Post processing allows photographers to put their final spin on an image, creating a landscape that's just as breathtaking as the original scene. But, editing can quickly turn into a long and tedious process, instead of a nice break from that long hike you endured to capture the shot in the first place.
Lightroom is a great tool for landscape photographers, but there's a few tricks to actually using the program to cut back on the time spent at the computer so you can spend more time behind the camera. Here are seven ways to improve your Lightroom workflow and still get that stunning end result.
Keep Lightroom Just for Editing, Not Organizing
Lightroom can be an organizational tool, but since that's not where it really shines, keeping the program just for edits will help minimize distractions and cut out the time spent searching for one particular image. Once you are finished with an edit, save the file as a DNG, or digital negative, with a JPEG overlay. Once you do that, you can delete the image from Lightroom. All your non-destructive edits will still be saved in that new DNG file, so you can go back and change the image easily. With fewer files in that sidebar, it's much easier to stay focused on current images.
Turn the screen brightness down for better editing. By Chris Burkard
Turn the Brightness of the Screen to About Half Power
A print and a backlit screen are two very different things. If you are editing an image to print, turn your monitor’s brightness down to about half power. With the brightness reduced, you'll be able to preview your changes closer to how they'll look on paper, not on a screen.
For the most control, start with the Tone Curve adjustments. By Chris Burkard
Start with the Tone Curve, not the Basic Sliders
One of the advantages of Lightroom is that all your edits are in the right hand side, so it's a bit quicker to access them. But, don't start with that first Basic panel. While it's easy to get comfortable with the simplicity of the basic sliders, they aren't the best for making the most dramatic changes, at least not for the first step.
Instead, start with the Tone Curve panel. The user-friendly basic sliders for options like highlights and shadows are actually degrading because they are applied broadly. The Tone Curve sliders, on the other hand, are more individualized. Here, you have options for both highlights and lights and both shadows and darks. Start here so you can control each individual option, then go back and use the broader basic sliders if needed to make further adjustments.
In landscape photography, it's all about the little details. By Chris Burkard
Perfect with Gradient and Paint Tools
Great landscape editing isn't made of sweeping, dramatic changes, but rather making small subtle changes that really add a big impact to the photo. The Lightroom gradient tool is one way to make subtle changes with a big impact, especially for scenarios that couldn't be shot with a graduated neutral density filter in the first place. Use the gradient to enhance the sky by adjusting the exposure and using the temperature to bring out more color. The gradient tool can be used for a lot more than just the sky though, identify any parts of the image that are too light, too dark or just aren't working the way the rest of the photo is and try applying a gradient tool to just that area.
For areas that are smaller or an odd shape, use the mask tool for smaller changes. Perhaps there's a rock or section of the water that's too bright or too shadowy—the brush tool is how you correct that. Just like the more traditional dodging and burning tools allow for small tweaks, the brush and gradient tools are a must for applying effects to only a portion of the image.
Save time by starting with a sharpening algorithm that works for most images. By Chris Burkard
Try a Sharpening Algorithm
Instead of messing with the sharpening sliders and watching how the images change every time, start with an algorithm to save time. A good starting point is to use:
- Amount: 98
- Radius: 1
- Detail: 60
- Masking: 30
That sharpening algorithm won't be perfect for every image, but it works well for many shots. Images taken at high ISO, for example, usually need to be turned down a bit or the noise is emphasized. By starting with settings that work well for most photos, instead of at 0, you can process your image a bit quicker.
Other edits will affect the image's color, so save saturation for last. By Chris Burkard
Save Saturation for Last
There are a lot of ways that you can enhance the saturation in the image, without actually touching the saturation slider. Save the saturation for last—adjusting your tone curves, making subtle gradient and brush adjustments and even sharpening will bring out the color in the image in a way that appears natural. Once those adjustments have been made, then tweak your colors. For a natural looking image, avoid the clarity slider and keep vibrance and saturation under 20.
Embrace Your Own Editing Style
The way you edit your images defines your own style just like the way you take the image does. Don't be afraid to find what works well for you and create your own Lightroom workflow that fits with your style. It will take some experimenting and experience, but once you identify a few adjustments and tools that work well for you, embrace them and use them to create a more efficient workflow.
Lightroom is a great tool for bringing out the best in your landscape images, but using it efficiently requires a few tricks. Maximize your productivity by keeping Lightroom just for editing and deleting unnecessary images (after they've been saved to the hard drive of course). Don't work with your screen on full power and start with the tone curve adjustments, not the basic sliders. Fine-tune the details, then apply a sharpening algorithm and keep saturation for last. Keep in mind that editing is just another creative process and embrace your own style.
Further Landscape Photography Tips
Our Landscape Photography Tips article is also well worth a read if you want a slightly higher level overview of the craft of landscape. It covers several other post-production issues as well as shooting considerations.