 1/800th of a second, and my ISO was at 800 as well!  It’s an “oops” for sure, but thankfully, we can compensate for it thanks to the benefits of our Lightroom workflow and it’s noise reduction feature.  We’ll also take care of our post production sharpening here too.  Remember, less is more (over-sharpening leads to halos, and over-application of the noise reduction tends to cause a buttery fake look to images).  But, we still need to take care of the details:

Step 6

Step Seven in my Lightroom Workflow

It’s at this point when I noticed a dust bunny from my lens (see near the top of the sky).  So, I headed back up to the top of the Develop Module to take care of business:

Step 7

Step Eight in my Lightroom Workflow

Now that I’ve fixed the dust bunny, it’s time to move onto my final step..my lens correction!  No matter how good your lens is, there are imperfections, from chromatic aberrations to edge distortions.  The general rule of thumb is that the wider the lens, the more edge distortion there is.  Since I shot this with my 10-22 which is an ultra-wide, there’s some substantial distortion to fix.  So, let’s take a look:

Step 8

Step Nine in my Lightroom Workflow

At this point, I’ve pretty much done all the edits I need.  The image went from mundane to beautiful, and is something worth sharing with the world!  What do you think?  Any developing techniques you’ve learned about my Lightroom workflow that you’d like to share?  Sound off in the comments with what you like and what you’d change in this 8 step Lightroom post process!

For those of you that prefer audio/video tutorials, I’ve done a short YouTube video walking through my Lightroom Workflow. It’s a lot faster than the read, but some details are lost if you tend to go after minutia:

Color Mechanics and Your Camera

Flower

When it comes to photography, one of the most important things to consider outside of composition is color mechanics.  Color mechanics and how your camera interprets color is always a topic that makes for great discussion.  In fact,  I’ve touched on the topic of color and your camera/monitor as it relates to photography in the past.  Here are some articles I’ve written that speak to color and your camera:

Color and It’s Impact on File Size

The Power of Color

5 Elements of Control #2 – Color

Hot and Cold Lighting

Each of these speaks to how color mechanics can be so powerful in your imagery, whether it’s file size, the power of it in composition, or even it’s impact on lighting.  What I came across yesterday, just added another element to the larger discussion…editing and post production!  The video came through my email via Digg on Sunday. If you’re interested in the mechanics, math, and such of how color is calculated for digital displays, specifically when editing – this is a must see!

Clearly, the concept of color mechanics really can be discussed and evaluated to the Nth degree. That said, some content does better than others at demonstrating and explaining it clearly and in an understandable format.  I’ve tried on the occasions referenced above, but the video was such a cool way to explain it, figured it would be worth sharing.

Conclusion

All that said, what are your thoughts on color in photography?  Are you in agreement that color is a fundamental topic of importance that needs understanding?  Or do you think that color mechanics is not as important in the grand scheme of things?  What other topics or talking points would you consider “fundamental” to understanding photography?

Fill the Frame Versus Rule of Thirds

default_image

When taking and making pictures, composing your image in a way that is compelling encompasses many “rules of composition”, including things like filling the frame, the Rule of Thirds, and Golden K, among several others. With virtually any image though, all the rules simply can’t be applied though, so it’s up to you as the photographer to decide which ones are more or less effective in defining your images.

You can help yourself immensely by looking at the works of others to see what appeals to you.  Try various styles to see which one or ones speak to your creative vision.  Here’s a perfect example of an image where both the Rule of Thirds and Filling the Frame cannot be applied:

default_image

The grind in Lightroom was hard to see, so I added emphasis to the Rule of Thirds lines to help illustrate that it’s not really adhering to that, nor am I even filling the frame. So, let’s take a look at both options.  First up, the Rule of Thirds:

rule_of_thirds

What’s nice about the Rule of Thirds here is that you are immediately brought into her face, but we still don’t have a lot of detail.  The composition is also a bit cleaned up (notice the plastic cup is now effectively cropped out).  This could be a usable image to show the customer, but let’s take a look when we fill the frame:

fill_the_frame

When cropping down to this level, we get a nice full view of the person, there’s no distracting objects and really no other place to look.  We know what the subject is, we know where to look, and you can’t help but smile at the result.

Is one more effective than the other?  Maybe…but that’s where personal preference comes into play.  Different photographers will have different takes on how to crop and apply post production here. Which one do you prefer?  Take a look at each after post production without the Lightroom sidebars and see which you like better.

FillFrame RuleofThirds

Now it’s your turn – which composition works better for you, Rule of Thirds or Fill the Frame?

Which rule of composition works better?

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