Editing is an essential part in photography. In today’s advanced digital era almost any photo that comes out of a camera, especially RAW photos, needs to be developed and edited. The Raw images contain huge amounts of information which is not always expressed, and there for needs to be developed. I find many of my images need corrections like exposure balance, contrast, sharpening and color corrections, not necessarily because they weren’t shot well in the field, but mostly because the camera doesn’t capture the image like the human eye sees it. I believe the minimum developing that should be done is to develop the Raw file into an image that properly reflects the scene you saw while photographing it. Additional editing for improving, or changing the photo is an individual and artistic matter that every photographer chooses for himself.
Being partially color blind – editing for me has been, and still is, a journey filled with difficulties I had to overcome, and still face today. With the help of good and skillful friends I edited and practiced many photos, got criticized and edited again till I got the results I was happy with (me and many other people who see colors). I still can’t see colors, but in the process of editing so many photos I managed to understand how to get good results, even with my color disability.
I edit my photos mostly with Lightroom for the Raw developing and make final touches with Photoshop. Below is the workflow I usually use. The order of actions can change based on individual preferences.
The histogram represents the light distribution in the photo. It can teach us a lot about our photo and what we may need to improve in it. Always remember that the histogram is a mathematical tool, and though it might show us information about the photo, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to edit accordingly, in the final result what matters is your personal taste and style.
The left part of the histogram represents the dark parts (pixels) in a photo, the right part is bright parts, the center is medium brightness areas. The height represents the amount of pixels in each area. When the whole histogram is inside the graph there aren’t burnt (white with no details) parts or completely black parts (black with no details). The above histogram represents a photo which is mostly medium to bright, it has little very dark areas and very little bright areas.
If the histogram has parts beyond the left border it means we have black parts in the photo (black with no details), and if the histogram has parts beyond the right border it means we have burnt parts in the photo (white with no details).
If the histogram lies narrow inside the graph it means the contrast of the mid-tones is relatively low. The photo will probably look dull in colors and general contrast. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because more contrast can be added in post processing.
If the histogram is widely spread though out the graph it means we have relatively good contrast in the mid-tones (not necessarily means it’s enough).
If the histogram doesn’t touch the right and left borders it means we don’t have burnt or black parts. But it also means we might lack contrast in the darkest and brightest areas in the photo (blacks and whites).
The following tools in the “Basic” tab of Develop module in Lightroom are very powerful tools which control the most important parts of developing the raw file. These tools affect the whole photo, but also allow us to affect different areas according to their brightness and more.
– Temperature: Is part of the While Balance. it Lets you choose how “warm” or “cool” the photo will be. I usually shoot in Auto White Balance and find it pretty accurate. After I import the photo to Lightroom I check to see if I like it a bit warmer or cooler and change it accordingly.
– Exposure: This tool controls the general brightness of the photo. Using exposure you can brighten or darken the photo. It mainly affects the mid-tones and less affects the darkest and brightest areas.
– Contrast: The contrast tool increases or decreases the general contrast in the photo. Increasing contrast means to brighten bright parts and darken dark parts. The contrast tool mainly affects the mid-tones contrast! it less affects the darkest and brightest ends. There for this tool is our main tool to handle generally low contrast photos. How much contrast should you add? it differs from photo to photo and depends on your taste. My best advice (for almost anything in editing) is to start adding contrast until you clearly see it is too much, and then start going back.
– Highlights: The highlights tool controls the bright parts of the photo with less or almost no affect on other parts. It is the main tool for darkening areas which are too bright, it can also help recover slightly burnt areas if it isn’t too burnt. Be ware not to use it too extremely because it can result in weird and unnatural colors.
– Shadow: The shadows tool controls the dark parts of the photo with less or almost no affect on other parts. It is the main tool for brightening areas which are too dark. Remember that brightening dark areas means that you are digitally extracting information from a place with little information – the major downside is that it also increases the noise in those areas.
– Whites: The whites tool controls the brightest parts of the photo with less or almost no affect on other parts. It is the main tool for adding contrast to the brightest edge of the photo.
