A Lightroom Post Production Walk Through: Venice

A Lightroom Post Production Walk Through: Venice

Venice. It is one of the most enchanting places in the world. There is an old-world charm to this city that endears you to it like no other destination you’ve traveled to.

I spent only 1.5 days in Venice, but took hundreds of photos there. When I came back and started my sorting and editing, it was very important to me to preserve that enchanting look and feel. The shadows and highlights were equally strong. The colors were vibrant and subtle all at the same time. And the textures were diverse and beautiful.

Editing to preserve a look and feel can be very challenging, and it does take time, effort, and care to accomplish. Rather than giving you “tips” to consider while editing your own photos in Adobe Lightroom, I thought it may be productive to walk you through my own process for this particular image – one of my favorites from Venice. Even though it was taken too dark, I do love the composition and storytelling quality. This is the picture I want to represent my take on Venice.


1. Exposure

Always adjust exposure first. Anything else you edit will change based on the exposure settings.


This image is way too dark, so I know it will take a bit to adjust correctly. I want to increase the exposure without losing color in my darks, so I finally settle on the following.

    a. Exposure – 1.25
    b. Blacks – 16
    c. Fill Light – 40

2. Detail Adjustments

I want to be sure to catch detail in the textures, so I’ll increase the recovery a bit. Recovery can tend to flatten the image, so I will also increase brightness and exposure to give a little more depth. I will also decrease the clarity to smooth the lines and add to the etherial feeling.


    a. Recovery – 31
    b. Brightness to pop: 45
    c. Contrast: 73
    d. Clarity: -16

3. Exposure Details

After making my detail adjustments, I find that I want to make a few more modifications to my exposure. To do this I navigate to Lightrooms Tone Curve.  I pull up the lights a hair more, and then lift the darks so that my colors aren’t muddy. I do like strong shadows though, so I bring these down significantly.


    a. Lights +2
    b. Darks +43
    c. Shadows -70

4. Colors

Venice has an old world charm, but it is also full of color. I want to reflect this in my picture. I start with the temperature and general colors first.


    a. Temperature: Cooling down to 5523
    b. Vibrance +40
    c. Saturation: +34

5. Split Toning

I like the strength of the color, but at this point the picture is too cold. I would like some additional warmth, but want to control this based on the highlights and shadows. For this, I play around with the split toning. This gives me the control to balance cool and warm tones.

5-StepSplit Toning-3919.jpg

    a. Highlights
        – Hue: 57
        – Saturation: 31
    b. Shadows
        – Hue:  55
        – Saturation: 0

6. Final Details

I know I am close to the final product. But I am still  finding too much or too little of some colors. I also want to adjust the quality and depth of the colors. So I will adjust these details in the Hue/Saturation/Luminance tabs.

    a. Luminance
        – Yellow+9
        – Green – 63
        – Blues +96
    b. Saturation
        – Orange+17
        – Green – 17

After about an hour of editing, I’m very pleased with this image. I believe it maintains the character and feel of Venice, but I’ve also allowed for some creativity as the artist.

The most important element to remember about editing is this: What is your purpose? You have thousands of editing options at your disposal. To sort them all out, you just need to determine what you want to achieve with the end results.

Read more from our Post Production category

Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography www.BrideInspired.com and leadership with www.RevMediaBlog.com.

Some Older Comments

  • Lisa January 31, 2013 10:46 am

    I'm new to Lightroom, so this was a very helpful post, especially since I just moved to France where it's often quite cloudy. I get a lot of photos like the original one here and it's nice to see someone else's idea of how to 'liven' it up.

  • Audra February 17, 2012 03:53 am

    I think the finished product is gorgeous. I think you said it best..."I believe it maintains the character and feel of Venice, but I’ve also allowed for some creativity as the artist." Lovely.

  • Helios Monocular January 25, 2012 05:20 pm


    Thanks for sharing this information.From that first step, I would simply adjust saturation and split toning and be done. There is no need to go nearly as far as you did with the colors/contrast. The second image looks much more “real”.

