Time Tested Techniques in Lightroom to Achieve Great Color By Gary Poole
by Sandra Kehoe – September 25th, 2015
Time Tested Techniques to Achieve Great Color – Tricks Are For Kids!
The mark of a professional in any field is the consistency of their product or service. If you get a great meal one out of three times from a restaurant, chances are you will not return to that location any time soon. Any other service or product that fails to maintain consistent quality will not fare well.
As professional photographers we are challenged every day to set ourselves apart from the crowd. Creative marketing and clever business cards can only go so far if our work does not stand up to the challenges of year to year consistency. If you are reading this post then you are among those who care about the quality of the product you deliver.
I have been color correcting images for professional photographers for nearly 40 years. Even though the methods are vastly different the techniques and goals are virtually the same. In this post I will demonstrate a few of the techniques I use on a daily basis to achieve a consistent look and feel. Let’s dive right in.
Overall color management is a massive subject and is best dealt with a chapter at a time and built upon. It goes without saying that close attention to proper exposure and consistent white balance methods will yield more consistent results. Even the most skilled photographer will have to deal with constant changes of light color and brightness level. To minimize the negative effects of these changes , I choose to shoot in RAW and adjust each image in post. I am NOT advocating that you must do it this way, but this way has served me well.
Let’s take a look at 6 images from the same shoot. All six are exposed relatively well but the overall color balance, contrast and color saturation are a bit different due to many different locations and ambient lighting conditions.
It is critical to realize that any adjustments made to an image on a monitor that is not properly calibrated and profiled is merely a guess. I use i1DisplayPro professional calibration software by X-Rite to profile my monitor. If you are trying to correct images on a monitor that is not properly calibrated and profiled you will become very frustrated as nothing will ever match your display.
Assuming you are profiled and in proper lighting for color correcting, open your job in Lightroom. There is a method I use to adjust every image and I have used this basic method for decades.
- Always start with exposure. Adjust the exposure until you get the brightness you desire.
- Adjust the color starting with TEMP (yellow-blue) and adding or reducing until it looks natural and then adding or reducing TINT (magenta-green) and work the sliders back and forth until you have achieved a natural look or the one you desire.
- Adjust the contrast level. I rarely if ever use the contrast slider as this moves both highlights and shadows at the same time. I have had success using the tone curve as well as the sliders just below contrast to independently control the regions I wish to change. Determine the contrast level you like. I try to stay around a densitometer reading of 12-15 for the deep shadows and around 92-95 for the brightest highlights but this is personal and you should determine what you like.
- Color vibrance. Vibrance and saturation are different. Saturation affects all colors equally while vibrance changes the least saturated colors first. It is also programmed to avoid saturating skin tones so this is an ideal tool to add that color POP. It is easy to overdo this one so go easy, I stay around plus 15-25 for most images.
- Final look. At this point I look for other tonal changes to be made with the adjustment brush or gradient but we are keeping this basic so I will make one final look to make sure this is what I am desiring to have as my final image.
- Create a reference. One technique that has been used for decades is a reference image. If you have a good reference, place it in the upper left corner of your screen to refer to. Color memory is usually not good unless we actually have a sample to refer to. If you do not have a sample guide then create one and use it throughout the session. To create an onboard visual reference in Lightroom simply right click the frame you wish to use and select the top option (Lock to Second Window) This puts a second display right on the desktop. You can move it, resize it, change the image size as you wish. This is one of the secrets to consistency.
- Proceed with other images using the same method. By using the same sequence to correct other images you will find your speed and accuracy improve significantly. If you have a series of images that are alike or similar you may use the “SYNC” option to apply the same settings and then tweak each one as needed.
- Color correction like any other skill improves with seat time. The more you do, the better you will get.
Thank you for reading this post, I hope you have read some information that has been helpful.
Gary Poole is the Color Division Manager for RetouchUp.com. He has been in Professional Color Management since 1977 working for professional color labs in color correction and accurate output. www.retouchup.com
All images by Angie Seaman Photography