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Digital Darkroom, General Stuff, Theory n Technique

Basic Photo Editing: Part 2

Taking up from where I left off in my last post, here’s the rest of the stuff you can look at in Lightroom, or in most other photo editing apps. Please note that I would rarely use ALL of these settings on every single photo, and there’s hardly a case where any photograph requires me to work on all these aspects, but once you know what each setting does, and what difference they make to your shot, you’ll start to see how you can use these controls to improve your shot, and that’s a good thing. Ok, then…to continue…in the previous part, I stopped at the Basic control set of Lightroom. Right? Yeah. Next, I’d work with the tone curve

Tone Curve

The Lightroom Tone Curve

The tone curve is used to adjust tonal values of specific tonal ranges in a photograph. Yeah, I find that a bit confusing too. What this basically does is, it lets you increase or decrease tonal values (lighten or darken them) selectively, for either the dark or light tones of your shot. Much like the Highlights/Shadows control of the Basic panel, but most customizable. This can be done visually by using the actual tone curve (the graph) or by moving the sliders, which I find easier. The following sliders are what Lightroom offers:

  • Highlights/Lights: Highlights increase the very lightest end of the tonal range in your shot. Increase the highlights in a shot of the sunlight shining from behind a cloud, and get those light rays to really show. The lights also control bright areas but these areas are not quite as bright as the highlights, as you probably figured out. Of course, if you find them too much, try drawing the highlights or the lights back
  • Darks/Shadows: Yes, these two sliders control the dark and even darker areas of the image. Say you took a shot of a person’s silhouette, but you see a bit too much detail on the clothes (?!) which you want to cut down, just drag down the darks or shadows (or both) until you see that the already darkened person has vanished into the exact silhouette you were looking for. You can also increase these sliders to dig out a bit more detail from the darker areas of the image. There are many cases in which you’d want to control dark tones, other than these…but that’s basically what it does

You could also use the tone curve to increase contrast in a more controlled manner…by selectively increasing the highlights you want to increase, and darken the shadow range that you want…bingo! Custom contrast!

If you prefer to use the graph (why?!), look at it like this. The X axis (horizontal) shows the original tones from (left to right) darks to lights) while the vertical Y axis shows the edited tones from (top to bottom) lights to darks. The X axis also has 3 markers that select the specific tonal range you want to adjust. This is where it allows you to be very specific, and this is where it differs from the sliders. Ok, so let’s say you want to adjust the highlights…the very lightest of highlights…ok, you drag the right-most marker and the middle one, and move them to the range you think controls the highlights you want – this will be trial and error of course. Then move your cursor up to the graph (which should originally be a tone LINE, not a CURVE), and drag the line upwards (as you wish to increase the highlights) until it forms a curve. If you find that the range you changed was not right, you can move the markers on the X axis again until you get it right

I mainly use the tone curve to adjust the contrast of an image. A quick increase in  the highlights and/or lights (depends on the shot) – and a decrease in the darks/shadows…that’s about it…I don’t generally use this for much else… but I know some experts who swear by the tone curve and use it far more than I do, so you might want to experiment more with this. And as you probably guessed, I usually stick to the sliders and rarely use the curve itself

You can also use the Highlights/Shadows sliders in the basic panel to control these tones, as well as the tone curve, so figure out which one works best for you

HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance)

The HSL/Split Toning Panel in Lightroom

This panel has been very useful for me, especially when working with scans from negative color film, and is a great tool when working with any sort of color image. With these controls, you can isolate colors in the image, and tweak them to exactly how you want them to look

The Hue controls…well, the hue of the color…the shade of the color, to be precise. If it’s a Red, you can make it pink, or pinkish, or red… dark red… even darker red…maroon…and, yeah…so on. Yellow can be made lighter, or it can be made orange (useful for sunsets that don’t look as impressive as they did to your eyes), and blues can go from pale blue to turquoise. I often find that trees and foliage, when captured on film (and then scanned), sometimes tend to have a brownish tinge which can look rather dead. Shift the hue to the left and they look the bright and fresh just as they should

Saturation is, of course, what controls how much that particular color is saturated. Not much more to explain here. But if you find that the main saturation control in the Basic portion of Lightroom affects some colors badly, you could split the colors individually in this section, and saturate just the ones you want (and de-saturate others if you want to)

Luminance affects how bright the objects of the particular color are. Using the sunset example above, you could increase the luminance of the yellows, to give that sunset a real shine to it. Or you find your blue sky a bit too bright and too light, cut down on the luminance of the blues to really get it looking deep

There’s a B&W section of HSL, weird as that may seem, if you converted your image to black and white in Lightroom, which allows you to control the brightness of the subjects that WERE of particular colors. Very useful…especially to give added contrast to the shot…but unfortunately, if your shot is originally a monochrome one, like my black n white film scans, this control set is not available

But, as with any tool, be careful when messing around with it. You might be trying to correct the hue of a color in one part of the shot, but you could be accidentally changing the hue of another part of the shot of the same color…which could look very wrong. Editing the yellow of a flower could also change the skin tone of the person next to it to something very…weird. Just watch the entire image when you use this tool, and you should be fine…and you’d probably find this to be one of the most useful tools in editing color shots in Lightroom

