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 to take boring and bad photos to make them beautiful in post production. Here’s where we’re going to go:
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:
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. Take a look:
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!
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 meanway down!
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, so, let’s take a look:
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 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:
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 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:
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 and crank it up all the way. The results are pretty nice!
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 Lightroom 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:
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:
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:
At this point, I’ve pretty much done all the edits I need. The image went from bad to beautiful, and is something worth sharing with the world! What do you think? Any developing techniques you’ve learned that you’d like to share? Sound off in the comments with what you like and what you’d change!
For those of you that prefer audio/video tutorials, I’ve done a short YouTube video. It’s a lot faster than the read, but some details are lost if you tend to go after minutia: