RAW Photo Workflow In Lightroom, Part Four: Finely-Tuned Details

Creating finely tuned details
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Figure 1. Details matter! Here’s an image zoomed in to a 1:1 view to analyze how I’ve sharpened an image.

In the previous article in this series, we talked about developing a general approach to working creatively with your images, about discerning subjects and narratives, having clarity of vision and being clear on the meaning of your work before playing with any of the adjustment tools. Such awareness helps dictate what you want your audience to see versus what you want to subdue.

Clarity of vision is a valuable first step that should never be overlooked. Of course, we need to work with our images beyond overall feel; we need to dial in the details. That’s what we’ll cover in this final article in the series.

HSL — Hue, Saturation and Luminance

After a pleasing white balance is created in the Basic Panel, as we discussed in the last article, specific colors can be adjusted to get the exact look. White balancing often gets you in the ball park, but the HSL panel can help guide you to just the right tone.

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Figure 2. The HSL Panel allows you to adjust the Hue, Saturation and Luminance of very specific color channels in your image. It’s the ideal tool for fine-tuning your color adjustments. The Targeted Adjustment Tool (circled for each) lets you select a specific color in your image and then adjusts multiple sliders at once to target that exact hue.

HSL stands for Hue, Saturation and Luminance, and as you can see in Figure 2, there are many color channels you can meddle with. Still, even with all the available color channels, colors rarely fall exactly into one category or another. Lightroom thus offers the TAT tool (Targeted Adjustment Tool), also shown in Figure 2, which is identified by the three red circles. The TAT tool is a smart tool that recognizes color combinations and can move multiple sliders at once. Simply click on the TAT tool, and your cursor will change into a crosshair, and you can then click and drag your mouse up or down on the specific color in your image you want to affect. If the color is actually a combination of two or three colors, Lightroom will move the corresponding sliders together.

Figure 3 shows a series of three images with changes made with this panel. The first image is the original unaltered image. The one to its right reflects a change in hue with movement in both the Red and Orange Hue sliders, and the next one reflects a change in saturation with the same Red and Orange channels. HSL is a very effective tool for getting specific zones of color just where you need without changing color throughout the whole image.

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Figure 3. Here are a couple of views of an image adjusted with the HSL Panel. The first image is unadjusted, while the second image has a change in Hue, and the third image on the right has increased Saturation.

Split Toning

The Split Toning panel can be used in many different ways. Split Toning can help you find a good white balance if things continue to be tricky beyond your use of the White Balance selector tool and the HSL panel. But personally, I use this panel primarily to tone my black and white images.

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Figure 4. There are three sections to the Split Toning Panel, which a great tool for toning your black and white images, or adding exciting color effects to your images.

There are three sections to the Split Toning panel (Figure 4). At the top are the Highlights sliders; in the middle is the Balance slider, and on the bottom are the Shadows sliders. The Hue and Saturation sliders are simple. Select the tones you want for tinting, and then increase the Saturation slider to play with the amount of the tint added to the image. Moving the Balance slider toward negative values minimizes the effect of the Highlights, while moving it toward positive values minimizes the Shadows effect.

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Figure 5. Here is a series of black-and-white images that have been toned. The first image on the left is warm toned, the second is cool toned, and the third is split toned.

In Figure 5, there are three images of a whale shark that I’ve toned differently. The image was first converted to black and white, but I wanted to play with its look beyond the standard black-and-white feel. Starting with the first image on the left, I set the Hue to 35 in both the Highlights and the Shadows, and then moved the Saturation slider to the right to my liking for a warm tone. The next image reflects a cool tone, and I simply changed my Hue settings to 220 instead of 35. Finally, to create a split tone feel, I changed the Highlights to 35 and left the Shadows cool. Setting my Hue to 35 for warmth, or to 220 to cool down the feeling, are my go-to values in the Split Toning Panel, but I suggest you play to discover what fits your style.

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Figure 6. The Detail Panel has three sections: the Navigation window, Sharpening and Noise Reduction.

Detail Panel

The Detail panel consists of three main sections: there is a Navigation Window, a Sharpening section, and a Noise Reduction section (Figure 6). The Navigation Window provides a constant 1:1 view of a given part of your image. Simply click on the on the window to zoom in or out, or you can use the small cross-hair target in the upper left of the panel to manually select an area of the image for you to zoom into.