    And to address colin, editing a single photo really should not take an hour. Perhaps if you are specifically editing for a large print and there are very specific edits you want to do on parts of the photo, but if you go on a vacation to Venice, do you really want to spend an hour editing every photo? Granted you could copy and paste the settings for each place you were, but that is still a massive amount of time.very nice posting.

  • Nick van Vliet January 20, 2012 04:51 am

    This is seriously over-adjusted. The un-adjusted original is a far more atmospheric shot. The final image has become a noisy and (I hate to say it) rather cheap picture postcard.

  • marco January 18, 2012 02:57 am

    1 hour and the original looks better, in my personal opinion.....and ok the artistic point of view, I respect that but I am Italian and I've been to Venice several times and I think the color of the original are way more realistic and natural

  • rglaser January 14, 2012 09:55 pm

    Love the original; great mood and composition.

  • Mustgofaster January 13, 2012 03:51 pm

    Extremly effective method of communicating a complex objective while providing clarity each step of the way.

  • Paul Broderick January 13, 2012 07:29 am

    I have found out the hard way that over saturation can be a common occurance in Lightroom. Sometimes I do bacause I can, caught up in the technology of being able to do ...

  • John Zilavy January 13, 2012 06:14 am

    If you've got the basics of exposure then I think it's nearly impossible to take a bad photo in Venice. As for the article, to me the most interesting was the split toning step. I didn't know you could adjust this to enhance a photo with multiple colors. As for the rest of it, the more I photograph and process the less I reach for the saturation slider. Thanks for an enlightening piece.



  • Adel Mansour January 10, 2012 05:25 pm

    Thank you Christina, I learned a lot from your article about LR and how to use the tools and the affect of each one.
    Also to me processing is a journey to an artful end some times is long and some times is short but always enjoyable.
    Thanks again for an excellent teaching article.

  • Patrick Dinneen January 6, 2012 02:47 am

    very nice step by step tutorial- thanks.

  • Vic January 4, 2012 10:12 am

    I agree with comments from Chris and Ed. Images are subjective and Christina did what she wanted to please herself. I like stage 2 best although I would have masked the sky and it's reflection and added some colour as these parts look clipped. I like the old colour reversal look of the last image but don't like the blue boat on left, it arrests my eyes to this spot, again a mask and a tone down the blue colour would sort it out.

    We can all be critics and put our tuppence worth of comments of what we would to change but thats what forums are all about.

    Thanks to Christina for taking the trouble for showing us her work and sharing it with us.

  • Floyd January 4, 2012 03:13 am

    Thanks for outlining your process in Lightroom. Understanding your process and your vision is helpful in seeing the end results.

  • Craig Cacchioli January 3, 2012 12:07 am

    I think that this tutorial has certainly courted a lot of criticism, but for the photograph and not the actual learning process.

    Guy, I was taught that despite the often used phrase, the camera always lies...

    I think it is fair to say that most people have come to accept that images are often airbrushed to remove blemishes and that other tricks are used to enhance images. This has always been the way - even before digital. Hand processed prints would be dodged, burned, bleached and so on...

    Photography is not about what the camera sees unless you are a historic or forensic photographer. It is a creative process that allows you to embellish reality with your imagination.

  • guycates January 1, 2012 08:14 pm

    I like the orignal the best it is what the cannal looks like. The changes made make it what it is not. I was taught that what the camra sees is what it is. I guess a lot of photographers want to paint a different picture than what it is. Thanks for the walk through and happy painting.

  • Jason December 29, 2011 10:17 pm

    I have to agree with some others and my own personal taste, but the final image looks way too over-processed. It looks something like an app from an Iphone camera would produce.

  • passerby December 28, 2011 01:02 pm

    I have to agree with "darren bosnjak". I personally find that whatever people "like" in terms of the style of photos after editing through this tutorial is completely unnecessary and irrelevant in regards to this article.

    I do not believe those that claimed to have read the article truly "read" it but only chose to look at the pictures and provide "feedback" on a tutorial! Do you go to someone who is teaching you something how they should teach you? No. It's the same as this article. The author is merely showing the reader the different things one can do with Lightroom. The final product may or may not be the author's final work. If it is, so be it, each to their own. I find each of the effects from the different steps give the photo a whole different style and look.

