7-Part Series to Step Up Your Lightroom Game – Part 4: Advanced Color Correction


7-Part Series to Step Up Your Lightroom Game – Part 4: Advanced Color Correction with Dustin Lucas

Now that we’ve selected the best images, it’s time to jump into the Develop panel and start correcting color. With Color Correction, you want to work as efficiently as possible, so you aren’t spending two days getting through 800 images (or in this case, over 1,100). Navigating the Develop Panel and basic editing sliders is only half the battle. You’ve gotta use develop presets to globally apply style settings to all your images, then finesse the first image in the sequence to balance color, light and tonality. Lastly, you’ll want to select the rest of the images in the sequence and sync your settings. This is how you create consistency.

This may be 101 to some of you, but there are tips and tricks to editing faster as well as keeping things more consistent. The Total Match Exposure tool is a great way to automatically adjust multiple images to the exposure of one image based on the histogram. Along with this, by using the Reference View, you can edit one image and match it to the rest, viewing them side by side. Dialing color can be difficult when only using the White Balance sliders, so the Target Adjustment Tool for HSL becomes a massive game-changer.

Let’s get acquainted with the Develop Module first before we start with adjusting the slider.

Library & Develop Module

In the Library Module, we can choose the Attribute filter and select based on star ratings to remove the unselected images. There are a couple options for editing at this point. Since we’ve adjusted capture times appropriately, we can edit all the images together. This is more time-consuming, but it ensures a once-over consistency. Another option would be the Divide and Conquer method. There are many ways to divide or filter your images in Library; the most popular method is based on camera serial number. You can go as far as filtering by lens as well. For now, I will use the standard serial-number method. Then, I can choose the first image from each sequence and mark it with a red label. Do this for all camera serial numbers. Once you are finished, you will need to filter to only the 5-starred, red-labeled images to start editing in the Develop Module.

I move into the Develop module by striking the “d” key. Looking at the left-hand side, I am only interested in the History Panel. This is the only panel I have dropped down during my editing process. I also strike the “y” key to bring up my before-and-after preview mode. It helps to edit side-by-side with your SOOC to see how far to process it. Another great option is the Reference View to keep the first file in a sequence and match the others to it. We can circle back to this view mode later to explore its use. Presets are going to be the next step!

Presets, Presets, Presets

I cannot stress how much time I save using presets in Lightroom. You can create a preset easily by applying a few Develop slider adjustments like these here, then hold shift and command and strike the “n” key. This is a starting point for all my images—I will make little tweaks to exposure and white balance as I go through the catalog. This is how I am able to move through 1,100 images in less than three hours. I also apply additional corrective and creative presets to make editing fast and accurate—things like boosting the color in the sky with an HSL shift in blues, or desaturating the greens for outdoor portraits and applying Color Profiles for some cool effects.

If you purchase presets, it’s really simple to import them into Lightroom. Go to File in the top menu bar, and choose Import Develop Presets & Profiles. Keep in mind, this option will only allow you to import .xmp files as presets. If you have older .lrtemplate files to import, you will need to drag and drop the presets into the Lightroom icon in the dock. Then, relaunch Lightroom so it converts the preset to an .xmp file. This will now appear in the presets panel.

What makes editing really efficient is that I can apply presets in the Library module to all my images at once. I even make them for Lens corrections when I want to fix distortion but keep the vignettes, which requires you to apply per lens. Of course, this is very interpretive, but it’s something I like to control. The same goes for applying a Noise Reduction preset to all images over 1600 ISO.

Basic Panel

Adjusting develop sliders is rather simple to do—just hover the cursor over each slider and use the up and down arrows. Lightroom also has default hotkeys for editing—use the “,” and “.” keys to cycle between individual sliders in a panel. Increase the adjustment sliders with the “+” key and decrease them with the “-” key. If you hold down “option” and “+,” it will add half the adjustment value, and the same goes in reverse for the “-” key. From here, just toggle the right arrow to advance in the sequence. If you wish to see the before-and-after changes to an image, you can strike the “\” key.

I begin by dropping down the Basic menu and adjusting the Color Profile, as it’s the first option to choose. Adjusting your color profile is significant at this stage, especially if you have created a custom profile for your camera. If you purchased a third-party profile, you can install this the same way you did for the presets. You will, however, want to change from Adobe Color to something else. I can apply one of the DVLOP profiles and make adjustments to white balance, brightness, and tonality.

