A Lightroom Classic CC Workflow
George Theodore, November 6, 2017
The following makes a couple of assumptions. First, that Lightroom is the editing software of choice. If not, I believe the outlined steps can be applied to alternative programs preferred by the reader. Second, that the reader has some familiarity with the software (for example, what a Graduated Filter does and how it’s used). If not, there are video presentations on YouTube, Creative Live, Kelby One, Julieanne Kost at jkost.com, Matt Kloskowski or Lynda.com that will get you started. Or you can merely Google that particular feature (eg. “grad filter in Lightroom”).
So, let’s dive in.
If we look at the right hand side in Adobe Lightroom’s Design Module, we might be led to believe that the order in which Adobe lists adjustments is one that should be followed from top to bottom. I don’t think so. I’m going to suggest that we work from generalized adjustments – those that affect the entire image – then proceed to more localized adjustments that affect only the part of the image selected. And, we’ll adjust tonality before colors. We’ll begin by making desired compositional changes.
As an aside, if we don’t like the change applied, we can delete it by using Command Z (Control Z for PC). And, in Lightroom, it’s sequential (i.e. doing it twice will delete the last two adjustments, etc.).
OK, let’s get started:
1. Scrolling own to the Lens Correction panel we’ll check the boxes for Remove Chromatic Aberration and Enable Profile Corrections. If Lightroom has our lens profile in its database, it will apply the correction.
2. We’ll skip this step if our image has no distortions to perspective (buildings that lean back, etc.). If it does, let’s find the Transform panel and make any necessary adjustments to correct the distortions. Check Constrain Crop to maintain the original dimensions of the image. We’ll make the required corrections and, yes, using Upright or Auto is OK and may or may not work. If it doesn’t, we’ll try Guided, Level, Vertical or Full. Finally, we can go directly to the sliders and try it manually.
3. CROP. We’ll use command R (control R for PC) or click on the crop icon at the top and make the desired adjustments for area selection and straightening.
4. Next – let’s do some clean up: dust spot removal, hoping over to Photoshop to invoke Content-Aware, etc.
Once our image is cleaned up and desired changes made to our composition, we can start making tonal adjustments beginning with those that will apply to the entire image.
5. Down to Camera Calibration, we’ll choose (or won’t – not a “must-do” but I like it) a Profile from the drop down menu where it says Adobe Standard. This step is really one of individual choice and may vary from image to image. If this oversaturates our image, we can delete the step and try another profile or quickly make an adjustment using the Saturation and/or Vibrance slider in the Basic panel.
6. If necessary or desired, we’ll move to the Graduated Filter tool above the Basic panel. We’ll often use this to lighten or darken large parts of the image (skies for example). Holding down the shift key to make our selection straight, we’ll drag from top to bottom, bottom to top or from one side to another – wherever adjustments are needed. We can also use the filter at angles but don’t use the shift key here.
We can also use the Adjustment Brush tool to make similar changes where the Graduated Filter isn’t feasible due to geometric configurations.
Now, if needed, we’ll invoke Range Mask to make any adjustments to areas where we want to mask any adjustments we made via the Graduated Filter or Adjustment Brush. Or, use the Brush in the upper right corner of the panel (not to be confused with the Adjustment Brush tool above the panel) to delete, erase, etc. as needed. The Brush is changed from add (+) to erase (-) by holding the alt/option key while brushing. Close the panel when done.
7. In the Basic panel, we’ll adjust Temp if needed to modify our White Balance: left to cool, right to warm. We can also use the drop-down menu at the right.
8. Next, setting the Dynamic Range of our image: the range from the darkest to lightest tones in our image. Three ways to do this:
a. Making sure the histogram panel is visible, grab the Whites slider and move it to the right until the highlight warning comes on (the little up arrow at the right edge of the histogram), and then back off a little. Move the Blacks slider the opposite direction. Of course, if our image is already at one or both these extremes, we’ll touch them up especially if highlight warnings are already on,
b. Holding down the option key (alt for PC) move the sliders until you see the first indication of color, then back off slightly or
c. Holding down the shift key, double click on each slider’s center arrow or on the words Whites and Blacks.