Sharpening 101

Sharpening is just an effect—we of course are not actually generating focus. Instead, we are creating the illusion of focus, and we can achieve this is by increasing the contrast of neighboring pixels that reside on existing edges. That’s right—sharpening is a kind of contrast effect. Thus, I also believe that sharpening is more art than science. Some photographers like extra crisp sharp edges, while others prefer a softer feel. Sharpening can and should be applied differently based on aesthetics. In any instance, whether using the Navigator Window, or just zooming into the image itself, I strongly urge you to view your file at 1:1 when doing any kind of detail work.

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Figure 7. As a sharpening effect is applied, Lightroom finds edges and then expands the contrast of the neighboring pixels along that edge. The halo along the rock’s edge shows that expanded contrast.

Figure 7 shows the before-and-after view of a sharpening effect applied to an image that’s magnified 2:1. With the sharpened image on the right, you can see a halo-like effect running along the edge of the rock. Essentially, the contrasting pixels that make up the rock’s edge are accentuated as we apply a sharpening effect. Once this is understood, it becomes much easier to get what each slider does in the Sharpening section of the Detail Panel.

The Amount slider dictates how much effect is applied, while the Radius defines the range of influence around neighboring pixels. A Radius set to two thus has a wider range of influence than if it’s set to one. The Detail slider dictates how much or how little fine textures are sharpened. And the Masking slider is a threshold adjustment that defines what edges and textures are to be sharpened. By moving the slider to the right, you can avoid applying sharpening to areas of your image that lack detail and edges and which have smooth textures. Figure 8 shows an image where I’ve added Masking while holding down the Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac) key. The areas of the image that turn black will have no sharpening effect applied, while the white edges that remain will.

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Figure 8. While holding down the Alt key (Windows) or Option key (Mac), I can move the Masking slider to the right. The black areas represent zones of the image where Sharpening will not be applied.

Tip — Try holding down the Option key when working with any of the Sharpening sliders. Your image’s color will be temporarily removed, which can assist by providing a clearer view of how the slider being used is affecting your image.

Noise Reduction

If you haven’t used this panel yet, go try it now. I am amazed how often students of mine still tell me they never shoot above ISO “X” because they don’t like the noise. First off, digital cameras are handling low-light situations better every day, and second, well … Lightroom Noise Reduction. Even though there are sliders for reducing both Luminance noise and Color noise, the Luminance slider is what I use 99 percent of the time. Color noise is less common with modern cameras, but does sometimes occur and can be identified by patterns of red, green or blue spots throughout an image. Luminance noise is the typical grainy, gritty, textural pattern.

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Figure 9. A before-and-after view of a noise-reduced image using the Luminance slider.

There are three Luminance noise-reduction sliders available to play with: Luminance, Detail and Contrast. The Luminance slider does the heavy lifting, while the Detail and Contrast sliders are best used as modifiers. Figure 9 shows a before-and-after view of a noise-reduced image by way of the Luminance slider only. I typically use the Luminance slider between 0 and 30, and for a rare set of images will play with values between 30 and 60, but textures begin to look weird beyond that.

Effects Panel

The Effects Panel consists of three sections: Post Crop Vignette, Grain and Dehaze. Note that the Dehaze slider is only available with Lightroom CC, not with Lightroom 6.

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Figure 10. A vignette is a very effective tool for drawing attention to the center of the frame and to your subject.

Post Crop Vignette does just what it implies. As you crop an image, this tool will apply a vignette to the cropped image, not to the original frame. The creative purpose of the vignette is to darken the edges around the edges of your frame to draw attention to the center of the image as shown in Figure 10. The Amount slider controls how dark you want your edges to be. The Midpoint Slider will bring the darkened edges closer to the center of the frame. The Roundness Slider controls the shape of the ellipse of the darkened edges, and the Highlights Slider preserves highlights at the edges of your frame, making the effect look more natural and subtle.

The drop-down menu at the top of the panel provides options for how you want the darkening affect applied. You can choose to have highlights as colors be the priority for darkening, or you can apply “Paint Overlay,” which simply darkens everything without consideration to color or highlights.

The Grain section of this panel, contrary to Lightroom’s Noise Reduction features previously mentioned, gives you the opportunity to add grain to your image. Yes, grain is viewed by some as a pleasing aesthetic.

