How can two people take the exact same photo, but end up with two completely different images after editing? Even more puzzling, how can they start with the same Lightroom Preset, and STILL end up with different images?
Finding a photo-editing style is one of the most important ways a photographer can create memorable images. One of the best ways to find your own is by trying out other photographers’ tricks, and figuring out which ones achieve the look you want.
To get a cohesive look between images, I usually stick to 6 simple editing steps and then create a preset to use on similar images in the future. Here’s how:
I’ll start with the original image, shot with an iPhone 6s + Moment Wide Lens:
#1 - Use RGB Curve to add a “film”
First and foremost, I use RGB curves to bring out a filmy look to the image. I’d say this is one of the most important steps to determine how the image will feel. This is also the place where you can have the most fun. I’ve adjusted the Red, Blue, and Green channels to curve together, but I set the bottom left tail of the Blue channel to be a little higher than the other two. This is what will give a subtle yet deep blue tint to the whole photo.
#2 - Pinch the Edges of the Tone Curve
I then go into the RGB or “Tone” Curve to even out the white and black tones of the pictures. I do this by making a few points on each tail of the curve and bring the corners slightly closer to the middle. The changes look subtle now but ultimately show up in the final product! (Also, to add a bit more darkened mood, go to Effects, and add a Vignette).
#3 - Highlights Low, Shadows Up
In the Basic adjustments, I usually put my highlights as low as possible, and then the shadows as high as possible. This serves to bring out as much detail as possible, both in the brighter sky and the darker buildings. After doing this, adjust accordingly with the Whites and Blacks bars. I like to exaggerate the Blacks for a darker, deeper-looking image most of the time.
#4 - Color Scheme: Isolate and Temper your colors
Here’s where you decide what your color scheme is going to be. If you’ve seen my Instagram, you’ll see that I like dark blues and vivid oranges. (I’d like to think that this is subconsciously inspired from years of rooting for the New York Mets!) To do this, I isolate all colors but blue, aqua, yellow, and orange. I’m going to shift the hue for the yellow to look more orange. I’m also going to desaturate the blues and aqua, and then “dim” them by decreasing their luminance.
#5 - Use Radial Filter to Emphasize Light
Now I anticipate where the light is coming from and try to bring out the angle of its source and emphasize whatever it’s hitting with a radial filter. If it’s a cloudy day, this may not be as applicable, but you can still do this to brighten parts of the composition. This helps the photo to start to pop!
#6 - Be Selective with Clarity Tool: Lower with Light
I’ve started to become more cautious with the Clarity tool. It can work wonders and can be an automatic way to make any image look more dynamic. However, I’ve noticed that too much Clarity can make your image look grainy, or look like you slapped an HDR filter over it. Near light, I actually lower the clarity, which makes the light’s effects look softer and more realistic. It’s somewhat counterintuitive, but sometimes decreasing Clarity can make the whole image look clearer and cleaner! This is especially helpful when you’re editing a smartphone image and don’t want to degrade its appearance when applying your edits. Conversely, sometimes I will increase the overall clarity slightly to bring out more details in the buildings.
Before & After
When you find a look you like, try to duplicate it on other images by creating a preset. Go to Develop > New Preset, and save the settings. I have a few versions of this preset saved for shots with different lighting. Check out a few of these Before and After shots using the same six steps! All of these were taken on my iPhone with the Moment Wide Lens or the Tele Lens.
More Before & After Photos
Angles in Cincinnati
Chicago River Moves
NYC Freedom Tower Squeeze