REMOVE CHROMATIC ABERRATION
First, especially if you do focus stacking or bracketing, remove that chromatic aberration. Do so by selecting Lens Correction and enable Remove Chromatic Aberration The last thing you want is to wait for all that processing just to realize that physics is trying to ruin your good time, so this should be one of your first edits. I have a preset on import just for this purpose — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten to do so, edited in Photoshop, saved, and realized I’ve got an unwanted purple glow on a major feature.
STRAIGHTEN YOUR PHOTOS
Second: my most liked photo on Instagram, guess what… isn’t straight. She’s crooked and my everlasting shame.
Don’t be me.
Straighten your photos.
VIBRANCY VS SATURATION
Understand the difference between vibrancy and saturation, then get a feel for their relationship. Below we have my edit, Vibrancy, then Saturation.
Vibrancy is a tool that selects colors based on vibrancy — technically, is IT a vibrancy tool. According to Adobe, Vibrancy ‘adjusts the saturation so that clipping is minimized as colors approach full saturation.” Clipping is traditionally associated with lights and darks: you lose data if your darks are too dark, lose data if your brights are too bright. Color has a similar issue: if your colors are over-saturated, good luck coming back from that.
Vibrancy measures the color in your photo and adjusts based on vibrancy. See the photos below: red is a predominant color in my first photo, so when I consider adjusting the color of the entire photo, I don’t want my yellows and reds to be overdone. I would select vibrancy to bring the other colors up, the blue in the sky, purples in the mountains, etc.. Vibrancy does a pretty alright job balancing the overall colors.
The third photo is to illustrate: saturation is the intensity of color, and she’s a righteous mess if used improperly because she doesn’t care about what color is already saturation: she thinks all colors were created equal and bumps ALL of them.
In short, Saturation is intensity of all colors.
Vibrancy is a tool that considers under-saturated colors and bumps them.
Tone Curve is your friend you only hang out with when another friend is in town. It’s time to get to know this friend.
It’s how we get muted tones, skin to pop, lovely cascades of contrast, like… if you master tone curve, NOTHING can stop you. I would mess with this before you even touch your colors. The reason is: grab the mood you want first, then adhere your colors around that.
Want muted tones and muted colors? It’s way easier to mute your tone curve and then move the colors around that. If you change the colors first, you’re probably going to have to edit the colors, then the curve, colors again… curves first, then colors.
Fifth, Camera Calibration! This will take some time to get used to, but it makes all the difference. It affects the color model (Lightroom is RGB) of your photos.
Basically, as you move Green, Red, or Blue around, more than likely, every other color will be affected: all colors but three are created by those three colors in RGB.
Your colors will look silly first; be patient with yourself. Remember that adjusting red will affect green and blue (unless you have PURE red). Adjusting blue will affect greens and reds (unless you have PURE blue) and so on.
Adjust as needed. Learning your calibration allows your colors to pop, similar to tone curve and contrast, but will change the entire photo to whatever color “base” you want, a sort of template for the rest of your color edits.
(I typically shoot in Camera Neutral by the by — Canon’s Neutral is pretty great)
Follow along with the photos below for how I edited her skin
You may notice after Toning and Calibration that, hmmm, specific elements need some love. Maybe you want your eyes to pop, the darks and lights in your skin isn’t balanced, or above, the color of the shirt just isn’t right.
Local Adjustments affect a specific area of your choosing for basic edits. Anything more will need Photoshop, but Lightroom smartly links your Photoshop and Lightroom adjustments back and forth. Anyway, local adjustments are made by brush, gradient, and radial gradient.
In my portraiture, I go heavy on local eye adjustments because I use natural light. Sure, I could use a dish and resolve that problem, but I can’t be bothered to strap a dish set to my backpack.
Don’t step on a crack or you’ll break your momma’s back!
Automask automatically finds edges based on sampled colors so you don’t have to feel like a five-year-old trying to draw inside the lines.
Open your Adjustment Brush on the top right of your toolbar. Set Feather to 0, Flow to 100. Hit Show Mask Overlay on the bottom window above your library (you may have to show this taskbar). Then hit Automask back in your Adjustment Brush panel, near the bottom. You can also toggle this with ‘a.’ Start painting.
As you paint, do so relatively near the lines — Lightroom will start to draw outside if you go ham. Remember that Lightroom selects pixel by pixel, sampling similar-colors.
Stack Your Brackets
Lightroom is capable of HDR, or bracketing, to be more specific: Skylum’s Aurora HDR is changing the definition of HDR processing.
Lightroom can stack exposures, usually a light, dark, and medium, to provide a balanced final result so you have full control over your photo. Tweet me if you’d like to know more about bracketing and HDR stacking. Happy to bring you with me on a shoot and show you my editing process!
Select your bracketed photos. Right-click on one and hit Merge Photos, HDR. Lightroom will process your photo in a pop-up. Merge, and Lightroom will throw out an HDR .dng file that will have balances darks, mids, and lights IF you shot correctly.
Presets, friends, are not a point of shame.
Do I use them now? No.
Did I? Yep, but I *learned* from them.
Click a good preset then play with the settings to figure out WHY it looks good. I don’t believe in one-click resolutions in this world: you’ve can slap a Band-Aid on many things, but you still have to put in the effort.
Shown below, you have your OOC shot, then the preset applied. I did some basic adjustments (third), which makes it look better, but it’s far from perfect, right? I played with the tone curve and this is what I’ve got. Sure, I can go in with local adjustments, and that’s what I did over a year ago. The final product was ‘meh,’ but I learned SO MUCH from this photo.
The final photo is a collaboration of learning from this shoot and two years of experience having learned alongside presets.
Do not be ashamed of your presets.
But do learn from them so you can find your own voice, please, please!