9. Exposure – move the slider to the left or right “to taste”. It's usually just a slight touch up.
10. Highlights and Shadows – as above, adjust “to taste”.
11. Clarity: found under Presence in the Basic panel, this is mid-tone contrast. We’ll move it according to our taste (tweak left if it’s a portrait to decrease wrinkles).
12. Tone Curve: There are many tutorials on line about how to use this more extensively and I’ll try to add one of my own in the future. Here are three basic ways to adjust contrast using the curve:
a. The easiest - at the bottom of the panel, choose between Linear, Medium and Strong Contrast at the drop down menu.
b. Next easiest - make your adjustments directly on the curve.
c. Hardest - grabbing the Target Adjustment Tool (TAT) in the left corner of the Tone Curve panel and choosing the lightest and darkest tones between which we want to create contrast we’ll apply the changes directly on the image. Slide up to increase, down to decrease. (Note: that doesn’t always mean the very lightest and darkest tones in the image).
13. Sharpen: In Lightroom, sharpening can actually be can be applied anywhere in the editing process but I stuck it in here because that’s the way I work: Let’s scroll down to the Detail panel and apply sharpness. We’ll make sure we’re looking at our image at 1:1 or 100% to ensure we don’t over-sharpen.
Using the Sharpness and Detail sliders, we’ll make our adjustments.
Backing out to “full view” and holding down the alt/option key, we’ll Mask out any areas where we don’t want or need sharpening (blue skies for example). Masked out areas appear black, sharpened are white. Drag the slider to include/exclude areas of the image
We’re done with tonal changes - now over to colors:
14. Vibrance: Our smart saturation adjustment in the Basic panel under Presence – adds saturation where it’s lacking; leaves already saturated colors alone. Adjust “to taste”.
15. Saturation: Depending on the image, we may only have to tweak this slightly and we’re careful not to oversaturate; we’ll slide to the left if necessary.
16. The HSL panel: Here, we can make adjustments to lighten or darken (Luminance), adjust Saturation or change the Hue of any color. The best way to do this is to access the TAT in the upper left corner and apply directly to the image. This will make changes to the color(s) chosen wherever those exist in the image. Again, sliding upwards increases the effect, downward decreases.
17. Scrolling down to Effects, we’ll adjust Dehaze “to taste”. Dehaze is designed to remove atmospheric haze and helps to clear up the image. It’s amazing but don’t overdo.
We’re done with general adjustments to our image and now are ready to make preferred or required localized changes. Unlike changes made via the HSL panel, these adjustments will be applied only to where we choose:
18. At the very top, use the Adjustment Brush or Radial Filter tool to choose specific areas of the image to make any adjustments - dodge, burn, lighten, darken, etc. Using either tool, use Feather to assist in localizing the adjustment and when using the Adjustment Brush, select Auto Mask where needed to mask changes from adjacent areas.
Note: the Radial Filter is designed, by default, to mask the area inside the circle so the adjustment will affect the area of our images outside that circle. Don’t ask. So, if we want to apply the desired adjustment inside the circle, we click on “invert” at the bottom of the panel.
With the panel still open, we can also use the Brush (the one inside the panel) to add or delete the adjustment (+)/(-), where necessary, to further tighten the localization.
Note: we can make use of the Graduated Filter to make local changes but this doesn’t happen very often.
19. If we want to add Vignetting to emphasize a portion of our image, we’ll scroll back to Effects and apply it there.
20. Finally, we’ll look up and down our panels to check adjustments that need a tweak. More often than not, exposure and/or white balance get slightly modified by the other adjustments we make.
There - we’re done! At first glance, this might look quite daunting. You’ll be surprised though, with a little practice, you’ll fly through these adjustments. Note that we didn’t touch the Contrast slider and that’s because I rarely use it preferring to make those adjustments with Whites, Blacks, Shadows, Highlights, Clarity and the Tone Curve. However, there may be times when it comes in handy. But beware; this is a sledgehammer approach so be careful with it.
As stated at the start, we’ve concentrated here on steps in Lightroom only. There are several plug-ins from ON1, Topaz, Nik, Alien Skin, Seimeffects and others that combine some of these steps (and some in Photoshop too) and it’s certainly OK to use them (I do). I think though having a grasp on what Lightroom can do on its own is a good start to understanding the process of editing.