Split Toning (Highlights and Shadows)

I rarely use this tool, but you can get some interesting effects if you mess around with it. What you can do with it is pretty simple. You select a color, and add that color cast to either the highlight or the shadow area of the image. Open the Split Toning box, and for each tonal range (highlights or shadows) you will see just two controls: Hue & Saturation. You pick a color by dragging the Hue slider or click the little box on the side which will allow you to pick the color, then drag the Saturation slider until you start to see that color over the tones you chose

One basic effect you can achieve with this tool is the classic Sepia effect: Under highlight toning, select a yellowish color that looks suitable for the sepia tone, drag the saturation slider until you start to see it take effect, and you should end up with a fairly good sepia look very easily. Just make sure you start with a black and white shot!


The Sharpening controls in Lightroom

I’m mentioning this at the end because well…sharpening is always done LAST. If you sharpen before you crop, or before you adjust white balance, exposure, whatever, any imperfections that were created by cropping or color correction or whatever, will be sharpened too. Same thing with noise – you want that digital noise GONE, not sharpened! So remember to keep this to until the very end

Lightroom has got some pretty good sharpening tools. Learn to use them… the basics at least…and you’ll do fine. Be sure to zoom into your shot when you sharpen , to at least 100%, and click on the little box on the side of the sharpening preview window to show an even closer view of a particular spot you want. Sharpening is an effect that is not easily visible when the image is viewed at full size, so it really helps you apply it properly when you’re zoomed in close to see how it looks

There are four sliders to control sharpening: the first two control how much sharpening you want to ADD, and the second two control how much sharpening you want to REMOVE

  • Amount: Nothing much to explain here. This control defines how much you want to sharpen your image. As you guessed. I do not suggest you go above 40-50 here, or else you’d start to notice sharpening artifacts and harsh edges that really don’t look nice
  • Radius: Measured in pixel count, this controls the size of the sharpening area that is applied around the edges of objects in the image. 1.0 is a great place to start and works fine for a lot of images. Images with small, fine details, like portraits, will benefit from a small radius, but if your subject has large details, you might want to increase the radius to notice the effect
  • Detail: Detail controls how much of the sharpening effect is concentrated around the edges of objects. Use lower values if you want sharpening to be applied mainly to the edges of the object, to make it stand out clearly, and reduce blurring. Use higher values if you want the effect to be applied more over the body of the object as well as the edges, which brings out the texture of the object as well as the shape
  • Mask: This sets which parts of the image are sharpened. When set to 0, every part of the image is sharpened equally, based on the above settings. Move it up, and the sharpening will get more and more focused around the edges of the subject, while removing the effect completely from other areas

Hold down the ALT key (Option key for Mac users) and you will see a guide mask, with a more visual depiction of the effect being applied. Try it out – it’s pretty hard to explain – but it makes things very easy

Lightroom Effects

Adding a subtle vignette to your shot can give an interesting look to the image, as well as help focus attention to the subject (that is hopefully in the centre of the frame). I find the lens correction vignette in Lightroom (found under Lens Corrections) gives a much more natural  look than the post-crop vignette in the Effects section. However, as implied by the fffect name, the post-crop vignette is applied post-crop, whereas the lens correction vignette is applied before it’s cropped, so if your shot is heavily cropped, a large amount of your vignette will be gone. But it still looks better!

Before and After: Vignetting

Take a look at the shot above. The first “Before” image is straight out of the camera, and converted to black and white. The second “After” shot is the same, but with a strong vignette I added in Lightroom…the Lens Correction Vignette…which looks very pleasing, I think

Grain is another effect in Lightroom – use it to give a ‘filmy’ look to your shot. Controlled by Amount, Size, and Roughness, you should be able to play around with these and get the exact look you’re going for. Nothing more to explain here

Lens Corrections

The Manual Lens Corrections panel in Lightroom

Ah yes, I already mentioned the beautiful vignette that is found inside this panel of controls, but actually the vignette, and all other controls in here, do a different task altogether: they fix any common errors caused by your lens. The simplest way is to use the Profile method, where you can select the profile of your particular lens in Lightroom (which includes quite a vast bunch, and generally detects it from your EXIF data), and it will automatically fix most know errors of this lens

But if your lens is not profiled already, or if you simply like to go manual, the controls are plenty:

You can control the distortions that some lenses (usually zooms) are cursed with by using the Distortion control: pincushion (images that appear to be bulging in) or barrel distortions (bulging out) can be fixed quite easily

Errors of perspective can be fixed by using the Horizontal and Vertical sliders

You can rotate with the Rotate slider, and adjust Scale. Play around with these – remember, it’s all non-destructive, and can be reset any time, even after you save your work

