Editing Basics 101

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Being a great photographer is equally about editing as it is about shooting. The choices you make when editing your photographs can make or break your raw footage. You might be amazed by how much more you fall in love with your images post editing. You can really see a distinct difference by viewing your raw files side by side with your edit. We edit mainly with Lightroom, which has a view setting that allows you to do just that. If you have Lightroom, or another editing software, take a recent raw file you shot and try the following editing steps along with us. Lightroom, along with most other photo editing softwares, have options to manipulate white balance, tone, and presence. There are many more advanced editing categories like spot healing, gradual filters, and retouching, but we will focus on these 3 for this exercise.


First up, lets adjust the white balance, which is essentially the color temperature and tint of the image. There are various built in setting options such as daylight and shade which are fairly warm, or tungsten and fluorescent which are on the extremely cool side. If you don’t gravitate towards one of the presets, you can always create a custom setting. The rule of thumb here is that you maintain the same white balance for all photos shot in the same environment, which creates consistency in your series. Below are some examples of various white balance settings, shown in the editor below the image. As we move on, we’re going to reset the white balance to 'as shot' in order to focus solely on the next round of settings, for now.


Next, we will play with various tone levels. This deals with the amount of exposure and contrast, and also isolates the level of highlights, shadows, whites, and black tones in the image. Your ideal exposure setting, or level of light, depends on whether or not your raw image is over or under exposed, and on how bright or dim you want your final result to be. But keep in mind that when you change the exposure, you lose some of sharpness of the image, so be frugal with this setting. Below to the left are two examples, one under exposed and one over exposed. It is gentler to darken an over exposed image than to excessively brighten an under exposed image. 



Raising the contrast means that the level of difference between the highlights and shadows of your image is more extreme, and lowering the contrast lessens the variance between these opposites. Above to the right are two examples, one with low contrast and one with higher contrast. You typically almost always want to increase the contrast of your images. This helps the photo to appear clearer, bolder, and more dynamic. You can go even further by adjusting the highlights and whites or shadows and blacks on their own; see one example to the left. This can be helpful if you want your whites to appear clearer, if your shadows are too dark, if you want your blacks to be more pure, or any other combination of setting. 




Finally, we will take a closer look at the presence settings. In Lightroom, these include clarity, vibrance, and saturation. Clarity can be a helpful tool for softening or crisping up your image, but be careful with it. Extreme clarity adjustments can cause your photo to look unprofessional, like the images below on the far left and far right. But slightly decreasing the clarity will make this image look dreamier, while increasing it slightly will help to make it a clearer image, as shown on the other two adjusted images below.


Vibrance and saturation are hard to tell apart, as both settings effect the intensity of color in your image. The difference is that saturation modifies all colors in the image, whereas vibrance only affects muted colors in the image. Adjusting the vibrance of your image can lead to a more subtle, natural looking variance in color levels. Saturation provides a more extreme change in color, which at its lowest level reaches black & white, and at high levels can make your images look fake. But both vibrance and saturation can be played with to achieve your ideal level of color, whether you’re going for bright colors or withdrawn hues. Check out the various examples below.


Always remember, these and other editing tutorials you may find online are general guidelines but not unbreakable rules. If you find that your style is better suited by lowering contrast, amping vibrance, or playing with more extreme settings, then go for it! The options are limitless in Lightroom. 

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Cameron Kirkland