Today I discovered the joys of the Conservancy Gardens in Central Park – or at least, the first hundred feet of it. You see, it’s been winter here in New York for so long that I was overcome by all the signs of spring I saw in the gardens. Armed with my K30 and my D-FA 100mm macro, I stopped to take pictures of every other tree, every other leaf, and every flower. My one-year-old quickly tired of this, and so I left the rest of the Gardens for another day (let’s be honest – that probably means tomorrow). I was immediately attracted to a hydrangea bush with a few dead blooms left over from last season. I couldn’t quite find the angle I wanted, but after playing around in Lightroom, I was quite happy with the way this photo was turning out:
I felt like the bottom left-hand corner was a bit too dark, though, so I needed a tool that could change just part of the picture. I chose the Graduated Filter for this job. The tool is found in the upper-right-hand corner of the Develop module.
When you start to “draw” your graduated filter, the longer you hold down your mouse button, the more graduated – or spread out – the effect becomes. Sometimes it’s beneficial to have a filter have a stark line where it begins and ends; for instance, with an ocean horizon, you may want to lighten or darken just the water, in which case you don’t want the effect to extend past a very specific line. To make it so that your effects blend seamlessly in a photo like mine, though, you want to hold down the button for a while. You’ll end up with three lines. The middle one, with the circle in the middle, is the midpoint of the effect. You can rotate this line to fine-tune exactly where your effect should fall. The lines on either side indicate the beginning and the end of the effect.
Once you ascertain WHERE the effect will happen, it’s time for the WHAT. This is where your creativity can really shine. I originally wanted that corner to be brighter, but as I looked at it more and more, I found myself tweaking other things – lowering the contrast, lowering the highlights, increasing the shadows – all in a bid to make that corner seem to echo its opposite. Then I made one more change. I changed the temperature to a cooler blue, resulting in cerulean shades coming through.
I did this four more times, coming from outside the frame toward the middle from all side of the photo. Each time I slightly adjust the shadows, highlights, and contrast – and always the temperature. In the end, I had this, a new flower of winter:
When the snow started to fall on a lackadaisical Sunday afternoon, I grabbed my camera and told my husband to grab the kid and we headed out the door. With no destination in mind, we ended up at our usual Sunday haunt: the grocery store. But on the way, I took this:
And with a little Lightroom magic, I made it this:
FYI, I finally upgraded to Lightroom 4, so this tutorial will reference that version.
From the original photo, the first tweak was to increase the shadows. I find that even if I later make the photo “darker,” increasing the shadows will give the subjects of a photo a 3D look. In this case, I increased the shadows to +90 and the highlights to +32.
Next I dealt with the colors. Under “Presence,” I decreased the Vibrance by -7 and the overall saturation by -26. Then I dealt with each individual color channel, as I find that’s where I can really make certain aspects of a photo pop.
I find myself playing with the Luminance sliders more than any others. Both my daughter and I tend to rosier complexions, so increasing reds and oranges can make us glow. In this case, I also increase the luminances of yellow and green to help mute the lights and cars in the background.
Next most important to me would be Saturation. Especially because approximately 95% of my daughter’s clothing is pink, I have to deal with the red and magenta sliders very carefully.
I usually leave the Hues where they are; in this case I made my reds a bit more orangey.
Those changes resulted in this:
Next up is the Tone Curve. The general rule of thumb is that an “S” shaped curve will give you a nice distribution of light and dark, but I was kind of going for the opposite of that. I muted the Highlights to get rid of the bright space between my two subjects (eyes naturally tend to go to the brightest spot in the frame) increased the Lights to add dimension to my photo, increased the Darks to bring out the details in the jackets, and decreased the Shadows to give the photo some depth.
One of the most useful and powerful tools for me is the Camera Calibration at the bottom of the Develop sidebar. I play with these sliders more than any other. It’s incredibly easy to go the wrong way with these and end up with green skin and blue hair, but with these, you can really be creative with how the colors interact with each other. In this instance, the calibration brings color back to their skin while leaving the rest of the photo relatively desaturated.
White balance is generally something you want to start with, but you can mess with any slider at any time in your processing, and often it ends up being one of the last things I adjust. In this instance, I changed the white balance so it made the photo much warmer, giving it a nice glow.
In the end, I added some split toning to give it even more glow and a vignette to shift the focus more on the subjects.
I thought my subjects were looking a little washed out, so I used the brush tool to give a little more contrast around the hat and faces.
I also cloned out a troublesome bit of snow on the lips. That gave me exactly what I was looking for:
Click here to download the preset!