This under-the-pier shot is a classic composition in black and white – you’ve probably seen a lot like it already – but the color original looks very ordinary indeed. So here’s a step-by-step guide to how I transformed it into a powerful graphic image in Lightroom.
You can also watch this video to see me make these adjustments in real time. The whole process took five minutes.
If you already use Lightroom, this might give you some ideas on how to use its tools on your own images. If you don’t use Lightroom but you are thinking of getting it, this will show you what it can do and how quick and effective it can be to use. You can read this guide to Adobe Photography Plans if you want to find out what’s involved and what else is included.
1. Straighten and crop
When editing photos I always take a ‘worst things first’ approach. In this case, the thing that’s bugging me the most is the fact that the horizon isn’t straight. That’s easy to fix with the Crop tool. I just need to move the mouse pointer outside one of the control handles and drag to rotate the image. I’m just going do do this by eye.
2. Lightroom Auto adjustments
A lot of people probably think that Lightroom’s Auto adjustment button on the basic panel is for beginners, but I don’t agree. It’s a quick way to see how much highlight and shadow detail your image has got and whether it’s good enough to spend more time on editing it. I was worried about the overexposed sky in this photo but I can see that Lightroom has pulled back a decent amount of detail so it’s definitely worth carrying on.
3. Pick a profile
Now is a good time to switch to black and white, and one way is to simply click the B&W button in the Edit panel. I prefer to use Profiles, though, which are like a kind of pre-processing for your images. Lightroom has some very good black and white profiles built in, but I like to use profiles from Lutify.me. This one is called ‘BW-Belium’ and it gives a great look to start from.
4. AI sky mask
AI masking is one of the most important advances in newer versions of Lightroom. If I switch to the Mask panel and choose Sky as the masking option, Lightroom will automatically locate and mask the sky, and I can then adjust the exposure to darken it down and make it more dramatic. Even after this, though, I think the image is lacking depth and drama, but I have a plan…
5. Dehaze and Clarity
For this I need to switch back to the regular Edit panel so that I’m not just editing the sky mask. I’m going to use the Dehaze slider to give a much more dramatic, contrasty look, and a little Clarity too. The settings I’ve used would be way to much for a color image, but in black and white you can get away with much wilder adjustments.
6. An Adjustment Brush mask for the pier underside
We’re getting there! I just think the underside of the pier is a little dark and I’d like to bring out some detail. There’s no AI mask that can do this, so I’ve gone old-school with the Adjustment Brush, painting over that area manually. Increasing the Exposure really brings out the detail and nudging up the Whites gives that area a bit of sparkle (these adjustments were very similar to those in the next step).
7. Relighting the foreground
Just one more tweak. This is one of my favorite techniques – ‘relighting’ parts of an image with a simple radial gradient mask. I simply drag out an elliptical mask over the sand, increase the Exposure value and then adjust the mask position until it looks just right.
The finished image
This walkthrough has transformed a pretty ordinary looking image, but it’s also shown how to use whole bunch of Lightroom editing techniques, including Crop and rotate, Auto adjustments, profiles and masking tools.
It might look like a lot of steps, but they’re quick to do (watch the video) and these tools soon become second nature.
Adobe Photography Plans
• Adobe Photography Plan: $9.99/month
• Adobe Photography Plan (1TB): $19.99/month
Lightroom Plan (1TB): $9.99/month
A trial version lasting just a few days is available