Editing From The Bottom Up | Discover Your Unique Style To Create Your Own Preset
So I realized something the other day. As I was editing I was for whatever reason scrolling to the bottom of the develop panel in Lightroom and I worked my way up on my image, and I LOVED it.
From what I experienced it dealt with the broadest shifts to the image and got more and more specific as I went to the top… maybe with exception to the Temp & Tint sliders, but for the most part, I don’t have a ton of images that are too far off that I can’t adjust the WB at the end of my workflow.
If you want to follow along and edit this exact same raw photo with me I’m including it to download here.
First, Camera Calibration
I went years not even knowing about this beautiful little box of glorious editing abilities. It’s great because it affects the entire tonal range of the primary color spaces (RGB) in your photo. If you start your color work with the HSL editing panel you might get yourself in a situation where you’ve made hue or saturation shifts and you’re not sure why it just doesn’t look right. Sometimes if you shift only the blue, there would be a strange separation between the blue tones and the nearby tones, like green/aqua and purple. These naturally flow into each other as we see them, so when we make adjustments we have to keep the tonal relativity in mind.
I always shift the Blue primary left, as it makes the blues closer to aqua and the yellows closer to amber. Those are pleasing to my eye but there are also a lot of places that we see it and reasons behind its use (see here) in photography and cinema.
The rest I’d say are to taste but I always shift my Blue primary left, shifting it right would give it a purple/yellow tonality and unless you like the Lakers vibe in each of your videos, this is not a pleasing color palette. From there, you can adjust the tonality of your shadows if they are too purple or too green. I tend to move mine left because once I’ve adjusted the other primary sliders it tends to the magenta side which I’ll balance out later too.
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You also have camera profiles in this spot. This is where VSCO and other popular editing presets hide a lot of their magic. This is also why, if you get new gear and the presets haven’t updated their camera profiles, the presets you spent a good amount of money on won’t look the same; it defaults to Adobe Standard. So, just become familiar with which Camera Calibration Profiles you have and what they look like, and you might be surprised to find one you might prefer over the default.
In this panel, I only usually mess with the Dehaze slider. I much prefer the type of contrast it offers and if you’re looking for an intentionally hazy image you can get that with this slider also. Careful, though, at the extremes, this effect can do some really weird and pixel-destroying things.
I add grain in Alien Skin Exposure so I don’t mess with that here.
If you’ve ever taken a picture with a wider lens and needed to make some desperate perspective changes to straighten things out this is where you’d do that. I don’t spend much time here but when I need it this can be a lifesaver.
Fourth, Lens Corrections
I hope you’ve heard of this by now, I really do. When I heard about this it was magic. Essentially it has registered lens information that could remove warping, fisheye stuff, and terrible vignetting. This is key, even though I tend to think it goes overboard on the vignette removal, so I add some back.
Also in this panel are the Manual fixes. You’d be surprised how much cleaner, sharper, and professional an image can look by spending some time to get rid of Chromatic Aberration. Zoom up on your image and if items that are high contrast have a greenish or bluish line around them, get rid of it with this tool. A lot of my beach scenes have benefited greatly by using this.
If you add a lot of sharpening (I suggest you DON’T) you should be aware of the tricks of this panel. Hold down the alt/option button whereby dragging the sliders you can see specifically where sharpening exists. Because of compression in basically every sharing platform, the more you sharpen an image the crazier it can look after… and not a cool kind of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest crazy, but like ‘guy punching invisible birds on the subway’ kind of crazy.
Noise reduction also isn’t something I mess around with too much, it tends to just blur pixels rather than remove noise and ends up looking artificially plastic. Unless you really need to, or can’t take it into photoshop for some more intensive care, less is more here. Even on images that have a high amount of noise I try to do my best to remove the color noise rather than grain, because that’s usually where images can look wrecked.
Sixth, Split Toning
Aside from the Camera Calibration panel, this is one where you can really put your unique stamp on an image. My suggestion is to just hold your mouse down and drag the highlight slider around while looking at your image. Keep it near the bottom of the color spectrum, maybe around the 10% level and then hit the command/apple key while holding the mouse down and it will adjust the shadow split tone.
Everyone will find something that works well for them, and I know people who have built entire brands on having a very VERY specific color in the shadows or highlights of every image no matter how else they edit the picture.
Seventh, HSL and Color
Be delicate here. You’ve already made some tone shifts to start so this should be fine-tuning. If skin is too pale, work on the red/orange slider; if one color is overpowering adjust saturation or luminance until it’s manageable.
A lot of city/street photography is defined by selective desaturation… now that I think about it, a lot of all kinds of shooting scenarios desaturate a certain color for a particular vibe. Look at the shots you like and see which tones are present and which ones aren’t. This will also help you see where tones land in your images.
You could, and should spend a lot of time getting familiar with this panel.
Eighth, Tone Curve
I’m not going to write too much about this because, in reality, you could adjust your entire image solely on the tone curve, but one area I’ve seen underused is the ‘region’ section of it.
There’s a little box in the bottom right-hand side of this panel that allows you to shift from adjusting the line to adjusting the contrast levels of the highlights, lights, darks, and shadows. This is a much more precise and subtle contrast option, and I’d suggest any last contrast touches be done here. The channel tone curve where you can adjust the line for RGB, and each of the color channels, is a beast. Long story short, if you want that faded filmy/crushed blacks or crushed highlights look, this is where it will happen. Google it.
Lastly, the Basic panel
Here I’d just add the salt and pepper to an image. Only a little, but one method of trying it out is take it to the extreme of the slider and then bring it back to where you want it to stay. This can be a good method of knowing where you prefer your images to live as far as bright/dark, poppy/or flat.
Then lastly if you adjust your White Balance you might be surprised now with how a shift at the end of your workflow gives your image an entirely different feel. Check out the original and final versions at the end of the article.
If you’ve become stale in your workflow, switch it up, try this out. If you are wrestling with how to create a definitive style stop doing things the way you always have. Let me know if you guys come up with any cool results from this.
If you like this and want to get to know the parts of Lightroom you don’t know or perhaps get to know parts you think you know and be a Lightroom power user, it’s worth your time to have a look at the Lightroom Workshop Collection, the Lightroom Organization & Workflow or the Image Processing Mastery workshops. They’ll get you up to speed, and fast, allowing you to get the most out of this program we spend so much time with.