Learning Photo Editing: Advanced Lightroom Tools

I’ve been getting a lot of great feedback on this editing series, so thank you to everyone who has reached out! For the third post in the series, I’m going to talk about a few advanced editing tools in Lightroom that I think every professional photographer should be familiar with. I’m going to explain how to use the HSL panel and split toning.

New to this series? No problem! You can catch up by reading my post on different editing softwares and my tutorial on editing in Lightroom.

Photo Editing Blog Post Series

The HSL Panel

Ah yes, the HSL panel. It looks like some weird rainbow of sliders, but it gives you so much control over the colors in your image. You can use the HSL panel to help you develop a distinctive style or color palette for your images, or use it to refine the skintones of your subjects and get them just right. It’s located on the right side panel in Lightroom, beneath the tone curve.

HSL stands for Hue, Saturation, and Luminance, and all three have their own sub-panels within the HSL tab. You can switch back and forth between the three by clicking on their titles, or click All to have them all displayed at the same time. Lightroom has each slider color coded to give you a sense of how each slider changes an image, but we’ll go panel by panel and I’ll show you what kind of adjustments I make to a test photo using the HSL panel.

The hue section allows you to tweak colors. Lightroom gives you 8 sliders, each of which have a spectrum with two differently colored ends. The yellow slider, for example, is a true yellow in the center, while the left end is more of an orange-yellow. The right extreme is a yellow-green. I make hue adjustments to correct any color skew produced during the course of editing. For example, when I’m photographing clothing for a brand, it’s important that the colors of the clothing are represented accurately to customers. Another great use for it is to produce color tones that help distinguish your photographic style. For example, I alter the greens in a lot of images because I don’t like the bright yellow-green that a lot of plants in Texas show up as in photos. Below, I’ve used the sliders to tweak the yellows and greens towards a yellow-green and green-blue respectively in the image to achieve cooler greens that are less yellow. (Note that all basic adjustments to the image have already been made. You can find a walkthrough of how to make those here.)

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The change gives me the cooler greens I want without me having to change the overall white balance of the photo (which would change their skin tones as well). In this photo, I’m able to use the sliders to globally adjust all yellows and greens in the photo. If one of the subjects were wearing yellow or green clothing, however, I would have to use an adjustment brush to brush my hue changes only onto the background, or the colors of their clothing would also change.

You can use the saturation panel to decrease the saturation of any overwhelming or unwanted colors, or pump up any that you want to be more dominant in the photo. Moving a slider left decreases saturation (full desaturation turns a color gray) while moving it right increases saturation. On warmer skin tones, I sometimes bring orange saturation down a little to prevent them from skewing too orange when I increase the temperature of an image. In this test photo, I think the greens are a little overwhelming after the hue adjustment, so I’m going to bring their saturation down a bit so they look less fake. It’s a fairly subtle change, but I think it helps draw the eye more to the couple than all the green.

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The third sub-panel is luminance. Luminance is easy to confuse with saturation, but instead of ranging from gray to saturated color, each slider goes from the darkest shade of a color the lightest. (Essentially from almost black to almost white.) I use the luminance sliders most often when adjusting skin tones. Above, I mentioned desaturating orange for overly warm skin tones, but too much desaturation can make subjects look gray. So if I feel like the skin still looks too orange, I’ll bump orange luminance up, altering the orange tones to be lighter. In our test image, both subjects have fair, pink-toned skin. His skin (especially his ear and the shadowy area by his mouth) is looking a little ruddy, so I’m going to bump red luminance up. (I’ve zoomed in so you can see it a little better.)

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My final note on the HSL panel is that for those of you that aren’t a fan of using the sliders, or if you aren’t sure which slider is right for the color you want to adjust, all three HSL sections have a little clickable target at the top left. Once you select it, you can click and hold on any part of your image to choose a color to adjust and then drag your mouse up and down (up correlates to right on the sliders, down is left) to adjust the hue, saturation, or luminance. Your pinpointed selection will tell Lightroom which sliders to change in response.