– Blacks: The blacks tool controls the darkest parts of the photo with less or almost no affect on other parts. It is the main tool for adding contrast to the darkest edge of the photo.
– Clarity: The Clarity tool increases or decreases texture in the photo. It is one of the best tools to increase and emphasize textures which is a great advantage in landscape photography. It can work on anything from sand patterns, waterfalls, mud cracks and any other texture you might want to enhance. Clarity works as a combined tool of contrast and local sharpening, so it emphasizes texture by increasing both contrast and sharpening.
– Vibrance: The vibrance tool increases or decreases color and does so in a much better way than the saturation tool. The saturation tool works equally increasing or decreasing all colors the same. The Vibrance tool is much more sophisticated – it acts like a selective saturation tool. The vibrance tool analyzes the color in your photo and adds colors according to need in a balanced way. This is THE tool I use to increase general color in my photos.
In the “Detail” tab you will find the option to do general sharpening of the image. Sharpening is usually recommended for every image, whether it is for printing or for web uses like Facebook or your website. Sharpening should be done to a good degree – not too little and not too much. I recommend using these values: Radius in minimum, Detail at maximum, Amount can range from about 15 to 80, depending on the image itself. These values give subtle refinement and prevent aggressive sharpening. It is also recommended to use masking at the level of around 15-40. Masking allows for selective sharpening and will cause the sharpening to work mainly on areas that require sharpening (such as areas with textures) and less on areas that do not require sharpening like smooth sky. One of the best ways to know how not to over sharpen is to view the image in 100% zoom on a smooth area – when you start noticing tiny “worm” like artifacts appear, that is when you have to go back.
In “Detail” tab you also will find the option to do general noise reduction in the image. Noise reduction is usually necessary in photos shot with high ISO or very long exposures that causes noise and graininess. Noise reduction eliminates and smooth noisy pixels and there for has one big disadvantage – it reduces details and sharpness, there for it is recommended to use it with care. General noise reduction can be applied to an image which has noise in the entire image. If noise is only or mostly visible in specific areas (usually more visible in smooth areas without texture like sky) it is better to reduce it locally, using a brush or graduated filter which will be explained later. I usually use the lightroom default settings for noise reduction according to need.
In “Lens Corrections” tab you will find automatic and manual corrections for almost any type of lens. The corrections are for optical distortion, Vignetting, Chromatic aberration and more. Lightroom usually recognizes the lens automatically when you press “Enable profile correction”, if not you can manually select your lens from the list and also adjust distortion, vignetting and other this according to need.
In the panel under the histogram you will find the “Crop overlay” tool which is mainly used for cropping and straightening the photo. When you place your mouse pointer on the corner of the image you can crop the image. You can use the lock icon on the left – if it is closed the original aspect ratio (the original width and length ratio) of the image will be preserved, if it is open you can freely crop to any ratio you want. If you place you mouse pointer a bit outside the corner of the picture you can rotate it and align it. You can also align it by using the Angle tool and draw a line parallel to the horizon line in the image and let Lightroom straighten the image automatically. Next to the lock you can also change the aspect ratio in predetermined ratios like 16:9 for HD view.
With the Spot removal tool/brush you can eliminate undesirable things in the picture such as spots on the sensor or anything else (it is recommended not to exaggerate). Click on the tool, select the size (a little larger than the area you want to remove) and click that area. Lightroom will then automatically select an area from which it will use to “copy” in order to correct what you wanted to remove. Most times the automatic choice of the area from which chooses to fix is pretty good and appropriate, if not – you can choose it yourself. You can also adjust the “feather” of this brush (the strength of the affect around the center) and opacity (general amout of the affect) according to need. I usualy use this brush in “Heal” mode which adjusts the edges of the corrected area. You can use this brush as a spot for a specific place, but you can also apply it in a line or other shapes.
We don’t always want to edit the whole image in the same manner, for example some areas might need more contrast than others, some need to be darkened or brightened and some need more noise reduction than others. These three tools have amazing capabilities to balance and improve the image and allow full and local control in almost any part we want to adjust.
