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:

Barnacles of Knowledge

Authors at Google

My photographic interests have been more recently geared toward documenting the growth and development of our new puppy, Kenzie.  I’ve already recorded over 2GB of photos and videos with her doing various things (playing with a tennis ball, her first swim, chasing after butterflies and ducks, etc.)  All of it has a sort of “awww, cute…now what” feel to it, but I share them with fellow pet lovers anyway.  In this one community forum a tangential topic came up where some, shall we say, divergent points of view were shared and a bit of animosity was stirred.

As is always my credo, I lean toward either learning from or sharing my knowledge and experience with others.  If you are more learned than your compatriots, I believe in a sense of duty to both share my knowledge and to educate others.  Toward that end, I referred to a talk Joe McNally did with Google a while back, as he makes a statement where he says:

These things accrue to you as a photographer…it’s like barnacles of knowledge that kind of glom themselves onto you…”

It’s a powerful statement and one that speaks to me and my life.  In the midst of gathering the quote, I ended up watching this piece in its entireity over again (1:10 minutes).  Even now, the anecdotes and life lessons still hold true.  If you’ve not watched it, devote an hour of your life to it.  If you have watched it – watch again.  Not only is it interesting, but you always will gain a certain measure of inspiration from it:

Happy shooting!

 

Time lapse

Probably some of the most compelling content these days has resulted from the convergence of photography and videography – that being time lapse compilations.  In the early days, people would use something called an intervalometer that would programatically tell your camera to fire the shutter release every couple of seconds over a specified period of time.  You would then take this series of images and assemble in some software designed for that purpose.  It started out very clunky, and only those that could really dial in their photo settings to account for variations in brightness over time, sync the series to show a certain number of frames in their video editor, and prevent ghosting in the final product could do a decent job.

As with all technology, the point of entry gets easier, and the results get higher.  Here’s a time lapse sequence I shot (on my iPhoneusing the native camera, an app I bought for like $5 (called Lapse It), and it’s own method for creating the video.  If you wanna get fancy, you can even add music to your sequences:

It’s certainly not going to win anything at Sundance, but I could easily see this tool becoming more popular in the hands of the uber creatives out there. The best part is that this is only one of many time lapse apps available.  While I certainly am not going to spend vast amounts of money on all of them to review here, figured I’d share this one as a demonstration and a partial vote of confidence for this one.

My biggest complaints:

  1. My iPhone kept falling over (did not have a tripod to mount it to) 
  2. The app makes it difficult to add the music of your choice, and combine when publishing…
  3. The app doesn’t let you take the series of images it captured and move into your own video editor.  Instead I’d have to take the compiled video, export that to my computer, and throw into Premiere for more cleanup.  I’d always rather deal with the source content, ya know?

Anyone else have any experiences, luck, or complaints with time lapse apps in their own mobile devices?  What kinds of content are you creating with them?  Be sure to share your thoughts, comments and feedback below…