    If the person wants to spend an hour on a photo so be it. If you want to spend 3-5 mins on a photo, so be it. There is no right or wrong, just personal preference and also depending on how much experience you have with the camera and/or post-processing.

    I went into this article wanting to know what Lightroom can do (because I am considering owning it) and it has answered my questions. I am not here to see if the author has "done a good job" with post-processing. And I sure would have hoped for more valuable comments in regards to what more Lightroom can do besides what have been mentioned in the article.

    Unfortunately all I see are from those that feel the need to critique on the process (which has nothing to do with the article) and not on the software (which is what the article is about).

    (Note how many times I have emphasized on what this article is about.)

  • karl H December 28, 2011 06:11 am

    Good workflow instruction. I like the finished results. First image after some exposure adjustments is fine, but very much a 'tourist' photo. The photographer had an artistic vision for how the photo should look, and took us through steps in LR to achieve that goal

  • June December 28, 2011 02:02 am

    I very much appreciate the tutorial and artistic skill, but also like the original photo or the first edit (or somewhere in between) best.

    If it were my photo and editing, I wouldn't count the feedback here as insulting... on the contrary, I would consider it very flattering that my photo (with minimal editing) was this good. I think that's what everyone (including me) is saying.

    It's an awesome photo without so much editing. But if I saw only the end result, I'd still think it was stunning.

    It's also more interesting to follow a great photo through the editing process than a lousy one. So good choice for the tutorial!

  • Patrick December 27, 2011 06:31 pm

    Thank you Christina for describing the actions you took to achieve the desired result and your view on Venice. Amber, I also like to thank you for giving a different view or impression of the same area.
    I think this clearly shows the subjective understanding and vision each one of us has when taking a shot and seeing a scene.
    Since I have not been to Venice myswelf yez, I start wondering what I may see in that particular area. So once again, thank you both for your views and in Christina's case the great explanation on how she got to the result....truly appreciated.

  • dave December 25, 2011 05:25 pm

    A hour? Long time to spend on one image. I think sometimes beginners (like myself) read this and are excited to learn something about Lightroom then get extremely intimidated because it seems so complex. i have been playing with and using LR 3 for 6 months now and I think have figured out enough to make my RAW pics look better than straight out of camera. I also think the image does look a bit overprocessed but again, I'm a beginner. Also, if I were trying to achieve a look similiar to your final product than I bet I could have gotten close with a preset. just a thought. Merry Christmas

  • Amber Olsen December 25, 2011 04:12 am

    I had the opportunity to visit Venice for about 8 hours during my stay in Italy in 2009. I captured this same location and processed it myself. Here is my end result: http://500px.com/photo/1278877

    I was actually walking through and only got two shots of this area, and was very fortunate that I got a decent capture. Mine is quite processed, but that is the feel I wanted.

    This: http://500px.com/photo/1278887 was also the last image I was able to capture with camera before my one and only battery died. I had no tripod and simply took it while resting on the edge of the bridge surrounded by bumbling tourists!

  • Ed December 25, 2011 03:02 am

    Thanks for sharing your particular workflow on this picture.
    When it comes to editing pictures of any sort, regardless of software used,
    I do believe editing any pictures by an individual is a "personal preference " --
    one can take one picture and edit for many different end results making a picture look not only
    different but to create many different moods and also many different responses
    from people -- some times it depends on the wishes of the client and sometimes the
    editor/photographer has freedom of editorial privilege... best wishes.

  • steve December 24, 2011 10:24 am

    It's a great photo. I do not believe that you have to spend more than 10 minutes to get the desired result, LR is so user friendly.
    good job, I'd rather spend that hour out shooting more great photos:)

    Keep up the good work.

  • question December 24, 2011 06:28 am

    I still would like the author (Christina) to explain if it was a raw or jpg contrast setting?

    Otherwise I think both are nice, the first one is a real one, and the last, well it's more artistic.

  • John December 24, 2011 12:37 am

    While I appreciate the information that was given to achieve the results shown ..
    It seems as if the image has gone with something that is real to a garish representation.
    There is nothing really wrong with the original image, The end result seems as if it is almost "cartoonish" or printed by a really Bad off set printer.
    Thank you for taking the time to document your process though.

  • Stefano December 24, 2011 12:04 am

    Venice is a very unique city.
    I was recently there and took some photos.

    This is Carnival 2011

    and this is a normal day in September

    I hope you like them.

  • Chris December 23, 2011 09:42 pm

    I agree with many of the above... The second picture (step 1) looks best... from there on out, things become... less optimal... And much weirder looking... Though the composition is nice, I really don't like losing shadow detail... And the reduction in clarity really helped nothing in this picture at all... Nor do I really understand the rationale for reducing the clarity... The final image has very little midtone information... Looks almost like it was shot with a very low DR camera, or maybe old slide film...

  • raghavendra December 23, 2011 08:20 pm

    this is an interesting article
    but something is missing


  • Craig Cacchioli December 23, 2011 07:41 pm

    Dan makes a good point about the RAW/JPEG defaults and it would be interesting to know, but my guess is that this is RAW (i.e. 50 brightness minus 5) looking at the marginal change in brightness, but I could be wrong.

    If this were a collection of images or if we knew what the objective was then we could be forgiven for saying that the shadows are too murky. Christina probably wasn't aiming for a "real" look to go to this much trouble so perhaps we should put this down to artistic licence? I think that it could go a touch softer to give it a more ethereal look...

    It's perhaps also worth noting that when split-toning that there is no effect if you have the saturation value at 0, so probably not much point giving the values for the shadow, or at least explain that you are only changing the highlights Christina.

    To spend an hour on an image seems a lot to some people and a comfort to others. I imagine that those who think it is long time have either spent a lot of time using Lightroom or prefer more natural or minimal processing. For those that feel it is about right, there is no right or wrong amount of time so long as you can afford to spend the time doing it. Personally, I love playing with all the sliders because it can be fun to create new effects and making new presets.

    I do think that you should go back to what you started with and ask yourself "Is that too much? Have I achieved what I set out to do?".

  • Darren Bosnjak December 23, 2011 06:57 pm

    Wow people....really?? Most of the replies here were bordering upon being insulting. I believe it was a post on Christina's Lightroom process and not an invitation to critique her work.
    I often wonder if it is a habit of photographers to pick artwork apart. I mean if you should be lucky enough to view the Mona Lisa do you admire the elegance and beauty of the artists vision or do you state out loud "It's ok but I would have given her more of a smile." If you happen to read a great poem do you appreciate its elegance but think the poet used too many words?
    Photography is an art. and everybody's view should be different. It would be an extremely boring world otherwise. Learn to appreciate those differences.
    Thank you Christina for your tutorial and I greatly appreciate your vision.

  • Richard Gunther December 23, 2011 01:30 pm

    I spent two days in Venice at the end of November this year. The sky was clear and bright. The lighting that I actually saw in the smaller canals is much closer to the lighting in the original exposure than what is shown in the final result.I

  • Richard Gunther December 23, 2011 01:25 pm

    I spent two days in Venice in late November. The real lighting that I saw at the time that I was there is much closer to the original capture than what it is in the finished shot.

  • Derek December 23, 2011 01:19 pm

    Very nice walk through. It's great to learn the various techniques that different people use in Lightroom. Also I am very glad that you shared the fact that it took one hour to edit the photo. I find that I tend to rush when I am editing, but now knowing the time that you put into this, I will try spending more time on each photo and see how they turn out. Great article!

  • Peter December 23, 2011 12:45 pm

    To me it looks like bad HDR and it only took an hour to achieve the result?

  • TimeLord December 23, 2011 11:20 am

    I am sorry, I mean no disrespect, but I agree with Aaron and James - the final shot is overcooked and over processed.

    In this particular case I would have stopped after step 1 (Exposure) ... maaaaaybe step 2 (Detail Adjustments).

  • g richard anderson December 23, 2011 10:34 am

    A beautiful job, Christina! So simple the walk through. Most of these (not all) are adjustments that already I'm making, but it is nice to see the importance of the order... and to learn a couple of new things to try out!

