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Lessons in Lightroom - 02
Starting to develop
Although Adobe Lightroom has the functionality to create books, websites and even geotag your images, most people buy it for its RAW processing capabilities. RAW processing can transform your images, in the same way that printing in a darkroom could transform black and white film images, and was an integral part of the creative process. The plethora of options available can seem bewildering though, so here are a number of tips, that can help you to get the best possible results in the quickest possible time.
The Develop module
When you switch to the Develop module much of the Lightroom window will change, but much will still be familiar from the Library module. In the centre of the window is the Preview pane, with the filmstrip to select images, and filter bar at the foot of the window. On the right hand side, there are a series of panes, that offer various commands where you can affect your images, topped by a histogram graph of the image tones.
On the left side, you can access any collections that you have made in the Library module, as well as selecting any Develop Presents and well as your History.
You can switch to the Develop module from any part of Lightroom, by simply hitting the D key.
The first thing to remember about RAW processing is that it is a non-destructive process: the original RAW file is not touched, a series of commands are recorded, and these are actioned when the finished file is subsequently exported in a different format - such as a TIFF or a high quality JPEG.
Calibrate your screen
Having a calibrated screen is the first and major step to getting good colour balance. Without this, you might find that you are warming up all of your pictures as they look too blue and cold, but this might be the result of the screen and not the picture. Then when you get them printed or post them on the internet, the colours look all wrong!
There is a walkthrough calibration widget on the MacOS [System Preferences > Displays > Color > Calibrate...]. On a Windows PC there is a built-in function or you can use a third-party software such as Calibrize. The best option is to get a hardware calibrator, such as the X-Rite i1Display Studio, but these are around £110. Ideally you should calibrate every month or so, but even every three or even six months will help.
Use your history
As each command is selected, a new history step is created in the history panel. This allows you to easily undo a series of commands and revert to any step in the process. What you can't do though is to omit certain steps in the process but keep others, that are in a non-linear order.
You can use a virtual copy if you want to make two different versions of the same original RAW file. This might be one natural version, and another in black and white. Each reference the same original, and so don't take up any more space on your computer. To create a virtual copy, select Photo > Create Virtual Copy.
Cropping your pictures
The Crop & Straighten tool allows you to crop your image, and also to straighten any wonky horizons! The first thing that you will see is a lock in the Crop & Straighten tool panel. If the lock is closed, then the image will crop in the same aspect ratio as the original; if it is open then you can free crop to any aspect ratio. If you want a particular ratio then you can select this on the pop-up menu.
Pressing the O key will cycle through a series of overlays, which are designed to help you to crop the image, including a grid, thirds and even the Golden Spiral!
The Angle command allows you to drag a slider to change the angle of the horizon, but a more accurate way to straighten horizons is to click on the Angle tool (which resembles a spirit level) and then use it to drag a line along the errant horizon. The image will be straightened and also cropped to remove any dead space.
There are many panels available in the Develop panel, and it is worth a reminder here that you can select the Solo Mode, where opening one panel will automatically close the last panel - more effective if you are working on a computer with a smaller screen. Activate (or deactivate) by right-clicking (alt/option click on a Mac) and selecting Solo Mode.
Set your profile
The default treatment profile is Adobe Standard, which is fairly universally hailed as not being a very good start to your RAW processing! One of the best starts to the process that you can do is to change this. Click on where it says Adobe Standard in the Basic panel and the select Browse...
This gives you a range of treatment profiles, from the sublime, to the very ridiculous! The most useful are the Camera Matching profiles, that emulate the profiles that you can set in your camera. If you are a Fuji shooter, then you can select all of the wonderful film emulation profiles that are built into Fuji cameras.
One of the great advantages of shooting RAW is that you can retrospectively adjust the white balance of your image without any loss of quality.
Predictably, there are a number of ways to do this. Firstly, you can select the same preset values from the colour temperature pop-up menu that you can also set on your camera. The default will be As Shot, which gives you the same value that the camera used. There is also an Auto setting, which should give you a better result than Auto White Balance in camera.
If you want to neutralise any colour casts on your image then you can select the dropper tool, and click on a neutral part of the image. Lightroom will adjust the image based on the colour of the pixel you select to remove any casts.
The final way to adjust the white balance is to simply drag the Temperature slider from blue to yellow; or the tint from green to magenta. You can type in different values, or just use the slider and set the values by what looks good.
The vast majority of the images I process are only done with the Basic Tools panel, which includes the White Balance controls.
You can try clicking the Auto button, and then adjust sliders, or just make all of the corrections yourself - either by adjusting the sliders or typing precise values. The various options are as follows:
Exposure - lightens or darkens the overall exposure of the image
Contrast - increases or decreases the contrast of the image. I seldom use this slider - preferring to introduce contrast into the either the lights or darks of the image using the Black and White slider, whereas the Contrast slider affects the contrast of both equally.
Highlights - Lightens or darkens the very lightest tones of the image. Can be used to blow out, or recover lost highlights.
Shadows - Lightens or darkens the very darkest tones of the image. Can be used to obscure, or recover underexposed shadow areas.
Whites - Sets the white point of the image. Effectively increases or reduces the contrast of the light parts of the image
Blacks - Sets the black point of the image. Effectively increases or reduces the contrast of the dark parts of the image
Vibrance - Affects the saturation of the image, but in a smart way that avoids over-saturating already saturated parts of the image, especially skin tones.
Saturation - Increases or decreases the overall saturation. A rather blunt tool: use Vibrance instead.
(I will cover the rest of the options in this panel in the next instalment!)
Most lenses, even expensive professional lenses can have certain quality issues. This is especially the case with zoom lenses. Issues can include vignetting (darkening towards the edges of the frame), distortion and even chromatic aberration (colour fringing). The good news is that Lightroom has many lens profiles built in. The software should even be able to read the lens that you have used from the image metadata. Simply Click the Enable Profile Correction checkbox in the Lens Correction Panel. You can also check the Remove Chromatic Aberration checkbox to remove colour fringing.
If Lightroom doesn't read the lens, then try to manually select it from the pop-up menus. It is possible to download other profiles, especially those for old lenses, from the internet.
The Amount sliders let you increase or decrease the effect; the Manual tab allows you to make all of the corrections manually.
Sync for multiple images
Once you are happy with the corrections for a given image, you can easily sync those settings to a number of other images which you feel will benefit from a similar treatment. Once you have synced the settings, you can then use this as the starting point for further changes.
Click on the finished image , then hold down the shift key and click on the last image in a series to select them all. You will see that the initial image is brighter.
Click on the Sync... button, and in the resulting dialog box, select which of the adjustments that you want to apply, then click Synchronize.
If you want to maintain a live sync link between the images, so that any changes to the first image are automatically applied to the others, then use the switch to the left of the Sync button and the option changes to Auto Sync...
Any subsequent adjustments to the first image will then be applied to them all.
I will be looking at some of the more advanced options for RAW processing of images in the Develop module in the next instalment of our Lightroom tips.
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