To finish my little series on post processing for weddings using Lightroom 3 I want to tell you a little more about how I actually edit my images. This is a process that changes gradually but consistently as my visual style and how I shoot evolves. Which brings me right to my first point I want to make – no image is the same. And thus no image should be processed the same.
Using presets is fine. In fact presets can actually help you to achieve an overall consistent look. As long as every image is then evaluated on its own to take little changes in light and colour into consideration. Otherwise it’s very easy to end up with a strong hue or colour cast on all your photos that doesn’t show each image’s best features and could even make your photos look much worse.
You may have heard this before but it doesn’t make it less true – the better you shoot the less you’ll have to do afterwards. I have gotten to a point where I am quite happy with how little I have to process my images. It’s mostly subtle colour corrections as well as highlights and dark areas that I go over – but I still make a point of checking it on every single image to ensure skin colours look the way I want and details in the shadows are still present. And here is how:
As an example I’ll be using this shot of the fabulous Dave from my recent shoot with the fab Grace and Gable. Backlit with low midwinter sun and a pop of fill flash from a shoot-through umbrella positioned camera left. Please keep in mind that all edits are specific for this one image only and will not look the same on whatever photo you are using. Here is the shot straight out of camera:
I shot this spot-metering for Dave’s face and then adding the flash for just a little hint of light. The most important factor in this entire shoot was using a custom white balance. It was -2 degrees in the middle of a forest with trees and clouds coming in and out so the actual colour balance was quite cold. To give the entire shoot a warmer and more glowing look I used a custom white balance on all my photos, applied as I was shooting. For these portraits I used the “shadow” setting on my camera’s white balance. It turned a blue-ish cold forest into a sun-filled place with warm creamy tones. This is how an automatic white balance would have looked:
Due to metering for Dave’s face the backlit area in the background was blown out. In order to recover a little bit of that whilst still preserving details in the shadows I lowered my exposure by one stop and brought up the fill light by a third. This lifts the dark areas just enough without touching the bright areas in your image.
Using the tone curve I like to hone that effect even further. Lifting the darks whilst simultaneously lowering the shadows gives me enough depth in the blacks and still keeps the overall effect rather light.
This is something I’ll do on all of my images to make the skin look creamy and soft. I change the hue of the reds from a magenta towards a more orange tone. No one wants to look red. No one. I then use the luminance sliders to lift the orange tones which makes the skin glow a bit. These steps differ heavily on the tones in your actual image so you want to slide them up and down a bit and see what works for you.
Now, this is a feature I absolutely love in Lightroom. The camera calibration sliders on the very bottom. To learn more about calibration profiles have a look here. My main colour correction comes from changing the tones on whatever profile I’ll be using. As a general rule I like to really push up the reds (again with a more orange than magenta hue) to increase warmth and liveliness in skin colours. I then pull down the greens to keep the overall saturation quite low. The blues will give your image extra punch if you push them up, in this case I’ve pulled them down a bit to avoid a blue hue.
Camera calibration profiles are also being used for such presets as the VSCO film emulations. I love my Kodak Portra so being able to use a profile that makes my digital photos look similar is pretty sweet. In this case I used the Portra 160 preset which works nicely with the warm bright image.
I was able to apply these same settings on all images from that same series of Dave standing in the ferns, simply tweaking the fill light and shadows here and there depending on how the image was lit. Overall I didn’t change much but clearly enhanced the picture. Here we go, the finished image:
As a little extra here is a genius post on culling and editing workflow for high volume projects from Chase Jarvis.
And quite a lot of pretty good advice on Lightroom in general from Kevin Kubota (you’ll have to watch the entire series starting with this one for the full benefit).
Do you have a go-to setting you use? Any secret settings that make your photos look fab? Do you like the red squiggly lines I use to highlight important areas in the screenshots? Discuss. :)
© Ann-Kathrin Koch 2012. Images look best without watermarks on them. Please don't use the photos without asking me first.