  • Alexander Rose December 23, 2011 09:37 am

    Living in Vienna, Austria, I am in Venice at least every other year since it's really close.
    Personally, I like the picture best after step 3.
    But of course, it's all a matter of taste.

  • Roger December 23, 2011 08:38 am

    Photography is a very subjective art.
    You are a far more experienced photographer than am I.
    I have very little experience with photo-editing programs, although in time I expect to gain some.
    I took a hiatus from photography in the analog age and have only just returned
    AND, I have not yet been to Venice, though I hope to eventually.
    But, I think that your original photograph was fabulous without editing. I just love the mood of it.

  • Fonk December 23, 2011 08:08 am

    I agree that the original actually looks better, is a fine picture as it is. I maybe would have added the tiniest bit of fill light, then been done with it. That's personal taste, though. The tips you give are still useful, as it's ultimately up the the individual photographer exactly how they apply the techniques and to what images. Thanks for the tutorial.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck December 23, 2011 06:20 am


    Great walk through with Lightroom! This will help with my post work quite a bit. We visited Rome a while back and shot a bit of HDR and used Nikon's NX2 in Post. It also has many of the features that are employed in Lightroom. We now use both.

    Here is a an example: http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/01/08/honey-build-me-a-temple-rome/

  • Dan December 23, 2011 04:41 am

    I was curious to know if this is a RAW file you are editing. Since Lightroom adds default values to contrast, brightness, blacks, etc, your adjustment values would be different than they would be if they were jpeg. Example: Brightness for RAW defaults to 50, so did you actually reduce brightness to 45?.....or add 45 to the default value of 50 to equal 95? Thank you for the tutorial and clarification.

  • sam levy December 23, 2011 04:03 am

    Christina, thanks for the walk through, like Colin, I felt that you were flying through the settings and when I read that you spent an hour I couldn't help but think: how would I do that with my pictures... I often try to limit the number of pictures I keep from a trip but even if we are talking about 5 or 10 - we are then thinking 1 full day of editing.
    This is a personal opinion only now but I feel that unless you are preparing for an exhibit or so, you should not spend more than 1-2 or say 5 minutes on post-processing. By spending 1 hour on it, i feel that you are loosing sight (pun not intended) with the original, and it might cause you not to see that you are loosing details or putting too much contrast (which is what Aaron and James commented about) - you end up modifying too strong and not realizing it.
    That being said there is a clear improvement between your original and the final product and you get your point across which is lightroom is a very complete tool to edit your pictures once you master it.
    Thanks for the post!

  • Mike December 23, 2011 03:57 am

    You may not like the look she was going for but in if you do like the effect than this photograph turned out well in my opinion.

    As for shots shouldn't take an hour to adjust, for the most part that is true. However, there are shots that you have a vision for where quick adjustments will not make the vision a reality. In those cases it can take a long time of making tweaks here and there to really make what you see in your head come alive. Am I going to spend that kind of time on every picture I take on vacation? No, but I might spend that time on 1 or 2 that I think can really be something special.

  • James December 23, 2011 03:07 am

    I have to agree with Aaron i think the final shot is over processed.

  • Aaron December 23, 2011 02:55 am

    Not trying to offend, as this is all personal taste, but the final result looks WAY overcooked. If you look at your first set of adjustments, when you brought the exposure up, there is FAR more detail in the shadows that you are losing as you go along.

    From that first step, I would simply adjust saturation and split toning and be done. There is no need to go nearly as far as you did with the colors/contrast. The second image looks much more "real".

    And to address colin, editing a single photo really should not take an hour. Perhaps if you are specifically editing for a large print and there are very specific edits you want to do on parts of the photo, but if you go on a vacation to Venice, do you really want to spend an hour editing every photo? Granted you could copy and paste the settings for each place you were, but that is still a massive amount of time.

  • Colin December 23, 2011 01:24 am

    What I love about this walkthrough is the phrase "after about an hour of editing". When I read through walkthroughs like this one it feels like the author has whizzed off the adjustments in a matter of minutes. To know it has taken an hour to get it right is comforting!

  • Russ December 23, 2011 12:53 am

    Thanks for the instruction but the original looks great as it is...