Taking the picture was the easy part...

Post-Processing in Lightroom

By PF Staff in Influential Photo Gear on Jan 22, 2013

The "Good Old Days"

My first camera was a Pentax K1000 with a 50mm f/2 that I inherited from my uncle. I swear you could have run over that thing with a car and it would have kept on working. Each shot was carefully considered as there were only 12 or 24 available. It was, however, after shooting a roll that the real work began.

I have fond memories of working in the darkroom. Trying to get the film into one of those fussy canisters in pitch darkness. Making sure the chemicals were at the right temperature and used for the correct amount of time. And after all that work all I had to look at were negatives. Next it was on to the enlarger.  Focusing the image. Deciding how to crop it. Choosing a contrast filter. Experimenting on scraps of photo paper to figure out the proper exposure time. Maybe some burning or dodging was in order, and then on to the trays of chemicals.  I remember staring at the blank sheet of photo paper in the dull red glow of the darkroom as the picture slowly and magically appeared.  Once the paper had been properly baptized the in all the shallow rectangular pools it was time to take it back out to the bright lights of the over-world to see the results. If there was something wrong then the process started all over again.

What a different world we live in today. I can take hundreds of pictures at a time. View them instantly. Send them around the globe in a moment. At times I do miss the darkroom experience. For a while after I got into digital photography the photo making process ended with the shutter click.  However, as I have learned more about digital photography and post processing one of the most important tools in my workflow now is again the darkroom... well, it's actually called Lightroom.

I don't have nearly as much time to spend processing photo's as I had back in my High School photo-lab days. Lightroom has allowed me to get the best out of my photos without spending hours doing it. I am going to share briefly the main features of Lightroom that I find my self using the most.


Since I usually take more than 12 or 24 shots at a time it can be easy to get bogged down sorting through all the images.  With Lightroom it is simple. I can flip through my pictures and assign each one a rating between 0 and 5 stars and also mark ones that should be deleted. I usually just use 3, 4, and 5 star ratings. 3 stars is for pictures that are simply worth keeping. 4 stars for keepers that deserve a little more attention (these may later  become 5 star images). 5 stars is reserved for images that really stand out. Once I have rated my collection I can filter out all the images that are less than 4 stars. The remaining images are the ones that I will spend some extra time developing.


My developing time in Lightroom is mostly spent making minor adjustments.  Many of them have counterparts in the darkroom of the past. The following image was taken with a Pentax K10D and a DA 50-200mm.


I do confess I am one who believes in cropping. I used to do it in the darkroom and I do it in Lightroom too. I cropped this one a bit to place the subjects off center a bit.

In the histogram you'll notice that the majority of the tones are piled up in the middle giving the image a grey look. All that grey looking sea foam should be white, so I adjusted the exposure to push those mid tones toward the top end. There is a handy tool that will show you where your highlights are blown if you push it to far.  I also adjusted my blacks and added some contrast.  It is amazing how the colors will pop when the contrast is increased. The clarity tool helps to give the image some punch, but be careful not to overdo it.

I also must confess that I am a bit of a vignette junkie. I just really love vignettes. At times it takes all of my willpower to not overdo them. (Perhaps I need counseling.)  So I had to throw one in this photo.  All these adjustments only took a few minutes. Another great feature of Lightroom is that I can "sync" other photos taken under similar conditions and they will automatically receive the same treatment as this photo without me having to do a thing. I love it! 


Once my processing is done I can upload directly to the web directly out of Lightroom.  There are plugins available for Facebook, Picasa Web Albums, Flicker and more. I use Jeffrey Friedl's "Export to PicasaWeb" Lightroom plugin and have been very pleased with it.


I have only scratched the surface here in regards to the tools and features that are available in Lightroom. I doubt I will ever use every feature that is lurking in the menus and tool-bars. I hope I have given you just enough of a glimpse that you would consider adding a modern darkroom to your workflow, if you haven't already done so. Taking the picture doesn't have to be the "easy part" anymore. In my opinion Lightroom has been one of the most valuable investments I have made in my photographic process. It's fast, versatile and fun to use. And It makes my friends think I know what I am doing!

- alwilliams




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