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Lightroom Editing Series

How to Edit Blown Highlights in Lightroom

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. One of the many requests we have received over here at Photograph IO is in our editor’s editing workflow. As a […]

New York Foggy Street
A foggy scene of a street in New York City. (Original photo)

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.

One of the many requests we have received over here at Photograph IO is in our editor’s editing workflow. As a result, we’ve decided to start a weekly series on Lightroom editing from start to finish. Although the post and screenshot format will be currently used, we might consider switching to Youtube/Vimeo videos if you readers prefer. Let us know in the comments! For the first image to edit, we will be starting with a relatively easy picture to process, a foggy street scene in New York City. I took this picture at 1/200 sec @ f/1.4, ISO 200 using a Fujifilm X-Pro1 with a 35mm f/1.4 lens, and intend to convert into a high-contrast black and white photo.

1) Cropping and straightening

The original photo was already straightened well-enough : there was no need to adjust, and the composition fitted nicely in the golden overlay in Lightroom 5.5, so no adjustments here.

2) White balance

Since I intend to convert this color shot into B&W as the original SOOC jpeg was, I decided to skip this part altogether since the in-camera WB was good enough for my needs and white balance for B&W doesn’t usually do much of a difference. No adjustments here either.

3) Basic exposure and contrast

Since our goal here is to make a high-contrast black and white scene, I chose to underexpose this scene by -0.75 EV with a contrast adjustment of +50. Although these adjustments might seem too punchy, do keep in mind that this picture was shot inside a bus in New York, so the contrast has to be raised quite a bit.

New York Foggy Street
-0.75 EV, +50 Contrast

4) Advanced exposure, tonal editing and B&W conversion

Given that the sky was already full white and thus clipped, there was going to be no way of giving back the white sky its blue color. But clipping, in this case, isn’t exactly a drawback of the picture. It gives the picture a dreamy, misty feel that I like a lot. I therefore decided to emphasis on the misty feeling of the sky by raising the highlights by +24 and the whites by +34. As for the shadows, I didn’t touch them as much, lowering them by -4. However, I went stronger on the blacks to give it a even stronger shadow contrast feel that is reminiscent of film photography and its logarithmic tone curves.

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 3.15.58 PM
+24 highlights, -4 shadows, +34 whites and -41 blacks, with +11 clarity.

Also, I decided to add +11 clarity to slightly boost the micro-contrast and structure of the image. Be careful not to go overboard with this, though. After all those adjustments I flipped the picture from color to B&W using the treatment switch.

New York Foggy Street
Same scene, in B&W

5) Tone curves

The exposure panel already gave me pretty much the results that I wanted, so once again, I’ve decided to skip this part altogether. However, properly mastering curves is one of the best ways for advanced Lightroom editing, but since this is the first Lightroom editing guide here at Photograph IO, I’ve decided to keep things simple for you. This is definitely coming in later guides though.

7) HSL, split toning, lens corrections, effects, camera calibration

Skip. All of these were either irrelevant to the final picture, or wouldn’t be able to give my desired high-contrast B&W look. The default Lightroom Black and White mix in HSL is good enough for the purposes of the image. As for lens corrections, Fujifilm’s embedded lens correction data is doing a great job.

8) Sharpening and detail

Aha! The weak point of Lightroom when it comes to Fuji X-Trans support… or is it? Although there are better Fuji RAW converters out there, including Sikypix and Iridient Developer, Lightroom, if using good sharpening technique, can give results that are pretty close to the in-camera RAW processor. One way of making X-Trans files better is by using a higher radius, say, 2.0, compared to the default of 1.0. I actually made a preset especially geared for Fuji X-Trans sharpening called Fuji Raw Sharpen, which you may download here (free of charge!).

100% crop
After sharpening, 100% crop
100% crop
Original picture before sharpening, 100% crop

The difference here is noticeable : although the picture was shot on a moving bus, sharpening did quite improve overall detail.

9) Local edits

Finally, I decided to use one of Adobe Lightroom’s most powerful tools, the graduated filter. I decided to emphasize even more on the misty scene detail, so I added a +0.41 and -34 contrast to the upper part of the image using the graduated filter.

GND
+0.41 EV, -34 contrast on the upper half of the image.

Et voila! That’s it for the first picture by picture guide on Lightroom editing. Don’t forget to tell us in the comments below if you’d prefer us switching to YouTube/Vimeo instead of the current written form. Also, the original RAW file (for personal, non commercial use only) with sidecar edit is available upon contact request for those of you who wish to experiment further, but I won’t release it publicly here for copyright reasons, given how easy it is to strip data in the digital age. 😛 Here’s the final result :

New York Foggy Street
Final image result.

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