Some lenses tend to create a vignette at some focal lengths…darkened corners of the image…caused by errors in the lens and/or a lens hood that is not perfect for the particular lens. These vignettes can be corrected by using the lens correction vignette control I mentioned earlier. This is a sample shot I’ve taken on my Lomo LC-A, and part of this camera’s charm is the classic vignettes it creates, but it’s also a great example for me to show how the vignette can be reduced with Lightroom

Before and After vignette correction

Chromatic aberrations

Chromatic aberration/color fringing is a type of lens distortion too. It causes visible color fringing on the physical edges in your shot, mainly on areas of high contrast between light and dark. This can be easily reduced using the Color tab of the Lens Corrections panel:

The Color tab of the Lens Corrections tab

First, identify the color of the fringing visible in your shot. Then, turn on the Remove Chromatic Aberrations checkbox. If purple fringing is what you see, increase the first Amount slider, which reduces purple fringing. To accurately nab the exact shade of purple of the visible fringing, use the Purple Hue slider to tell Lightroom what particular hue of purple to go for

If you see green fringing in your shot, the second Amount slider, which (obviously) reduces green fringing, and of course, the Green Hue slider tells Lightroom which hue of green to remove. Easy

Lightroom 4 also has a Defringe preset on the Adjustment Brush tool, that I mentioned earlier, which allows you to paint on the defringe effect, just in case you want to take full control yourself. Very nice feature

And that’s it!

Alright, I think that was a pretty comprehensive look at all the controls of Lightroom (specifically version 4). I’m pretty sure most other editing apps will have similar controls, so it should work for all you guys. Most of you probably use the full version of Photoshop, which will have all these plus more anyway, and you could probably teach me a thing or two, but if not, these are some very simple tools that you can use to make a not-so-simple difference to your images. Have fun with all this stuff, especially if it’s new to you, and keep practicing. And check out the Before/After view during the process, once you’re done, to see if you’ve improved your shot or messed it up. If you’ve messed it up, you can just reset all of it…remember Lightroom is non-destructive…but remember that this might not be the case if you’re using another app!

I’ll try adding a new couple of posts once I’ve learned some new editing tips, as these are super basic, really – but then I’d probably have to start with a new app, and that might take some time – so no promises. But give all of this a shot, and see how much it can do for you. To end with, here are a couple of Lightroom shortcuts that I find very useful:

    1. Double click the name of the slider and it resets itself to 0 – Ctrl+Shift+R or CMD+Shift+R resets all changes made to the image
    2. Click the name of the slider once, and you can use the +/- keys to increase/decrease – much easier than using a mouse for fine editing
    3. Press the Alt/Option key and move the slider with your mouse, and you’ll see an enhanced view of the image suited for that slider – I have found this works (and works very well) for the sharpening tools, especially on Mask, NR, and Whites/Blacks
    4. Press J to turn on the Clipping Mask
    5. Press D to get to the Develop Module
    6. Press the back slash key to get a Before/After view of the shot, when you’re in the Develop module

And that’s it. Cheers

Want to refresh on Part 1? Here you go: Basic Photo Editing: Part 1

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By Heshan Jayakody
All content in this post is my own

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10 Responses to “Basic Photo Editing: Part 2”

  1. very helpful post! the first part too, but here you explain stuff that i didn’t know about and didn’t really use before. cheers

    Posted by Kindra | February 10, 2013, 15:31
    • Glad to hear it! Yes, some of these tools can be very useful, especially when you know how to use them. I rarely use all of these together, but there are some instances where each tool can really help

      Posted by pixelogist | February 10, 2013, 18:20
  2. cool post! i love lightroom too, and these tools are fantastic, aren’t they? i love the adjustment brush and the sharpness tools. so easy to use, an so powerful

    Posted by Uma WC | February 11, 2013, 20:10
  3. Nice article. Which tool do you find you use most consistently, apart from sharpening/NR? I find it’s the tone curve. Cheers

    Posted by Harry | February 18, 2013, 07:08
    • You’re right, I do use sharpening and NR the most, as I shoot RAW most often, and these two tools are vital for RAW shots. Apart from that, and the basic panel, which I adjust for pretty much every shot, I would have to say it’s the tone curve too!

      Posted by pixelogist | February 18, 2013, 12:00
  4. i have learned a ton of info from your site, and this one post is particularly useful for me. i just discovered the wonder of lightroom, but didnt know what to do to get the most out of it. now that i learned what control does what, it is much easier. thanks man

    Posted by Kevin | March 5, 2013, 21:16
    • THanks Kevin. Very kind of you to say so! Lightroom is fantastic, indeed. It’s the only editing app I ever use. And you’re spot-on, yes…knowing what control does what, and what effect each slider has on your photo helps so much. You can later imagine how you can edit your shot, before you even upload the picture, so you know exactly what to do when you see it in Lightroom. Sometimes, you can imagine the editing techniques you can use even WHILE you take the shot!

      Posted by pixelogist | March 6, 2013, 12:43


  1. Pingback: What Makes a Photograph #2 « pixelogist.me - April 15, 2012

  2. Pingback: Basic Photo Editing: Part 1 « pixelogist.me - April 15, 2012

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