Split Toning

Split toning is a way to manipulate the colors in isolated tone ranges of an image. You can use it to add certain colors into either the highlights or shadows of an image. This lets you use it to cancel out undesirable tones or add a unique stylistic element to your work. I personally think split toning is such an incredibly powerful tool, and it’s definitely one that every photographer should become familiar with. The split toning panel is just below the HSL panel, and is divided into sliders for highlights and shadows. The hue slider lets you select what color you want to introduce, and then you use saturation to add varying degrees of it into the image.

In the below test image, I’ve already made all my basic and HSL edits, and I’m going to use split toning to stylize the image a little more. I wanted slightly icier highlights because I felt like the overall image was trending orange, so I introduced some aqua/blue into the highlights. To keep from the whole photo from shifting too blue, I added some warmth back into the shadows with yellow. If you focus on the highlights in the image (the¬† sky, the brighter areas of her face, and the white on her dress) you can see the shift to blue. You can similarly look at shadowy areas to see the difference in the shadows.

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One of the reasons I think split toning is so powerful is because color tone shifts help visually distinguish your style and can also help you imitate specific styles, such as the color shifts produced by different film stocks. I personally use it mostly on my editorial work, and focus on HSL for any color manipulation on my usual client work, but there are plenty of photographers who use both on a daily basis. (A great example is Ben Sasso, one of my favorite photographers. Read his post on manipulating tones using HSL and split toning here.)

That’s all for this post! I hope learning about these two advanced tools will help you take your editing to the next level! Have something else you want me to discuss in this editing series? Let me know in the comments!

Learning Photo Editing: Basic Adobe Lightroom Tutorial

Welcome back to my editing series! If you haven’t read the first post, check it out for an overview of available editing softwares and a breakdown of where to find things in Lightroom. In this post, I’m going to go over the basic sliders in Lightroom’s Develop module to show you how they work and how to use them for editing.

Photo Editing Blog Post Series

Basic Panel

I think the basic panel is actually sufficient to make the majority of major changes to an image, like tweaking exposure, contrast, and saturation. It’s a great place to focus your attention especially if you’re new to editing. When I edit, this is where I make most of my adjustments. As I walk you through this panel, you can see how each set of sliders makes a difference in my test image.

LRblogbasicpanelFirst up is the white balance dropper in the top left. This is a way to let Lightroom do the heavy lifting on any image where the white balance of an image is pretty far off. All you have to do is click on the dropper and then click on a neutral color in the image. A true black or white (meaning something that you know is definitively black or white in real life) works best, though a neutral gray can also work in a pinch. I think the dropper is best used to correct images with heavily skewed white balance (or at least get them back in the ballpark of correct white balance) but I prefer the sliders most of the time to make adjustments.

To fine tune white balance (or adjust it further if the dropper isn’t getting it quite right), you have the temperature and tint sliders. Lightroom has helpfully color coded them to remind you what each does, but I encourage you to slide them back on forth on a test image to see for yourself. The temp slider is measured in degrees of Kelvin, so a warmer or higher temperature is correlated with a higher number. “Warming an image up” adds more yellow while “cooling an image down” by pulling the slider to the left causes it to take on more of a blue tint. The tint slider plays a similar role but with magenta and green. The original image below is backlit so it’s a little too cool, and the green plants around her reflect some green onto her skin. I’ve warmed it up and added a touch of magenta back in to make her skin look less blue/gray. (You can see the sliders move on the right.)

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The next set of sliders are exposure and contrast, which control brightness and contrast (obviously). The exposure slider brightens everything in the photo, as opposed to the highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks sliders, which isolate a portion of tones in the image. Our test image is underexposed, so I’m going to raise exposure and use the contrast slider to add a little extra pop. I like my images bright with a little bit of punch, so I’m raising exposure and contrast significantly.

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The next four sliders help you make isolated adjustments to your image. Moving the shadows or blacks sliders to the right makes the darker areas of your image lighter, while moving left makes them darker. I pull my shadows and blacks down when I want to add more contrast without changing my highlights/whites, and raise them when I feel like darker areas of an image are too dark. Raising highlights and whites can add an extra pop of brightness to an image, and I find a little boost in both helps skin look a little more luminous. If something bright in the image is “blown out” (AKA so bright that it has lost detail), dragging highlights or whites to the left can help recover some detail.

