Sep 13, 2016


Tinkering with Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush

Posted in : Photography on by : Mike

It’s been a while since I’ve done anything photography-related! I spent a lot of time developing my pictures from my trip to Brazil, and after that I was pretty drained and, believe it or not, didn’t touch my camera for a few weeks.

During that time I looked at my pictures from Brazil and decided that I’d processed a lot of them incorrectly, particularly the ones of jaguars. The biggest problem is they were all too dark. During processing I tended to focus on the jaguar, and I darkened the image until the jaguar wasn’t overly bright (including white fur, etc). I made the conscious decision to ignore the backgrounds, since the focus of the pictures were the jaguars. That made sense, but overall it led to pictures that had a dark, kind of gloomy feel to them. The jaguars did look fine, but with the rest of the picture appearing dark, the overall images weren’t as appealing as they could have been. More importantly (to me at least) is that the pictures weren’t an accurate depiction of what I saw that day. I’m very particular about that.

Highlighting with LightroomBut when I originally processed these pictures, I thought there was no real solution to this “dark background / medium animal” problem. Well somehow a couple of weeks ago I stumbled onto Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush tool. You can use the tool to highlight a certain part of an image, and then make adjustments that only change that part. That allowed me to brighten the images overall, and then selectively darken just the animals. Now pictures in bright sunlight look bright and sunny, with the animals still recognizable instead of blinding.

The technical aspect of this is all about “exposure” which is how photographers refer to way you allow the light to hit the film (or the sensor for a digital camera). Cameras try their best to correctly expose a picture for you, but they’re not perfect, and they often get it wrong. A great example is when you’re taking a picture of some friends, and the sun is behind them and bright. Frequently, your camera will see the big bright background, and try to expose for that, which will make your friends’ faces look very dark and shadowy. On the other hand, if your camera picked your friends and adjusted for them, the background would look overly bright. I was tackling the same issue with my jaguar pictures. Despite all the advances in camera technology, this can still be an annoying, and common, problem.

So back to Lightroom – I decided to review my favorite pictures and re-process any that were too dark. Honestly, I hate processing pictures. It’s tedious. I’m sure that professional photographers are a lot better at this than I am, because there’s no way they could make a living if it took them as long as it takes me to process images. Lightroom is great for processing lots of images quickly, but I’m still slow. Unfortunately, the Adjustment Brush is a great tool, but must be used individually for each image, and requires that you pay close attention to what you’re doing. Once you’ve “painted” the highlight over the area that you want to adjust separately, the hard part is done and you can quickly make your adjustments. But when you’re working on hundreds of images, painting that highlight can take a while!

So that’s what I’ve been doing over the past few weeks. I think the final images are a lot more appealing than the originals. But the truth is, this is a matter of opinion, and some people might have preferred the darker images. Here’s a before/middle/after so you can think about it yourself. 🙂




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