Making Your Images Pop: A Guide To Photoprocessing Pt. II

This is the second in a four part series discussing the Develop workflow in Lightroom and Adobe CameraRAW.  Read Part 1 here.

Fashion Photography - Photo Processing

The Basics (which really aren’t so “Basic” at all)



White Balance: very simply, WB refers to what the whites in your image look like.  Do they have more blue in them or more yellow?  More green or more magenta?  WB is one of the most subjective of tools and can go a long way towards determining the mood of your images.  For fashion photography you generally want your WB to be pretty accurate such that the clothing’s colors are accurately represented.  WB is very easy to set in the fashion world: when you’re at a showroom the walls are usually white and you can use them to judge and when you’re shooting a runway you can use an article of white clothing to judge (you’ll almost always be  going towards blue as the lights in both showrooms and runways have a lot of yellow in them).  The important thing to remember about WB is that it’s a global color shift: if you shift towards blue to compensate for the yellow lights, then so too will your reds, greens, and magentas become more blue as well.  Above is the original RAW image from prior to the Ohne Titel show at NYFW11; below is the image after I adjusted the WB to Temp: 2730 and Tint: -4.  You can already notice a large shift in the “feel” of the picture.


Exposure: self-explanatory.  As I mentioned in the comments section of my “How to Shoot a Runway” post, you generally want to expose your RAW images at about +2/3 of a stop brighter than normal to pack as much information into the file as possible.  In Lightroom I generally use the Exposure tool to compensate for this slight overexposure and bring it down to around -.6, or, in the case below, to -.7.  This brings down the overexposed highlights a bit and also thickens up the shadows and blacks.  It’s not a huge difference, as you can see, but it will help a great deal as I move further down the workflow.

Recovery: the Recovery tool is a sort of last-ditch effort to recover blown out highlights.  If you can recover the highlight information by bringing down your Exposure to an amount you’re still happy with, this is always the first and best option.  Recovery should be used sparingly as it tends to makes the highlights look a little flatter when raised too high.  In the image above I have my Recovery set at +10, barely perceptible when viewing online.


Fill Light: a ridiculously powerful tool that you can use to “open up” the shadow areas of an image and bring out more information in those areas (this used to require like twelve layers in Photoshop).  One thing to be careful of is when you’re shooting at high ISOs: raising the Fill Light too high can bring out a significant amount of noise in the image.  Below is the image with Fill Light set at +32; notice how the darker areas on the left and right side of the image have become brighter and more visible and the image looks less contrasty as a result.



Blacks: Again, very powerful tool.  Raising your blacks will determine at what point you want information to start falling off into shadows or, as I mentioned in last week’s post, where the information begins to “clip.”  Raising your blacks will also give the image the appearance of greater overall color saturation.  Where your Blacks tool gets really great is when used in conjunction with your Fill Light tool.  Pump up your Fill Light to the mid-30s or, if you’re shooting at a lower ISO, even into the upper-40s.  This will allow you to raise your blacks significantly higher, thus giving you nice, dense, full shadows and much richer colors.  I do this on literally every single image I process.  Below is the image with my blacks at +21.

Brightness: Not exactly what it sounds like.  The Brightness tool will raise the luminance values (i.e. brightness) of only the midtones, so only your darks and your lights, but not your shadows or highlights.  I rarely touch this slider and when I do it’s only in very small increments.


Contrast: this slider will make your lights lighter and your darks darker as your raise it.  I tend to not go too crazy with this as I prefer to adjust the image’s contrast using the Tone Curve, which is the subject for next weeks post.  For this image I set the contrast to +38 (its default setting is +25, so it’s not a huge jump), as you see below (again, not too perceptible online).



Clarity: Clarity, or “edge contrast,” will seek out areas of the image where lights and darks meet and, at those meetings points, will make the lights lighter and darks darker.  It sounds small, but it can really add a lot of pop to your image.  I always set my Clarity slider to +15, on every single image unless I’m really looking for something different, because it’s easy to go overboard with this one.  Now pay attention, ladies, you’ll love this one.  Portraitists, instead of raising their clarity, often reduce it below zero and go into “negative clarity.”  This will reduce the appearance of wrinkles, make skin appear smoother and give the light a softer, glowier appearance.  Check out a Clarity setting of -40 on Anna Wintour below (she almost looks young again).


Vibrance: Vibrance will raise the saturation levels only of an image’s least saturated colors, not all of the colors in the image.  I find it’s more useful than Saturation (below) because it’s much gentler on skin tones.  Negative Vibrance can also give you a pretty cool look.


Saturation: Saturation will raise the saturation levels of all the colors in an image.  I rarely touch this one and when I do it is only in very small increments.  Below are two images comparing Vibrance and Saturation, both set at +47.

Vibrance at +47

Saturation at +47; note the sort of hyperness of the colors

So that was  long one.  Next week will be walk-through of the Tone Curve, which will be much more brief.  A lot of those images are sort of tough to read online, but play around with your own in Lightroom or CameraRAW to see it in action.

[Photos by Nando Alvarez]

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8 Responses

  1. lisa

    Great tips! Even if the software isn’t the same and one isn’t shooting in RAW, these are basic post-processing principles that would be useful for any blogger to know.