I really enjoyed working with this weeks RAW file. It’s always a good sign when an image stands on its own without any additional editing – and that’s what these Lightroom tutorials are all about; making good images even better.
The idea is to take you through the way I process my images. If you’re new to Lightroom, it can be a bit overwhelming when faced with graphs and sliders and I encourage you to experiment. But just knowing what these options do is only the start – the real knack is knowing when and why you want to use them. By talking you through my methods and motivations behind them you might just pick up a tip you can use yourself.
Before we even begin to start tweaking I always contemplate the photograph for a minute or two. I always check the exposure too, because that can have a big effect on how much and in which direction you can take the file. In this case, the exposure isn’t too bad at all.
It maybe could have done with +2/3 of a stop extra but it’s fine. You can end up missing the photo if you’re fiddling about too much. For still subjects and landscapes, it’s always worth trying to squeeze in as much information as you can, but for something like this just put the camera aperture priority mode and get the damn picture before it disappears.
So what else do we notice about the image on first look? Well, the thing that jumps out is the out-of-focus leaf in the top left of the frame. This happens to me a lot because the viewfinders on my cameras are less than 100% and my image previews are only very small (I have the histogram view on of course!) This isn’t a big deal though, especially since I’ve decided I’m going to crop the image anyway. You could just as easily clone this out, even in Lightroom.
Why crop? Well, I feel that the point of interest is too central to the picture and the direction our friend is looking is leading our eye out of the frame altogether. I think this picture would work much better and feel more balanced if the interest is shifted to the right. Cropping will also make the subject much more prominent in the image.
In terms of sliders in the Basic panel, I increased the fill light in this image to +20, the blacks to +10 and the clarity to +79. The majority of the global tweaks were done in the Tone curve…
And the HSL panel…
The adjustments in the HSL panel serve two purposes – to take the redness out of the branch and to emphasize the silvery blues in the fur. The red was attracting attention away from the subject, so I simply toned it down. The HSL panel is great for this kind of thing.
The last global change I made to this image was to add a post-crop vignette of -31. This darkens the corners and keeps eyes focused towards the centre of the photograph.
The rest of the tweaks are local adjustments designed to create more contrast between the subject and the background. One way we can do this is to add a gradient filter to the bottom portion of the image to reduce the exposure, contrast, saturation, clarity and sharpness.
If you look at the original image, we can see an implied circle emerge from the posture and position of the subject. This is a great anchor to help guide the eye around the centre of interest, and we can do a couple of little things to help plant this in the subconscious.
The first is to darken the light background in such a way that you “complete the circle”. As you can see in the image below, simply using a local adjustment brush with a setting of -0.58 exposure to paint around the subject does just enough to achieve this effect.
The second is to pay some attention to the lighter areas to the fur and lift out the natural texture. A simple local adjustment brush with +0.88 exposure is the perfect tool for this.
And that’s it, the edit is finished! I’ve included a large final image and a comparison below so you can see more easily side-by-side the difference between the original and my finished edit.
Hopefully you agree there is an improvement! Editing the image took about 10 minutes. It takes me much longer to write these tutorials and I hope they demonstrate that “post processing” isn’t all about correcting white balance and adding fake skies. If you find them useful please feel free to link back to this post and of course… like and subscribe!
The original source can be found here: