Last Leaf: From Original to Finished Product

Before & After

Once I decided to process this photo, I went through a few variations to arrive to the final version. All I can really show here is the settings that I ended up with, but between applying the preset and exporting the photo, there are many, many tweaks between. I’ll adjust the white balance to make it a little cooler, then adjust the blue color calibration to make certain parts of the leaf pop, then go back to the white balance because I didn’t like what the calibration did to the background, then go to the luminance slider of the blue channel to tweak further. Repeat ad nauseum until suddenly everything seems to work. Then I step away and revisit it a little while later. Hopefully it still looks complete. If it doesn’t, I make a copy of the photo where I left off and work on the new copy.

So, those settings! I ended up with a slightly cooler white balance. Overall vibrance was set to +41 and saturation to +49. Then I desaturated all the colors except yellow (the color of the leaf), which I set to -73. I increased all the luminances of the other colors to +100 except yellow, which I set to +52.

Last Leaf - White Balance, Color, and Calibration

Here are the specific settings for camera calibration. I find that calibration is one of the most powerful tools that Lightroom has to really make certain parts of a photo pop the way I want them to.


A super-steep tone curve and maximum lens vignetting takes the photo to here:

Last Leaf: WB, color, calibration, tone, and vignetting

Some mild split-toning in the shadows gives some color back into the background:

Last Leaf: Split-Toning

My apologies for not going linearly down the processing window of Lightroom, but I saved the “Basic Tone” – exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks for now, because these settings are where this photo really came to life for me. I decreased this already dark photo by over 3 stops and adjusted the other settings to get what you see below (and no, your screen isn’t broken):


I then proceeded to use brushes and gradient filters to bring back the parts I wanted to be bright. One brush did most of the work:


That one brush resulted in this:


I used quite a few other brushes to pinpoint areas I wanted to either brighten (some of the background, the bottom part of the leaf) or darken (the top part of the leaf). Almost always, I use maximum feathering of the brush and very low opacity. This part is really more like painting. Each red dot indicates a brush used:


And that pretty much does it!