If you’ve used Photoshop and Elements, you’ll probably have noticed the History palette. This keeps track of everything you’ve done since you opened the image, so if something goes wrong you can backtrack to an earlier state. Photoshop goes one better than Elements by adding a Snapshot feature, where you can separately record specific image states, then go back to these snapshots later on rather than having to trawl through your entire history. But the Lightroom Snapshot feature beats them both.
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The problem with Photoshop and Elements is that the history (and snapshots) are lost when you close the file. They exist only temporarily while you’re working on it. But Lightroom stores adjustment metadata permanently in its library as it goes along, so your image adjustment history and snapshots are saved for good – they’ll still be there when you go back to your photo weeks or months later.
That’s not all. Lightroom has a before-and-after view which lets you compare your edited photo with the original – but you can choose one of your snapshots as the ‘before’ image instead, so that you can compare two different editing approaches to see which one worked out best.
To show how this works I’ve picked this rather dull-looking landscape shot late in the afternoon last January. When I shot it I thought the line of trees and the heavy sky might make a good photograph, but as soon as I saw it on the computer I realised it would need plenty of work.
01 The History panel
Once the photo is opened in the Develop module you’ll find the History panel in the left sidebar. There’s an entry here already – the image is a virtual copy of the original, and Lightroom has recorded that as the first editing step.
02 Saving a snapshot
Every time you make a change to the image, this change is added to the History panel – you can see that I’ve used the Lens Correction panel on the right to apply an automatic lens correction profile to fix any lens distortion, and I’ve applied chromatic aberration correction too. Now is a good time to save a snapshot, because I might want to come back to this corrected but otherwise unedited version later. To do this, just click the ‘+’ button next to the Snapshots panel header in the left sidebar, then type in a name for your snapshot.
03 Sunset effect 1
OK, now I want to make my landscape shot look more like a sunset, and my first idea is to use the white balance tools in the Basic panel. I’ve increased the Temperature to give the picture a yellow-orange tone, and I’ve boosted the Saturation, Clarity and Contrast too. It’s looking better, but I’m still not quite sure it’s the result I’m looking for. So before I try a different method, I’ll save the current version as another snapshot, which I’ll call ‘Sunset effect with WB’.
04 Sunset effect 2
This is my second attempt. This time, I’m using Lightroom’s Split Toning panel to apply an overall colour effect. This is a little bit more complicated and I won’t go into all the details here, but I’ve now got another, different version of my picture that I might want to keep, so I’ll save another snapshot, this time calling it ‘Sunset effect Split Toning’.
05 Clear History Steps
You can see how much fiddling around I had to do with the Split Toning controls by the number of history steps now in the panel! I don’t need to refer back to these, and in fact they’re simply cluttering the place up, so I can use the Clear All button to get rid of them. This doesn’t get rid of the snapshots, so I can still check back to all my previous attempts.
06 Before and After
I’ve done some more work on my Split Toning version, saved another snapshot and now, using the buttons at the bottom of the Lightroom window (circled), I’ve swapped to a side-by-side view. Now I can compare my current snapshot with the original image and, not surprisingly, it looks a whole lot better. But what I really want to do is compare the two editing approaches side by side…
07 Choose a new ‘before’ shot
So I right-click by ‘Sunset effect with WB’ snapshot and choose ‘Copy Snapshot Settings to Before’…
08 Comparing snapshots
So now I can directly compare my ‘white balance’ version (top) with my ‘split toning’ version (bottom), and it’s pretty clear that the split toning approach has worked much better – so that’s the one I’ll go with for my final image.
09 The finished image
This split-toning technique has produced quite a striking result, so maybe that’s something I’ll explore in a future tutorial. It’s normally used to apply subtle colouration to black and white images, but you can also use it at stronger settings on full-colour photographs, as I’ve done here.
In any event, Lightroom’s History and Snapshot tools have made it much easier to compare two different editing approaches and find the most successful. And because snapshots are saved permanently, I can still come back to my ‘white balance’ version any time in the future if I think I can improve on it.
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