In our test image, I wanted to add back some of the depth/richness without the bright areas of the image getting too washed out, so I pulled the blacks down and raised the shadows to prevent it from getting too contrasty. I also brought the highlights down a tad.

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The histogram, shown below, has five click-and-draggable sections (blacks, shadows, exposure, highlights, and whites) and can be used in place of these sliders in the basic section. The sliders move in pre-determined increments while the histogram can be freely adjusted, so I generally prefer the histogram. The tone curve plays a similar function, and is another way to adjust contrast and shift the highlights/shadows in a more visual fashion than the sliders. Portions of the curve can be clicked and moved, just like the histogram. I encourage you to play with both along with the sliders to see which method works best for you!

The last three sliders in the basic panel are clarity, vibrance, and saturation. Increasing clarity makes the image sharper and more defined. A tiny boost in clarity can help bring out detail, however I think it’s really easy to go overboard with it, and for the most part, I think images that are in focus that already have their contrast increased don’t particularly need the adjustment.

Vibrance and saturation are both adjustments to the colors in an image. Saturation is a global adjustment, making all colors in the image bolder and brighter. Vibrance plays a similar role, but focuses on the softer colors in the image and doesn’t pump up skintones so much (AKA it won’t make everyone in your photos look like they got a really bad spray tan). I prefer not to touch the saturation slider, but the vibrance slider can lend your images a little boost in color (use it with a light hand).

And that’s your tutorial to the basic panel in Lightroom’s Develop module! Here’s a final before and after of the image, with only the adjustments we made in the basic panel. As you can see, just this one panel can make a pretty big difference if you use it to its full potential!

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What do you want to see in the next blog post? Let me know in a comment below, or you can always DM me on Instagram.

Best of 2017: Portraits

2017 was full of amazing photographic experiences for me. I got to work with so many great clients, from my spring and fall seniors to local bloggers, and document some really memorable experiences of my own. I am so excited to be able to share my favorite portraits from this past year all in one blog post! (Stay tuned for travel photos, coming soon in a separate post.)

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Real talk: senior portraits are my bread and butter. It’s what I first started shooting three years ago, and it still makes up the bulk of my work! I have so much fun shooting with my fellow Longhorns and every graduation shoot makes me even more excited for my own this spring. This year I also incorporated some more work with couples, which has been a really fun change!

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I also wanted to include some of the amazing collaborations I participated in this year. For those of you that didn’t know, I actually got my start in photography as a blogger back in the day. (Surprise!) Shocking, I know, since I currently can’t be bothered to wear makeup, do my hair, or wear anything other than workout clothes. Still, I always love working with local fashion and lifestyle bloggers. Enjoy some of my favorite shots from shoots with bloggers and brands below.

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I shot these product images for Love Your Melon and Sume Jewelry, two businesses that make products that I absolutely love. (LYM also benefits a great cause!)

I met Jesse Coulter¬†towards the end of the year, and got to shoot some winter and holiday outfits with her. She’s so funny and spunky, and I loved her style!

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Next up is my friend Jane, who is talented, genuine, and much more fashionable than me. Shooting with her is always such a pleasure, and I’m looking forward to more sessions as she builds her blog!

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Over the summer I also had the opportunity to shoot with Rachel Spross (a Longhorn alum) for the first time. I loved her outfits, and I would definitely recommend checking out her feed if you ever need style inspiration!

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Working with bloggers is something I’m looking to do more of next year, especially after I graduate college! If you’re a local blogger (or know someone who is), let me know! I would love to work with you.

And that wraps up my favorite portraits of 2017! It was such a great year for me, in that I had plenty of new experiences and got to push myself to learn new skills and further develop my style. I can’t wait for what 2018 has in store!

Didn’t get enough from this post? Part two is coming soon, with the best of my travel photos from 2017. Stay tuned!