ADOBE LIGHTROOM CC
It's a sunny morning here in Santa Monica, California and I'm typing this while a squirrel attempts to steal lemons from the lemon tree I am sitting under in our friends courtyard (who we are staying with for the duration of our time in LA). I have just finished editing a few images I took earlier this morning on the Venice Beach Pier of a few local surfers, as well as a few more images from a few days ago in the Yosemite National Park. As I have been editing, I've been thinking a lot about how I edit, and why I edit the way I do. I've also been thinking about how important or not important editing is, as apart of the overall photo taking process and so I wanted to share some thoughts with you all, as well as details around how I specifically go about editing the photos that you all see through my social media accounts.
Editing photos is a very important part of the photo taking process in my opinion. You'll often hear people say when taking a photo: "this photo just doesn't do it justice" and there is a reason for that. It's because everything you are experiencing through all your different senses can't be captured in a photograph. It's impossible to capture smell, temperature, relief and satisfaction of arriving at a destination after months of planning or days of hiking... but editing that photo allows us the creative control to adjust how the photo looks to truly represent everything we felt while taking that image. With that being said, this is why there is no exact way to edit a photo... It ALL comes down to you figuring out how you can edit your images to best reflect your personal experience for memory sake, or to share with people around you.
Let me still please preface everything I am about to say, by firstly saying what I am not trying to say. I am not trying to say that this is how you should edit. I am just telling you how I edit, and hoping this process can help you in some way. I am also not claiming to know more then you, or anyone for that matter... everything I have learnt, I have learnt from my own experience as well as asking friends how they do it, I have many friends who edit images completely differently to me, and I still absolutely love the work they produce.
My goal through this is to show you what I do, my process and how Adobe Lightroom CC makes this process a simply, effective and enjoyable one.
1. ENVIROMENT & INSPIRATION
This is a major key for me. When it comes to editing photos, there are some days when I need to get through a tonne of work, and so locking my office door and putting on a Hans Zimmer soundtrack is the only way I'm going to get as much work achieved as necessary. But ideally this isn't how it should be - although if it is for you, fantastic.
I like to find an environment that is beautiful, is quiet (but not too quiet) has a comfortable amount of space, smells good (basically coffee or freshly baked bread) and has others working remotely as well. Wifi is also a major key.
As well as the environment, what you do before you start editing is crucial in my opinion. If you are sitting down to edit immediately after a shoot, like I am, this doesn't apply as much BUT if you are waking up at 7 or 8am to get into a full days editing or are even just finally getting to edit those photos you took a month or so ago and have just been trying to find time/energy then this is important. GET INSPIRED. Watch your favourite movie scene, listen to your favourite song, go to your favourite photographers website, go for a skate or a surf or a hike or even just a walk around the block but do something that inspires you to CREATE.
When you've done that, and you've found the right environment for you, it's in my opinion that you're about to create the best work that you can.
Final note: Take breaks, drink coffee and keep going. Look up from your computer every now and then... Pull your self out of the matrix and remind yourself what the world looks like. It'll help keep your photos looking natural.
2. ARCHIVING & RATING
This is basically the part I hate the most and one of the reasons I love Adobe Lightroom so much. Through Catalogs / different folders in my library and their 5 star rating system, I am able to import my images and store them in a way that means whether I have just taken the photograph, or am editing photos I took from a trip 2 years ago, I know exactly where and how to find them.
Personally I create catalogs for WORK, PERSONAL, and WEDDINGS. This helps to keep things like presets seperate and my library from getting too cluttered.
Whilst a lot of people delete images they don't like straight out of the gates, I am not one of them. When I shoot, I like to compose shots that are outside of my comfort zone or a little different to my preference and I've found in my experience that sometimes it's these shots that are my favourite 6 months down the track and I find myself being very thankful I didn't go on a huge culling spree. This is where the rating system helps... I IMPORT EVERYTHING.. and then I rate everything. Sometimes I rate something no stars, but usually I will rate everything either a 1 star, 3 star or 5 star. This helps because for any posting I do to IG, I can easily go and look at all my 5 star photos. If I post all of them, then that's when I will look through my 3 star photos and it's funny that sometimes this is where I find my favourite photos (I just didn't give them enough credit when I first imported them).
Once you have archived your photos (stored them in photos on your computer drive or an external hard drive) then you're ready for the editing process.
Final Note: Invest in good hard drives - your photos are invaluable and worth saving to quality drives even if that does mean spending a couple hundred dollars every few months. Always store your photos CLEARY from the start, you'll save so much time and frustration in the future.
3. COLOUR GRADING & LIGHTING
The thing about any experience in life, including the experiences we photograph, is that we experience and interpret things differently to anyone else. Eg. I know that when I’m shooting a landscape with friends, whilst I might be particularly interested in the light hitting a part of a ridge line, someone else could be totally fixated on the colours of the vegetation in the foreground. It means that we aren’t only going to shoot that particular landscape differently, but what stood out to us, and how we experienced that moment are completely different to each other. Because we both felt differently, and our unique senses responded uniquely, it means that our editing process should reflect a complete individual experience. When I am colour grading or adjusting lighting I am working to not only fix something that might have gone wrong in the photo taking process (hopefully nothing did) but to allow the things that stood out to me, really stand out in the photo, and there are plenty of ways to allow that to happen.
