Workflow for editing raw images in Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom raw editing workflow

Just a quick run down of how I edit my images in Lightroom. The bulk of the edits are usually done in under 2 minutes, if it takes longer than that for me to get some workable results it means I have a pig for a photo, and as the old saying goes - you put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig. This goes back to my previous articles where you first and foremost have to be in the right place at the right time to get a good image

In general I make global adjustments (adjustments that apply to the whole image at once like colour saturation) and will sometimes make local adjustments to certain areas of the image, for example, there might be some dark areas that I will brighten. I don't locally adjust certain colours to make them stand out more as I feel that is cheating e.g. making the orange sky look more like red, making that grey water bluer. 

First thing to note, and a very important one, is that I shoot in raw format, as opposed to jpeg. There are plenty of articles on the web about the advantages of raw vs jpeg, so if you don't know what raw images are, you should probably go and do some reading before continuing. 

For this example I'll be using a photo of a pier at Lake Te Anau that was taken during my recent trip of New Zealand. I got up extra early to be there when the sun rose. Not the most spectacular sunset, but great nonetheless. 

Here's the start image. Remember raw files are always dull and lifeless straight out of the camera - it's up to the you to make the edits on the computer later. 

Image

The first thing is to add a neutral density filter to the sky to bring back the brightness. 90% of the time I will use an actual filter as opposed to a digital one, but this time I went without. Why? Because the lighting wasn't that harsh due to the misty conditions and so I knew I could "bring back" the sky later on in Lightroom. Secondly I was using a polarising filter already - I don't like to stick more than one filter on the lens at a time as I get the feeling this reduces image quality fractionally. 

Image

Image

As you can see, in 5 seconds the detail in the sky has been brought back. Can't do that with a jpg file now can you? I also like to boost contrast and clarity whilst reducing highlights with the digital ND filter at the same time, this makes the clouds stand out a bit more

Overall settings for the one digital ND filter are:

  • Exposure -1.98
  • Contrast 61
  • Highlights -33
  • Clarity +52

Next up I boost the contrast (+48) to give the overall image more punch/oomph.

Image

Now I boost the colours and clarity to get things looking yummy:

  • Clarity +40
  • Vibrance +24
  • Saturation +19

The clarity is much higher than I usually go (around +20 usually) as it was a little misty on this day.

Image

The contrast and clarity settings have made the blacks and whites a little too strong, so I bring back the highlights and whites big time, and also lighten the blacks. This brings back a little detail in those areas too.

  • Hightlights -100
  • Whites -71
  • Blacks +33

Image

The mountain on the left is too dark thanks to the digital ND grad filter going in a straight line across the image (also why I didn't use a real soft or hard grad filter). To fix this I use the brush tool to lighten just the mountain.

Image

The colours out of the camera are a bit cooler than I remember - I always leave the white balance on auto as I can just change it later on the computer, so I adjust the white blance to make them warmer. 

Before:

  • Temperature: 5300
  • Tint: -4

After:

  • Temperature: 5500
  • Tint: +10

Just a little tweak is all that's required most of the time. Some people get a bit too carried away with white balance changes...

Image

Now the tedius part - combing the image at full size or greater to find and remove dust spots (dust that gathers on the cameras sensor will show up on your photos at smaller apertures).

Dust spots

Finally I check the boxes for lens correction and chromatic aberration removal. 

Lake Te Anau

So there you have it, done and dusted in 10 minutes tops all in Lightroom - depending on how long I spend looking for dust bunnies! The actual final step is where I export it to Photoshop and sharpen it before saving it as a .psd file. The sharpning in Lightroom is garbage and does funny things to the finer details.

Conclusion

You can spend a lot of time making some absolutely crazy edits to raw files in Adobe Lightroom, both allow you so much room to play with. But the most important thing is to spend more time in the field getting a good image, so you can spend less time in front of the computer later.