Then, it’s on to exposure to get the brightness on the skin balanced. You can’t do much else until the exposure is adjusted. From here, I will adjust the recovery sliders to dial in the tones. In the Tone Curve panel, you now have more flexibility, with a larger area for creating a custom Point Curve. Typically, you would utilize the Point Curve or Tone Region sliders to push the dynamic range, but you can also utilize pre-built Point Curves. After clicking linear in the drop-down box, you will notice the top two options: Medium and Strong Contrast. These provide a simple s-curve to enhance the tonality of the image. I choose to use this tool versus the contrast slider. One feature that would be very beneficial, though, would be the ability to hover over a pre-built curve and see it applied on the image.

Moving into the Presence section, this is all about creative preference. For proofs, I like to add a little punch: +10 Texture, +10 Clarity, +10 Vibrance, and -2 Saturation. Be careful with the closeups of the bride—clarity tends to not look great on skin. You can always run a quick adjustment brush and lightly soften the skin as well for the beauty portraits. The Details and Lens Correction panels are the only other ones I set adjustments for when Color Correcting. I leave the Sharpening at 40 and lift Noise Reduction Luminance to +9. Lens Correction is a bit more selective, as I only want to correct distortion and not the vignetting. Choosing the 24mm lens, I can enable default profile correction and then slide the vignetting slider back to zero. This corrects the distortion while keep the edges darker, which I prefer.

Syncing images can be a huge time-saving method. Select the custom-edited image first, and then select similarly shot images in a set. Strike shift+cmd+s, and choose the settings you wish to apply to the others. The images can then be fine-tuned; this just gives them a specific direction to shift toward. If syncing the images makes them worse, then it’s cmd+z to the rescue!

After the entire job is edited, I walk away from the computer for a bit to rest and reset my eyes. After returning to the catalog, I go to grid mode and proof the work. This is where Quick Develop settings can be applied to large sets of images that need global settings. Using the Shift key with the arrows allows only half the effect to be applied. For example, when you click the 1/3 exposure boost with Shift held down, it adjusts it +.17 instead of +.33, making it a 1/6 stop exposure increase. The same can be done with contrast, highlights, shadows, etc.

Editing Tips

Shooting in manual mode and controlling exposure compensation allows me to fix a single image in Develop, select the entire sequence, and then sync settings across all of them to maintain consistency. This is great if you shoot this way, and ideally you want to, but we all know priority shooting is popular and helps get the shots 90 percent of the time. Aperture priority is popular, as is shooting manual with auto ISO, and we know how images vary in the same light depending on exposure metering in camera. This brings Match Total Exposure into play to quickly dial in brightness.

Instead of blanketing the same slider exposure setting to multiple frames that are brighter and darker, the Match Total Exposure tool auto-adjusts based on the histogram. This is a really accurate tool when you are shooting the same composition and the lighting starts to change, causing variance in your exposures. This works particularly well for formal portraits, as well as window portraits where the sunlight shifts ever so slightly. In both of these cases, it helps keep my editing time down as I work image-to-image. In this next tip, let’s get dialed in with color.

Using the Target Adjustment Tool really makes removing color casts simple, and that’s exactly what I need. It’s easy to identify the blues in the dress and suit—we can hold Shift, Option, and Command, and strike the S key to open the Saturation tool. Once you click and drag down, the saturation is dropped in the sample’s color. Boom, this is too easy! Be aware that this is a slider tool, and it will affect these colors throughout the entire image, so watch for issues like blue suits turning dark grey. This is great for cooling down skin and reducing redness quite quickly; then, you can sync Color Adjustments across multiple images. I recommend adding this to the starting point if a bride is overly orange to start.

I typically find auto settings to be useless; however, they can be helpful for adjusting tint in mixed lighting. You can hold Shift and double click temp, tint, and even exposure to help get your image in the right direction when you are lost. To reset these and any sliders, just double-click them. Taking this a step further, you can create absolute density by doing this to the whites-and-blacks sliders. I like to do this for my black-and-white edits—convert them quickly by striking the “v” key, or just apply your favorite preset. Hotkeys are an essential part of Lightroom—learn them!

Using a combination of syncing settings and Match Total Exposure, you can create a truly powerful workflow for controlling consistency while letting Lightroom do the work.

The Results

Dialing in color doesn’t have to be as painstaking as it seems. Remember to start with a color profile that looks closest to how you want your images to look. Then the rest will fall in place in terms of controlling brightness, tonal recovery, and white balance. Presets can really tie everything together as a quick starting point to apply the style you want, and then you can finesse each image afterward. Making your way through image-by-image and adjusting the basic sliders will go quickly after you’ve edited your samples with the divide-and-conquer method.

You may already have color correction down to a science, and if so, that’s great. Still, if you take a few tips from here and save yourself an hour of editing, that will have been well worth the read on its own!

With Culling and Color Correction finished, now it’s time to push your creativity. Perfecting the best images from the day can be done quickly with the right workflow, and I will show you one that works well. More to follow on that in Part 5 of this series!

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