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How We Edit: Using Lightroom 4 (LR)

We love getting questions from our fellow photographers out there and a few days ago Sonja asked about how we use Lightroom to edit…so here’s a blog post with the the basics of what we do. First, before we talk about editing, I (Jeremy) think it is important to talk about shooting, because essentially, our editing style is largely based on our shooting style. We are HUGE believers of Shooting in Manual mode, and shooting RAW. We also wrote two blog posts to help you learn how to shoot in manual, here, and here.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a technical nerd, so there are some of you super smart technical photographers out there who may find I don’t use my terms correctly, but this is how I understand it, LOL.

With that said, since we spend so much time getting the image right (correct) SOOC, we do very minimal editing. We haven’t blogged about this yet, but we also use ExpoDiscs┬áto help get the white balance correct (or really close to it). Because, we shoot in manual and use the expo-disc, in all reality, the 4 things I will do in LR are: (1) double check white balance, (2) adjust exposure, (3) adjust the RAW file and add a little contrast, and (4) desaturate if I want a black and white.

1 – Adjust the White balance.

As previously mentioned, we use the expo-disc to help us get our white balance. Previously, we would always shoot on Auto White Balance (AWB) but found it to be far too cool (blue). The few times I shot on a preset white balance (tungsten, shade, flash, etc.), it would get the temperature close, but the tint would always be at zero (0). I also tried shooting in Kelvin (custom temperature in the menu) but the same problem: the tint was not customized, only the temperature. The temperature + the tint = white balance. In general, we prefer a slightly warmer picture, but sometimes the expo disc is still too warm for us, so I will pull it down in LR. You can simply adjust those two sliders in LR to your preference. Experience will help you learn whether you are attracted to cool images, or warm images, or maybe somewhere in-between (perfection!).

2 – Adjust the exposure.

This is really simple. Drag the “exposure” slider in LR until the picture is perfectly exposed. Again, since we are shooting in manual and getting the image near perfect in camera, this adjustment is usually very very minimal. I always expose for the skin (usually the face), which usually means I may bump up the exposure just a smidge.

3 – Adjust the image since it is a RAW

Ok, so this is where my “technical” understanding may be lacking a little bit, but basically, RAW files are completely “un-edited” and are a little flatter than JPEGs. The image you see on the back of of your DSLR is a JPEG preview so don’t be alarmed if it looks just a little flatter when you pull the RAW file into LR. This is where most of the adjustments come into play. Here is the basic edit we apply to every image:

Contrast (+10), Shadows (-25), Blacks (-40), and Vibrance (+15)

With that said – this is only our basic edit to each picture. Each image has unique aspects to it, and each of these sliders will be different for different images. On some images, I drag the blacks (probably my favorite slider) all the way down to -80 and on other images, if they are naturally contrasted, it may only be -20.

4 – Convert image to Black and White

If you are a black and white lover, you MUST check out Justin & Mary’s portfolio! I stole this basic edit from Justin, so it was only fitting to give them a shout-out. Realistically, the only thing we do to convert to a B&W is drag the saturation slider to -100. I may also drag the blacks down even more to add a little more contrast and also watch the exposure (you don’t want it too bright as a B&W).

5 – Other Adjustments

There are also a handful of tricks we apply to individual images, but not necessarily every image. (a) Vignette – you don’t want this to look like it was from the 1980’s, but sometimes I will drag the slider to -5 just for a small touch…rarely I will go to -15 if the image feels flatter than normal. (b) Highlight slider – due to our shooting style, the sky gets blown-out majority of the time; but, on an overcast day, you can drag the highlight slider down (-50) without having major defects and it will put some lovely clouds back in the sky! (c) Skin Retouching – first, click the adjustments brush and drag the clarity down (around -70)….next just simply apply to the face/skin you want to smooth out. Simple! (d) Spot Removal (healing mode, not clone) – you can use this tool to remove blemishes or small unwanted details. (e) clarity – I don’t usually touch this because it only makes pimples look bigger, wrinkles look more defined, etc. However, sometimes if an image is just a little “soft” I will drag this up to about +25. I also increase the clarity on detail shots such as rings to help it pop a little.

That’s basically it! It may sound and look overwhelming, but editing in LR has been the best decision for our business in terms of workflow! It has all the same basic adjustments as photoshop, but processes your images a million times faster! We very very rarely even use PS anymore because LR is just as great!

Let me know if this leaves you with any other questions or conerns. Again, this is just “our” editing/shooting style. You need to find what look you like and how to edit accordingly. We prefer a very natural, clean look and we feel this basic edit achieves that best. No presets, no actions, just beautiful images :) Here’s a screen shot from our NYC engagement session at Central Park. I simply applied our basic edit to it, and that was it! Done!

Happy Editing Y’all!!!

editing in lightroom 4 how to edit raw files

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