Last fall when Lightroom had its major update, it seemed to have made a few people nervous with all the talk about Masking because that term is most often associated with Photoshop with its layers and confusing interactions. Hopefully by now those folks have realized it’s not that different, just maybe more complex. Other than some additional functions for more targeted adjustments and a layout change, the tools you’ve been using all along are still there and they still work the same way – Linear Gradient, Radial Gradient & the Brush. They are just way more controllable than they were before.
That’s the thing to remember about how masks work – they control where an adjustment goes.
You don’t have to use the enhancements until you’re ready. With that in mind, I tackled this shot of a foggy forest track using only Lightroom except for a little bit at the end. Here is a before and after example of how I changed the mood and improved this image.
And here’s the unprocessed image I started with.
Although there isn’t a huge, dramatic change, many small adjustments made this image sing –
- Changed to Camera Scenery to Adobe Color Profile because the saturation was too heavy, then hit Auto Settings to start
- Adjusted whites, shadows, vibrance and exposure
- Added a Linear Gradient in upper corners and decreased Dehaze to amplify fog
- Crop to eliminate small tree on the right and balance the two groups of trees closest to me
- +7 Texture
- HSL Panel to work Orange and Yellow color sliders for better Luminance and Saturation – I took the orange down a little so it wouldn’t overwhelm, took the yellow up a little so it would glow softly
- Added a very gentle S-curve in the Tone Curve panel
- Warmed white balance slightly to 6000K (some fog photos look better with bluish fog, but I didn’t feel that was right here and went for a warmer look)
- Added a Radial Gradient at the very back of the image – increased exposure slightly, reduced dehaze for a more foggy look and warmed the white balance a little more. I often do this with trail shots or river and stream shots to pull your eye to the very back of the image and make you want to step right into it. I find warming the area has an inviting effect.
- Used a brush on the far edges of the shot with some lower dehaze to make it foggier
- Used another brush – a bit bigger and fuller to darken the edges of the track near the trees, this creates a slightly lighter path within the path and also helps lead the eye through the scene.
- Slight lens correction to manage a little distortion – constrained crop
- Added a Linear Gradient to lowest right corner, used Subtract and a brush to keep the center of the path brighter
- Revisited Tone Curve panel to raise mid-tones just a little bit – this improves the foggy atmosphere and adds a little lift to the overall luminosity – muddy mids are the death of an image to me
- Details panel for Sharpening with a fairly tight edge mask and a touch of Noise Reduction
- Pulled overall exposure down very slightly
- Spot Cloning for patch of bright sky breaking through the branches in the upper left – didn’t like the results in Lightroom so used Edit in Photoshop to use the Healing Brush there – Saved back to Lightroom.
Now in Lightroom when you make a local adjustment using the new Mask panel, a list of each mask or adjustment appears when you open the tool panel. Instead of clicking New under each tool like the Linear Gradient, you can choose from any of the tools by selecting Add Mask. Each mask can be labeled according to what you did so that you can easily switch between them for further refinement. As you refine them by using the Add or Subtract or Intersect options, those adjustments appear under the main mask label. Here’s a look at some of the Local Adjustments described above as they appear in the Mask Panel.
Here they are side-by-side –
Although I’m no expert, I approach my editing by remembering what stopped me in the first place – why I decided to take that particular photo. What drew me and what I’d like others to see or understand about the subject. That’s where I begin and it usually involves Global Adjustments and moves to Local. Bringing out the natural attributes is only one approach. Another is how I want the viewer to move through the image. Which areas are emphasized and which are minimized. Balance and realism need to be there, but the artistic intent also has to come though. I want my work to look decisive, not accidental if that makes sense.
So better late than never with this post. It got stuck in the drafts file for too long.