The graduated filter works just like a graduated ND filter, only here it is an editing tool and it can make a lot more adjustments like exposure, contrast, clarity, whites, shadows, highlights, temperature, noise reduction and more. This tool works linearly and the adjustment is done gradually from one end to the other. When you click on the graduated filter tool a cross will appears. Click on the mouse pointer to start stretching the filter on the image (from top to bottom, bottom to top, or any other direction you want). On the right side you will see the filter toolbox where we can select which change/effect the filter will make.
The graduated filter is a very effective tool to do corrections like exposure balance between sky and foreground or any adjustment that fits a linear correction.
– The filter works with 100% effect from where we begin to stretch it (and before the beginning line) and it’s effect gradually decreases to 0% to the line where it ends (beyond the end line there is no effect).
– If the space between the starting line and the end line is large, then the filter will be soft and the effect is very graduated. If the space between the starting line and the end line is small, then the filter will be hard and the effect between line to line will be very dramatic.
– You can move the entire filter (without changing the hardness level) by pressing it’s center point in the middle line.
– In the filter menu (at the top), you can also press the word “brush”. This will actually add a brush that can do the same effect of the filter in other areas you want to include that don’t fit the linear effect of the filter, or delete filter effect in other areas.
In the photo above you can see a comparison with and without the affects of the graduated filter. The left photo is without exposure added to the filter and the right one is with exposure added. I added a graduated filter that brightens the foreground (and also other things like contrast, clarity…). I placed the filter from bottom to top and as you can see the affect is at 100% from under the starting line (the borrom line), from the bottom line the affect gradually reduces to 0% at the top line and stops.
Graduated filter toolbox
The brush is a circular tool, which has a toolbox just like the graduated filter and allows you to draw continuously or discontinuously where you to adjust areas in all kinds of places in the image freely. The brush also has the option to be soft or hard like the graduated filter by adjusting the “feather”(the effect is from the inside of the brush to the outside). When you click on the brush tool you will see the circular brush on the image. You can “draw” on the image by clicking and holding mouse left click and drag it on the areas you want to adjust.
– You can set the size of the brush in the brush menu, or by moving the mouse center wheel, or by pressing the [ / ] keys in the keyboard.
– You can set the hardness of the brush by changing the “feather” in the brush toolbox, or by pressing Shift + Move the mouse wheel.
– If you want to make a change in a certain area without invading another area (for example, a border between an area and another area), you can check the “Auto Mask” option. When auto mask is selected the brush analyzes the area you work on and tries to stay within its borders. The auto mask option is less suitable for internal areas because it will not affect it equally.
– If you want to see exactly where you work with the brush (even if you did not change anything in the toolbox), click on “Show selected mask overlay” below the picture.
– If you want to erase a brush effect in certain places (affects specifically on the brush you have chosen) you can click and hold the Alt key, the brush will become an eraser brush (you’ll see a minus sign inside the circle) and you’ll be able to delete where you want. The size and hardness of an eraser brush can also be adjusted. The erase brush works only on areas of the specific brush you chose.
– The opacity of the brush can also be adjusted in the brush toolbox by changing the “flow” in order to apply softer affect in different areas.
In the photo above you can see a comparison with and without the affects of the adjustment brush. The upper photo is without contrast and clarity adjustments to the water in sinkhole area and the bottom one is with no adjustment of contrast and clarity.
Adjustment brush toolbox
The radial filter is an elliptical / circular tool that works similar to the brush. The effect can be from the outside to the inside or vice versa (by pressing “Invert Mask” of the filter toolbox). The radial filter also has a toolbox like the graduated filter with all the options you know so far and its hardness can be adjusted by changing the feather in the toolbox. The radial filter is a very effective tool for creating subtle vignetting, it can be used to emphasize the center of your image, highlight a subject like an animal or a person and more.
Radial filter toolbox
Image editing is a process of learning, acquiring good taste, style and personal work flow – just like photography. The more you edit, the more you will understand the tools, how they work, and eventually you’ll know how you want to edit the picture and how to achieve it. It is highly recommended to experiment and consult with friends / photographers that you appreciate to get feedback on your photos.
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