A while back I shared that fact that I was enjoying SLR Lounge’s A-Z Lightroom video tutorials. One of the chapters I liked most is dealt with tweaking and adjusting an image which was hard to expose, turning it into a great landscape image. I asked Post Production Pye and the team over at SLRL for a tutorial on that technique which they gladly shared.
In this tutorial, I want to take an image that was shot several years ago on a Canon 40D in RAW, and show you just what we can do to artistically edit this very plain “walk-up” shot.
Step 1 – Expanding the Dynamic Range
We are going to bring out the dynamic range in our shot in order to really make the detail pop. Bring down the Highlights and Whites by -80 each and lift up the Shadows and Blacks by +80 each. This will shift the majority of our tonal range towards the middle of the histogram to retain more detail in the highlights and shadows. By doing this, we lose the overall contrast of the image, so bring up Contrast all the way up to +100 for this shot. Next, because our image is slightly overexposed, we want to dial down the Exposure by half a stop by sliding the Exposure to the left to -0.50.
How your settings should look:
Here is the image after the base adjustments:
Step 2 – Enhancing the Image with the Brush Tool
Now select the brush tool and adjust the settings to the values below. Increase the brush size and brush over the entire image. This will give us more detail and clarity in the overall image.
Doing this added a bit too much clarity over-exposes the mountains in the background as well as over some of the clouds. In order to get rid of unnecessary boost in Clarity in these specific areas, hold the ALT key in order to reverse the effect with your brush tool as you paint and erase from the desired area. At any point in time, hit the O key to take a look at the masking Overlay to ensure there were no areas missed (as shown below). Click O again to get out of the mask Overlay view.
Step 3 – Cooling Down Parts of the Image
I want to cool the image a bit in certain areas to enhance the blue tones in the scene. To do so, decrease the brush Temperature to -50 with everything else zeroed. Before brushing, check the “Auto Mask” box at the bottom of the brush settings. This feature will allow Lightroom to provide assistance when painting over edges. Now brush along the ridges of the mountains in the foreground and you should end up with something like the picture below.
The problem with using the Auto Mask feature is that often times Lightroom will not get the mask correct. However, in certain situations like this one, it can still save some time even though we will have to do a little bit of clean up as you will see below.
Click O again to view the mask Overlay, and you will see that the Auto Masking didn’t get the ridges quite right. We need to manually go in and touch up the areas of the ridge that haven’t been brushed completely. We also have to remove areas on the mountainside that have been brushed unintentionally (We only want to be cooling the background, not the foreground).
After cleaning up the ridges of the mountain, brush over the rest of the areas in the sky and background, making sure with the mask Overlay that you aren’t missing any spots.
You will see that the area we just painted is far too cold, so adjust the Temperature slider back towards the warmer side, to get a much more subtle cooling effect. Also, drag the tint just a tiny bit towards the right, about +10, so we can get a little bit of magenta in the clouds and also slightly enhance the blue tones.
Step 4 – Warming Up Parts of the Image
Now we want to do almost the exact same thing for the foreground, but with a warmer brush instead. Adjust the Temperature to +50, again with everything else zeroed. Paint over the mountains just until you get to the sharp ridges on the right side.
At this point, check the “Auto Mask” box again and paint right along the ridge. We have to clean up the ridge, just as we did before. So uncheck the “Auto Mask” box, and while holding ALT, start cleaning up the areas on the clouds where the warm brush may have touched.
We want a richer and warmer yellow to come out of this mountainside, so add some pink by adjusting the Tint slider towards the right (+20 should be just about right). We can also increase the Temperature slightly more (to about 28) to enhance the effect we’re going for.
The image we have so far:
Step 5 – Using the Graduated Filters Tool
After adjusting the colors, click on the graduated filter icon right next to the brush. Select “Exposure” in the dropdown menu, and then slide the Exposure down to -0.5 (with everything else zeroed). Now hold and drag the graduated filter from top to bottom, just enough to darken the skies a bit.
Do the same thing, but this time from the bottom up with the Exposure at -1. Go back to the brush tool and select again Exposure at -1 and paint in the bottom corners, so that the viewers attention is pulled towards the center of the image. Don’t darken it to a complete black, but just brush the corners a bit to slightly darken the edges of the frame.
Step 6 – Final adjustments
Unclick the brush tool, and go back into the basic adjustments panel to make some final tweaks to the image. Boost the Vibrance to +20 to get a subtle boost to the overall colors. Some of the clouds or mountains may have too much of a clarity effect on them so go back to the brush tool and select “Clarity” in the dropdown menu. Decrease the value of Clarity to -40 and start brushing over the areas that have too much of the clarity effect.
Lastly, go under the “Lens Corrections” panel and hit “Manual”. Adjust the “Lens Vignetting” Amount by -15 with the Midpoint at 10. We want a very slight vignette effect for a very natural darkened look to the edges.
Final Before and After Images
So here is the before and after image of our ordinary walk-up landscape image.
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About This Article
This tutorial is a demonstration of the techniques taught in the Lightroom 4 A to Z DVD and the Lightroom 4 Preset System, both of which are part of the SLR Lounge Lightroom 4 Workshop Collection. The Workshop Collection has become the standard in LR4 education and tools. It contains nearly 30 hours of education and the most comprehensive and powerful preset system developed for Lightroom 4.
One of the reasons that we shoot in the RAW file format is to give us the opportunity to have more control over image processing. The great thing about photography is that techniques, tools and our overall skill set are all improving over time.