But yes, this is the exciting part, and my favourite part of the entire process. Here is my breakdown of my grading and lighting process:
0. White Balance is important and you should shoot in the right balance. In principle, correct white balances are when the white in your shot is true white. However we all have preferences on how warm or cool we want our scene to be when shooting. If you shoot RAW then you'll have the most data recorded in the image and so are able to adjust your WB in Lightroom. Whilst you still can edit this on a JPEG file, you will be more limited.
1. Correct exposure levels on all photos you want to edit (for me, this is usually all the photos I've rated 5 star). Don't worry about shadows and highlights etc, just adjust your exposure under the basic menu.
2. Figure out how many different scenes you have to edit. This is more about mental prep then anything. If you shot some photos during golden hour and then some during that blue hour after the suns gone then those are 2 different scenes that will require different grading.
3. Edit one photo from each scene. Using the example above, start by editing the colours in your golden hour shot, and then one in your blue hour shot.
4. My best tip on how to colour grade and editing lighting well, is to articulate what you DON'T like about an image. EG. "the sky is a bit too blue", "the green in that grass is too intense", "The landscape is nicely lit, but the person in it is too dark".
5. Next step is to work out what the opposite of those things you don't like are: EG. "I need to make the sky a little lighter" or "I need to make that person a bit lighter"
6. Using the basic tools provided in the DEVELOP tab in Lightroom, as well as points 4 and 5, adjust your highlights, shadows, and exposure levels accordingly, repeating steps 4 and 5 as you go and constantly asking yourself what you do and don't about the image.
7. Using the HSL (Hue/Saturation/Luminance) tool below the tone curve (tone curve is helpful for controlling the RGB or Red, Blue, Green tones in your highlights and shadows - if you are just starting out, don't worry too much about this yet) have a play around with changing the hue, saturation and luminance levels of different colours and figuring out what you like. For me, I am not a huge fan of military green, so I often use the hue tool, to add a little yellow to the greens in my images before I take a little saturation out of them
8. Tonal Curve and Split Toning: Both of these options are great for adjusting the shadows and highlights in your image. Using the tonal curve, you can control the RGB (red, blue and green) tone breakdowns which allows you to specifically adjust these tones throughout the whole highlight and shadow range. OR you can adjust these collectively. This really works well when you are shooting to your light meter on your camera and specifically shooting for the post production side of things. Split toning is similar in essence however I personally see it as a quick fix tool. It’s very easy to add a specific tone to your highlights or shadows and vice versa while applying an opposite tone to the other.
9. Just keep practising. Edit the photo as much as you possibly can, and then hit the reset button and start again just for the purpose of getting familiar.
Final Note: the Y and \ buttons are my favourite. Constantly use these buttons to compare your edit with the original. I've found that deep in the matrix of the editing world, we can sometimes forget what the real world looks like around us and our edits become less and less natural.
4. COMPOSITION & CROPPING
Composition is KEY when it comes to taking images. Figuring out how to set up your shot, whether that's using external sources like props and lighting, or just using objects already existing in the landscape with natural lighting - it's important we know what makes a good image/an image that we are happy with - but we do have the ability via Lightroom to adjust our composition here.
This is why it's good to shoot everything you can either in RAW or the largest possible JPEG file your camera allows. Especially if you are shooting something far away and you only have your wide angle lens at the time. Give yourself the best opportunity you can, and don't be afraid to try cropping your image in different way, and in different sizes to see what you might like in the future.
For me, I shoot most of my images landscape and then crop portrait for Instagram if I need to. This is just a personal thing, I know with Instagram these days, a lot of photographers enjoy shooting portrait if all they plan to do with the image is upload to IG.
5. FINAL TOUCHES
Lightroom provides fantastic touch up tools, which I will always finish with if required, these are my favourite:
1. SPOT REMOVAL - ever shoot a landscape that had a person in it and they just wouldn't move out your shot no matter how long you waited? Well, thankfully with spot removal, you don't have to be a Photoshop wizard to remove that person.
2. GRADIENT FILTER - this allows us to edit part of, but not the whole, image. Amazing for times where your sky feels very warm (orange or other warmer tones), but the landscape your shooting is very cold (blue or other cooler tones) or your foreground is well lit whilst or background is very dark or vice versa.
3. ADJUSTMENT BRUSH - I use this one a lot and it works in the same way the Gradient Filter does, but this is more specific to the area of your choice. A great tip I have is to lift the exposure WAY UP before selecting the area you want to adjust, this just helps to accurately select the area you want to adjust - then drop the exposure back to 0 and make the adjustments you need to!
6. EXPORTING AND UPLOADING
Right click, select the export location (for me I export to the same place as I imported to but just label it exports) Eg. Import folder: "Yosemite", export folder "Yosemite Exports: under my personal folder.
Here you can adjust the size of the file you want to export and if the purpose of your export is for social media only, then you can drop the exported file size right down, so it uploads faster, whilst taking less room on your phone and computer/hard drive!
Adobe Lightroom CC isn't just limited to computer desktop either but their phone app makes final adjustments on your phone super simple, as well as syncing options between your desktop and mobile for SUPER easy uploading options. Because I edit on a Mac Book (remotely) and iMac (in my office) but upload to a Android device, sometimes I find my colours to be a little different and so I do often use this service to make final adjustments before I upload to social!