It’s harvest season which means lots of stuff coming in from the garden. It’s one of my favourite things to photograph – I think because it’s food in its rawest form: covered in dirt, with leaves and peels attached – straight from the earth. It’s satisfying.
Before we get started I’ll say what I’ve said before. I try to get as much right in the camera as I can. I don’t have much time to sit in front of a screen to post process so usually all I do is a few contrast and clarity tweaks and move on. But, like every photographer, I take some photos that just don’t work the way I wanted.
These potatoes are a fine example. When I photographed them, my LCD display on the camera showed me a photo I was quite pleased with. On the computer not so much.
Tip #1: Do NOT trust your LCD… I’ve learned this lesson so many times. This is where knowing your camera settings is crucial. So many times I’ve had my camera at the settings I thought would be right for the photo only to be disappointed with what showed up on the LCD. So I would retake it until I like what I saw. But, when I’d get them up on the computer, that first image where I thought I had set everything correctly almost always proved to be the best one and looked the way I thought it should. The reverse it true as well… just like it was with this image:
But it was the only potato image I took and I wanted to save it so… I thought I’d see what I could do in Lightroom. This is the RAW image with only my watermark added. The rest of the details:
- Camera: Canon 5DMKII
- Lens: Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro lens
- shutter speed: 1/60
- aperture: f/4.5
- ISO 1600
- taken midday with light coming in to the left of the photo and a reflector on the right side (the fancy kind of reflector that looks like a big piece of foam board from staples…)
- RAW image post processed in Adobe Lightroom 4 (virtually all of these steps can also be done in LR 3, but some of the sliders are named differently – many other post processing programs will also let you follow a similar workflow – you can still use this as a guide)
The very first thing I did is the very first thing I always do…change the Camera Profile – this is the last box in on the right hand side of your Lightroom Develop module:
The default profile is Adobe Standard and it can look a bit flat. The best thing to do is cycle through the choices and pick the one you like best. I usually go with Camera Standard, like I did here, or Camera portrait. Occasionally I’ll use Camera Landscape. You’ll find it depends very much on the tones in your photograph. Here’s the difference between the two, side by side:
The next thing I usually do is alter the tone curve contrast. This is often recommended as one of the later steps you should do but because I tend to like high contrast images, I apply it first just to see what it does to the photo before I make any other decisions. Remember, if you’re post processing a RAW photo, no change you make is permanent. You can undo at any time.
I adjust the contrast in the Tone Curve window under the Point Curve option. As you can see, you have three options. Linear is the default. I often use Medium Contrast, as I will do for this image. Strong is just that… strong. But for some photos it really works. Here you can see how we’ve progressed from the last step by adding Medium Contrast:
We’re getting there but I really want to emphasize the dirt and grit of potatoes straight out of the ground. So let’s move on to tweaking our basic settings:
The first thing I did with these sliders is adjust the Clarity… dramatically. I almost never go beyond +30 and usually stick in the 10-20 range but for this image, I wanted real punch so I cranked it. (the clarity slider seems to have more strength in LR 4 than it did in LR3).
Next, I adjusted the contrast (yes, again… we’re going for gritty and punched up). Often bumping up your contrast darkens the image and you don’t always want to do this so I also adjusted the highlights and whites sliders. In LR 3 the brightness, fill light and recovery light sliders will do much the same thing… just experiment. And last but not least, I pulled the vibrance and saturation sliders up a tiny bit.
The next step is to adjust our tone curve again by pulling out some highlight and tweaking our darks and shadows for a little more punch. These act a little bit differently from the hightlight/lights/darks sliders in the first section.
Here’s where we’re at now:
Now you can see a pretty dramatic difference but it still looks real. We’re almost done. Next up we’re going to sharpen the image and then adjust the luminance to get rid of some of the background noise from shooting at a higher ISO. Sharpening is done in the Detail section.
Sharpening is hard to see with the naked eye so you can use the magnified Detail thumbnail to help you out. If you click on the small square/crosshatch in the top left corner of the window your mouse will turn to a crosshair and you can select the part of the image you want to look at specifically. For most images I sharpen between 80 and 100 and I leave the other sliders alone.
To reduce noise, I use the Luminance slider. For images under ISO1000 I usually have no need to use this slider. It will soften all areas of your photo so only use it enough to cut down the background digital noise.
It may not be totally noticeable to many but I can see the difference
And there you have it. Grand total amount of time from blah to wow? Well, actually I didn’t time it but it was less than 5 minutes.
Just remember, those sliders don’t bite. Play with them and see what happens. The more you play the more you’ll get the hang of what each control slider can offer you and you’ll have a pretty good idea as soon as you import a photo of what you’ll need to do!
And if you’ve shot in RAW, you won’t be harming your original file (and you’ll never lose your original file). If you are using JPG files each action you do will actually degrade the quality of the file. So RAW is better!