Before + After. Fujifilm X-E1, XF 18-55 mm @ 18 mm, 1/8 sec @ f/14, ISO 400
About the Image
Many of my travel images are spur of the moment photos, but this one, taken in the Rajasthani village of Pushkar, India, was more intentional. I was on a workshop with Matt Brandon and the assignment to the workshop participants was “do not to chase the image, but let the image come to you.” The idea was to find a nice background, decide on composition and then just sit tight for half an hour and wait for an interesting foreground element to literally walk into the frame. It’s a technique I highly recommend; we photographers tend to rush it too much, especially when traveling. We race from one interesting site to another, without exploring locations to the fullest because the next Unesco heritage site is awaiting being checked off our shot list.
Luckily, in a densely populated country such as India, you never have to wait long for interesting foreground elements to appear, nor an interesting background. I saw the old Indian Royal Enfield motorcycle parked in a textured, still-shaded early morning alleyway, proving to be the perfect backdrop. It made me think of the Manic Street Preachers song, “Motorcycle Emptiness”; I had my motorcycle, but I just needed an interesting element to fill the emptiness in the foreground. As I was grounded for half an hour anyway, I decided I’d experiment with different shutter speeds. I knew I wanted the foreground to have motion blur, but I needed the right amount: too little and the image would just look poorly focused; too much and the colours would be blurred away. I finally settled for 1/8 of a second as it was long enough to get the motion blur I wanted, yet still short enough to be hand-holdable on my Fujinon 18-55 XF lens, on which I had enabled the Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). I also experimented with flash, but a failing trigger caused me to cut my experiments short.
It took me 96 frames to get the shot I was after. This doesn’t mean the other shots are wasted as they were helpful in determining the exposure, the framing, and—most of all—they helped me to experiment with the aesthetics of different shutter speeds.
As you can see from the before and after image at the top of this post, the original raw file is quite dull and lacking in contrast, but that's how I prefer to start. If I wanted more out-of-the-box punch, I could set up my Fuji to shoot JPEG with a custom setting. The Fuji makes excellent JPEGs, but I like to be in control of my own post-processing because it’s always easier to add contrast or saturation than it is to take away. Also, raw files allow for much more editing leeway before the pixels start to break up, and for extracting more dynamic range from a scene.
The Upright Controls
The first thing I did was straighten out the keystoning. I want my images either to be at an intentional angle or dead straight. Maybe it’s just me, but I find slightly keystoned images to look sloppy and create a form of visual noise in the image.
Lightroom's Upright feature has four options and usually works best if you select the Enable Profile Corrections and the Remove Chromatic Aberration checkboxes. I have them selected by default. I generally find that Auto does a great job, but in this case, Full performed better. Sometimes, regardless of the option you choose, you’ll have to tweak things a bit. You can do so in the Manual tab. In this case, I tweaked the Vertical slider slightly.
Once it was time to focus on the actual image, I asked myself what I wanted the image to say. I wanted to emphasize the crumbling, gritty atmosphere. I also wanted to make the colours of the woman’s sari stand out more. In short, I wanted the image to come to life and perhaps a little more than normal because I was planning to use it as a cover, and covers are meant to draw attention.
Basic Panel Adjustments
I visited the Basic panel first; no other panel in Lightroom allows you to achieve so much in so little time. As the image was slightly underexposed, I increased Exposure, Highlights, Shadows, and Whites significantly. For Whites, I held down the Alt/Option key to give me a black preview. By dragging the Whites slider to the right until the first white or coloured speckles appeared, I was able to set the white point of the image. In general, unless you’re photographing mist or other special cases, you want the brightest part of your image to be pure white and the darkest to be pure black.
I slightly increased the Vibrance (a gentler, more weighted form of Saturation) to make the colours stand out more and then it was time to tackle both the micro-contrast and the global contrast. The first was done with the Clarity slider, which I like to think of as the “texturizing slider.” Whenever you have lots of fine detail that you want to really stand out (like landscapes or in this cityscape), a healthy dose of Clarity will often take you a long way. Clarity enhances local contrast in the midtones. The effect has become so popular that a plug-in developer called Topaz Labs has created a specific plug-in around it, aptly called “Clarity,” which gives you an unprecedented amount of control over the midtone contrast in your images. Nik Software also has a couple of filters in their Color Efex Pro plug-in which do similar things: you might want to try the Details Enhancer, Tonal Contrast, and Dark Contrasts filters.
I also wanted to spice up the image further by bumping up the global contrast. The Contrast slider in the Basic panel deals with highlights and shadows in a uniform way: dragging it to the right will brighten the highlights and darken the shadows correspondingly. In this particular case, I wanted to darken the shadows more than I wanted to brighten the highlights, so I went for the increased control of the Tone Curve panel. This actually houses two versions of the Tone Curve: the Parametric Curve and the Point Curve, which offers more control and is similar to the one used in Photoshop. I clicked its icon to activate it and adjusted to taste.
I wanted to add a vignette because I found the bottom right corner of the image to be too bright in relation to the rest. Because of its centralized nature, a normal vignette (as found in the Effects panel) would darken the head of the woman too much. So I activated the Radial Filter, chose a negative value for Exposure, and dragged an ellipse over the woman. By default, the Invert Mask checkbox is unchecked which—contrary to what you might expect—limits the effect of the filter to the outside of the ellipse or circle you draw. However, by selecting the Invert Mask checkbox, you can also have a Radial Filter affect its interior, rather than its exterior, which is exactly what I did in the next step. The Feather slider lets you control the transition between the affected and the unaffected area of your image.
The vignette around the woman had made her surroundings darker, but I also wanted to brighten her. You cannot do so in the same filter, but by Option+Command (Mac)/Alt+Ctrl (Win)-clicking inside an existing filter, you can duplicate it in place. You can then check the Invert Mask checkbox and edit the inside of the filter, as I did in the top image (above) by increasing the Exposure.
The first Radial Filter vignette also had the side effect of darkening the motorcycle. So in the center image above, I clicked on the New button, selected the Invert Mask checkbox and dragged a second filter across the motorcycle. I increased the Exposure and Clarity. You can never have enough clarity, especially on an old, rusty Royal Enfield.
Finally, I revisited the Basic Panel, as I often do toward the end of my workflow. All my vignetting and added contrast had made the overall image look a bit too dark, so I slightly increased the Exposure (bottom image, above).
The final image + how it was used for the cover of my book, Lightroom 5 Up To Speed
Lightroom also has a Layout overlay image in the Develop module. So if you’re shooting for a cover for a publication, you can have the designer send you a PNG file that has all the text, logos, and titles on an otherwise transparent background. As shown below, via View > Loupe Overlay > Choose Layout Image followed by checking View > Loupe Overlay > Overlay Image, you can put this transparent cover layout over a number of suitable cover candidates to determine the best cover image and the best possible crop for that particular cover.
To learn more about Smart Previews and other Lightroom features, check out Lightroom 5 Up to Speed and Piet's other titles, available in our library.
Piet Van den Eynde is a Belgian freelance photographer, author, and trainer specializing in Adobe Lightroom. When he's not teaching or writing, he travels the world on his bicycle photographing the people he meets along the way. Find out more about Piet on his website.