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Figure 11. A before-and-after view of the Dehaze effect.

Finally in this panel is the Dehaze slider. This slider can do many things, but it’s designed as a tool to cut through, also as it implies, hazy, atmospheric scenes. Figure 11 shows a before and after view of how this slider works. I like to think of it as a Clarity slider on steroids. According to an engineer friend at Adobe, the slider itself is a mix of Clarity, Blacks and Saturation sliders. Thus, you can think of the Dehaze slider as a kind of contrast slider that saturates colors as you go.

Lens Corrections & Transform

The Lens Corrections Panel has a tremendous amount of functionality, and I could write a couple of articles just on it. If you’re using the latest update to Lightroom, the Lens Correction Panel has been split in two, and in addition to Lens Corrections, there is also Transform (see Figure 12). The Transform Panel is now where you can perform all of your perspective corrections with a few new and cool tools such as the Guided Upright Tool, and the X Offset and Y Offset sliders.

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Figure 12. Lens Corrections has been recently split into two panels. The new Transform panel (left) is now where you can do all of your perspective corrections, while lens profiling, tweaking barrel distortion and removing chromatic aberrations remains with Lens Corrections Panel (right).

Lens Corrections and Transform can do many things. Some are image dependent, such as perspective corrections, but there are some things that should almost always be looked at, like removing chromatic aberration and chromatic fringing. Chromatic aberration is a problem that some lenses have in bringing all colors of different wavelengths to the same focal plane. Admittedly, if you are one who exhibits their work mainly through social media or on the internet in some form, this is an optional detail. But, assuming you are a photographer with interest in one day making fine prints, this is a detail that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Figure 13 shows a “before” image of a file that has chromatic aberration and what that file looks like after it’s been corrected. To perform the correction, look to either the Basic or the Color Section of the panel to find the Remove Chromatic Aberration check box. All you need to do (most of the time) is check the box. Lightroom does a phenomenally good job at knowing where the aberrations are and removing them.

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Figure 13. Here’s a before-and-after view of an image that has had chromatic aberration removed. Notice the purple halos in the image on the left. This is an indication that my lens is not able to properly focus all color wavelengths on the same focal plane.

Unfortunately, fringing in some images can be found as a result of many improperly focused color wavelengths and can thus be too problematic for the simple “check box” correction. Because of this, I urge you to scan the details of your image after a chromatic aberration correction to see if any fringing still exists. If it does, I’ve found an effective way to further correct this fringing is with your Adjustment Brush (discussed in the previous article in this series). After you click on the brush, notice the Defringe slider toward the bottom of the panel. I found that pushing that slider all the way, or almost of the way, to the right and then painting over the remaining fringing is a very effective way to remove it.

Detailing Creatively

As I’ve said, the details of our RAW files and how we render them are dependent on our output medium and how we want to present the final feel for our work. Color can be honed in specific color channels in HSL Panel; it can be used to create a mood or effect in the Split Toning Panel; we can reduce noise or sharpen our images to render crisp, accentuated edges, or keep textures softer and smooth; we can add vignettes, grain, and Dehaze in the Effects Panel, and correct artifacts created by our lenses in the Lens Correction Panel. In any instance, even if you exhibit your work on the internet in low resolution, the details matter. When handled with care and consideration, finely tuned details tell your audience that you care about work, that you get technique, and that you have command over your tools. Finely tuned details are immensely important in presenting the final vision of your RAW files as you intended.

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Read All Articles In This Series

RAW Workflow In Lightroom, Part One: Creative Expression

RAW Workflow In Lightroom, Part Two: Creating Consistent Styles

RAW Workflow In Lightroom, Part Three: Developing Your Workflow

RAW Workflow In Lightroom, Part Four: Finely Tuned Details

Jason Bradley has a unique set of skills. He specializes in nature and wildlife photography both underwater and above; he’s the owner and operator of Bradley Photographic Print Services, a fine art print lab; he leads photographic expeditions around the world, and is the author of the book Creative Workflow in Lightroom, published by Focal Press. Visit BradleyPhotographic.com to see more of his work and find info on his upcoming workshops and expeditions, and BradleyPrintServices.com to learn about his fine art printing services.

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