Today I want to illustrate a few simple photo editing techniques that can make “okay” photos pop. The only tool in my box today is Adobe Lightroom, which is my favorite organizing and editing tool for photos, and the only tool I use 95% of the time.
To see where I’m going with this, here’s the before and after of a palo verde tree in bloom:
The original image is straight out of the camera. My camera, like many, produces RAW files that are rather dull and unexciting. The goal of the RAW file is to capture as much data as possible. My goal when I get home is to make it look like the scene I saw in my head when I pressed the shutter. So, a little post-processing is in order.
First, the big stuff: the exposure and white balance actually look about right to me. The whites aren’t blown out, there are no deep, black shadows, and the yellow is the right color, just a bit dull. So, I don’t need to mess with those.
The third setting I usually use is the Clarity slider. Now, normally with landscapes and such, I bump up the clarity a bit to give things a nice sharp edge, but in this case, a lot of the photo is out of focus, because of a shallow depth of field. So let’s lean into that a bit and encourage a kind of dreamy, summery feel to the image, and just drop the clarity down to about -50. It kind of takes the edge off of everything.
What stands out to me at this point is that the branches are looking quite gray. Both because I remember the branches/twigs/whatever being much lighter, and because I’m feeling fond of high key photos right now, let’s bump up the Whites slider to about +50. (I don’t just pick a number, honest, I play with the slider until I get what I want. Today, it just ended up being +50.) That makes everything feel a bit brighter.
Let’s see… now what? Ah, that big blue blob in the background, otherwise known as the sky. I’m not crazy about it intruding. Normally, blue and yellow provide great contrast, but it’s off to one side and not really adding much… and the photo still feels a bit meh, so let’s just crop it out. And take some off the top for good measure, so that the whole focus of the image is on the good stuff: the flowers.
Oh, yes, so much better.
There’s still some blue in there, and it looks a little… weird. Let’s lose it. Down in the HSL panel, let’s drag down the saturation slider for blue to, oh, about -71, to take the edge off those blobs.
And one last, subtle touch. Let’s bump up the Vibrance to about +31. This make the yellows feel richer, as it helps fill in some of the places where the light on the petals washed out the color. (If you have trouble spotting the difference with the photos side by side, focus on the top petal of the flower that’s almost dead center in the image, the one that’s in focus.)
There, I’m going to call that done :)