Images © Wei Xi Luo | Photograph IO. All rights reserved.
For more Lightroom editing workflows like this one, click here. View the different steps distraction-free using the lightbox by clicking on the images.
Did it ever happen to you that you took a shot in camera but visualized something totally different with your eye? Have you ever wondered how to turn a seemingly ‘ordinary’ image into a cinematic scene?
In this third article of the Lightroom Editing Series, we’ll turn a mundane scene of a New York yellow taxi into a cinematic-style piece of art. The picture itself was shot using a Fuji X-Pro1, 35mm f/1.4 lens at 1/125 sec @ f/1.4, ISO 400.
1) Cropping, straightening and white balance
Since the taxicab didn’t completely fit in the frame, I decided to crop the edges of original frame to form a 5×7 image in Lightroom. That way, the entire scene is much less distracting now than it was before, and allows the viewer to focus on the people inside the taxi rather than the taxi itself.
As for straightening and white balance, I decided to leave them untouched as they were spot-on originally.
2) Basic exposure and contrast
The exposure of the image was perfect, as shown by the histogram, although I did dial up +20 contrast in order to give a bit more “punch” to the image. One thing to keep in mind when it comes to the punch of an image is to always prioritize contrast over clarity; while the former can be applied to almost any picture, over-using the clarity slider will completely ruin almost any kind of image, landscapes and architecture apart.
3) Advanced exposure and tonal editing
Since the highlights were nearly clipping in the image, I decided to reduce the highlights slider by -50 and the whites slider by -25 in order to mitigate the effect. As for the shadows, I’ve left them untouched. However, in order to get an even deeper contrast, I took the blacks slider all the way up to -25 for richer blacks.
4) Local adjustments and vignetting
The entire secret of a this scene, and most cinematic style pictures, is in the the way it focuses the viewer towards a particular point in the image. In this case, the two passengers in the taxicab are the main subject, and I’ll use radial filters to isolate the subject from the background, as well as some vignetting.
The inconvenience with radial filters is that they are usually quite obvious when used too strongly, and this is why I (and many other photographers, too) choose to use 3 radial filters in order to isolate the subject. One to isolate the taxicab from the city in the background, another one to draw the eye onto the rear section of the taxi, and finally a radial filter around the passengers to draw the viewer’s attention there. I accentuated the radial filter’s effects and removed the feathering to show you more clearly what I mean by 3 radial filters.
While the example above was greatly exaggerated, I usually strive for a + or – 1 EV difference between all the radial filters combined. Basically, it means that the total EV difference among all filters should add up to around 1 EV :either a single 1 EV radial filter, 2 0.5 EV radial filters, 3 0.35 EV radial filters, 4 0.25 EV radial filters, etc. In this case, all three radial filters were set to -0.35 EV.
Finally, I dialled -10 in the post-crop vignetting section to give further attention towards the center of the frame.
5) Global tone curves
As always, I recommend enabling point curve editing by clicking on the bottom-right button of the tone curve section. For this specific shot, I chose to add some fade as well as a slight S-Curve in order to simulate the tonal response of cinematic film. Notice, on the histogram, how the blacks have shifted slightly to the right.
6) RGB specific tone curves
As for the individual channels, I reduced the red channel the most, followed by the green and the blue, in that order. Pretty cinematic, eh? You can see the results below :
The only thing needed here is to add some grain (but not too much!) since it helps hide the fading applied on the image : a digital image with faded blacks will look very unnatural, unlike film. I’ve added 20 grain and 50 size in this case.
As you can see, the shadow areas look much more natural now.
9) Sharpening, detail and noise reduction
Finally, as for sharpening, I use my standard Fuji Raw Sharpen Preset in order to maximize sharpness with X-Trans files in Lightroom. No noise reduction was added since it was shot at only ISO 400. The detail at 100% is pretty amazing, as long as you have the right technique, and sharpening settings to begin with.
For a total of maybe 5 to 10 minutes, the final result is pretty amazing for a Adobe Lightroom edit, and as close as you can get without using dodge/burn in Photoshop. Look at the tonality and color in the image; it is truly a lot better than the original one. Scroll up for the before-after comparison!
As always, RAW files are available upon request. Feel free to contact me if you wish to learn more about post-processing in Adobe Lightroom!
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