Cadillac Mountain Fall, Acadia National Park. Shot with a Sony α900 and a Zeiss 24-70mm lens at 24mm. Image exposed at ISO 200 at f14 for 1/2 of a second.
Hi everyone and welcome to today’s post. This image from Cadillac Mountain is from a late fall shoot in Acadia National Park. The day was cold and overcast with fog and occasional rain showers. It was just a typical day early winter day in Maine. The light was a bit flat but this is the kind of shooting condition that helps bring out the colors in the foliage. There was also a stiff breeze and after I had zeroed in on my exposure I had to be patient and wait out the wind cycles. I took eight shots and after inspection in Adobe Lightroom chose this capture to develop. My thought process here is to maintain the softness and hold on to the beautiful colors in the plants. It is not a complex image but it does have some intricate detail in the foreground plants and on the stones. The steps below describe my processing steps in LR to prepare the file for exporting to Photoshop.
My Typical Adobe Lightroom Workflow
Image 1: Screen shot LR Preset Panel
Step 1: Once I have selected an image to work on I will open it in the Develop Module in Lightroom. It is important to understand that Lightroom will apply a Standard Preset to the file. This is applied when you view the files in the Library Module and when you open it in the Develop Module. The LR Preset applies a Tone Curve and Brightness and Contrast adjustment along with a minimum pre-capture sharpening. On first inspection the Standard Preset was not too bad but I thought I could recover more detail in the rock and plants. So the first step is to “Zero” out the file. To do so I apply the LR Preset > General-Zeroed which is selected from the Preset Menu on the left side. This will display the file in its RAW state, as captured. The file will appear flat and the only thing that will apply is the white balance that was selected at the time of capture. On first blush it is a pretty ugly looking file but as long as you have a good histogram with the values well distributed in the mid to quarter tone range you will be able to prepare a good file for export to Photoshop. Image 1 to the right shows the LR Preset Panel and the General – Zeroed selection.
Image 2: Screen shot of LR Tone Curve Panel to set White and Black Points.
Step 2: The next step is to apply a White and Black Point to the image. This is done using the Tone Curve on the Development Panel on the right side. To set the White and Black Point select the “Curve” box in the lower right hand corner of the Tone Curve. See Image 2 to the left. The graph will be in a 45 degree linear line with the black/darker tones to the left and the white/lighter tones to the right. Select the Right Point and move it to the left. As you do so watch the histogram redistribute the pixels to the right. Select the Left Point and move it to the right. As you do so watch the histogram redistribute the pixels to the left. Do not allow the pixels to clip. Leave yourself some wiggle room.
Once I have set a basic White and Black Point the development moves to a back and forth series of adjustments involving the Tone Curve Panel and manipulation of the Recover and Fill Sliders on the Basic Panel. See Image 3 to the left. You may add selection points to your Tone Curve just like in Photoshop by I prefer to use the Sliders for Highlights, Lights, Darks, and Shadows. Just click back on the “Curve” box in the lower right corner to toggle back to the sliders. What I am trying to do in this process is achieve a good starting file that has plenty of detail and headroom to take to Photoshop for final processing. While difficult to show in a lower resolution .jpg file the image has a lot of fine branch detail that needs to be tweaked out. The Standard LR Preset, in my opinion, does not do a good job of bringing out this detail. LR employs Brightness and Contrast sliders for RAW development which I think is less than adequate for the job.
Image 3: LR Screenshot of Tone Panel Sliders and Recovery and Fill Sliders.
To see how effective my changes are working I will select the Before and After view and increase the image magnification to 50%, and sometimes up to 100% when I want to dial into an area. So the tweaking process is a back and forth series of adjustment utilizing the Tone Panel and the Recover and Fill sliders. I will continue to work this until I am satisfied that I have a file with as much of the detail as I can recover and a good histogram that does not clip any of the highlights or shadows. Take a look at Image 4 below. On the left is the image with LR Standard Development Preset. On the right is the image developed through my LR Workflow. The darker areas within the twigs has been opened up and there is now much better separation and detail.
I also reduced the red saturation just a little in the using the HSL Sliders in the LR HSL/Color/Black and White Panel. Too much saturation in this part of the RAW development can cover up needed detail. Final color manipulation can occur in Photoshop. The Clarity Slider will add a hit of Mid Tone Contrast. I don’t use this very much and if I do I tend to keep the adjustment low-usually no more than 10. The same goes for the Vibrance Slider. The reason for this is that I will employ a Mid-Tone Contrast Layer in Photoshop where I have more control over how I apply the layer.
Step 3: The last thing to do before exporting to Photoshop is Sharpening and Noise Reduction. Sharpening in the RAW developer is necessary to counteract the slight blurring that occurs during capture by the sensors anti aliasing filter. I tend to sharpen in several phases during the development of a file. At RAW development, another round to a Filter Layer during processing in Photoshop, a Mid-Tone Contrast Layer, and finally a final sharpen prior to printing. So lets talk about the RAW sharpening. This is done in the LR Detail Panel which includes Sharpening and Noise Reduction. The amount of sharpening I apply depends on the image. I think in terms of “low frequency” versus “high frequency” when considering sharpening. Pre sharpening a “low frequency” image composed primarily of smooth sandstone will receive a different treatment than “high frequency” image with a lot of fine detail, such as this shot. For an image like this I will keep the Radius to 0.5 to 0.8 and the amount to around 50. For smooth surface shots I can afford to set the Radius higher-usually 1.0 to 1.5 with the amount set to 50. To see the effect make sure you are viewing the image at 100%. I also apply a Masking effect which is similar to a “Find Edges” mask in Photoshop. To see the effect of the Masking hold down the Option Key while moving the Masking Slider. The Mask will change from White to Black and White as you increase the amount. Like Photoshop White reveals and Black conceals the effect of the Sharpening. At this stage I will, if necessary, apply some Noise Reduction. Again I will look at the image at 100% and move the sliders. Image sharpening can reveal the noise. If it does a little back and forth manipulation of the Sharpening Sliders and the Noise Sliders will usually correct the problem.
Image 4: Screen capture of LR Preset Development versus Zeroed Out Development.
When I am happy with all the results I will export the file out to Photoshop where it will be developed into a layered masterfile. Image 5 below is a 100% crop of a section of the masterfile and shows just how much detail there is in shot.
Image 5: A 100% crop from a section of the masterfile showing the detail in the plants.
If you have gotten this far I want to thank you for hanging in. I know this was quite a bit of information but hopefully it will give you some starting points for thinking about how you process your RAW files. I will admit that I tinker a lot with my images. In some cases I will go all the way through to Photoshop only to trash the file and start again. It has led me to be more critical of my work.
Thank you for stopping by today. If you have any questions or comments please drop me a note.