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One key to a successful photograph is that it directs the viewer’s attention towards the subject in question. There are many ways that this can be achieved through composition and lightning in the field, but did you know, you can also direct the attention of your viewer’s eyes through post-production?
You still need an interesting subject for this to work, as directing your viewer’s eyes to a boring location within a frame is still going to result in a boring photograph. For the sake of this tutorial I’ll be using this photograph of an abandoned utility truck, but you could use anything from an interesting tree, to a model, to your pet, and achieve similar results.
Before we can work on drawing the attention of the viewer this photograph needs a bit of life pumped back into it. Having shot this photograph into the sun, the foreground and front of the truck are going to require some basic recovery techniques. I’ll be using the Basic Tab in Lightroom 5 to recover the detail and add some interest to the shot.
Shooting into the sun can be tricky as it often will cause your sky to turn white. Reducing the highlights slider will help to counteract this. It does so by targeting the brightest areas of your photograph without effecting the overall white point of the image. The shadows slider has a similar effect on the darker areas of the image, allowing detail to be brought out in the grill of the truck and along some of the trees.
One of the problems with the highlights and shadow recovery technique above is that it often will reduce the contrast of the image and create a sort of muddled and dull look. To counteract this you can use the whites and blacks sliders to effectively set your white and black points, as well as bring a bit of contrast back into the image. This allows you to have a bit more control over the contrast of your image as opposed to the more global Contrast slider adjustment.
Do this by dragging your White slider to the right until your histogram touches the right edge of the graph. Make sure not to go too far and clip any highlights. Holding down the Alt (Option) key while you drag the slider will show any areas that are clipped – so drag to the right until you see some, then bring it back to the left just until they are no longer visible. Do the same with the Blacks slider by pulling it to the left. The Alt (Option) key works with this one too, but in the case of Blacks you actually do want a little clipping. Having a good black in your image will add that contrast you’re looking for.
Now that the highlights, shadows, whites and blacks are set – a quick bump up on the exposure slider will even out the rest of the scene and get us close to something we’re ready to work on.
For this particular shot I wanted to add a bit more saturation to the trees and the floor of the forest. It’s going to depend on the shot that you’re working on, and the look that you are trying to achieve, as to whether this step is necessary. But it doesn’t hurt to play around with it before you move on to the next steps.
For more on Lightroom’s Basic Tab read: Master These Five Lightroom Sliders and Your Photos Will Pop
While the truck itself is a strong subject, and one that does capture the viewer’s attention on its own, there are a few tools that Lightroom has to offer which will allow for even more attention grabbing goodness.
The crop tool allows you to have more control over the positioning of your subjects within the frame. In this shot the truck was a bit too centred and there was a little too much dead space in the forest so by cropping in a bit closer the shot becomes a bit more balanced, allowing the viewer’s eyes to stay focused on the truck.
By adding a graduated filter to the bottom right of the image more detail can be recovered from the front of the truck without effecting the rest of the exposure. This allows for a more compelling focal point for the viewer to rest their eyes on. When you go about placing graduated filters in your own images be sure to think about how it’s effecting the overall light of the scene and ask yourself if it looks natural.
Getting creative with graduated filters can allow you to have some really interesting results read 4 Fun Tricks to Enhance Your Photos With Lightroom’s Graduated Filter Tool for more creative uses of the graduated filter tool.
The radial filter allows for a subtle vignette to be added to the image which helps to keep the viewer’s eye within the frame. It also has the added benefit of darkening the sky, without darkening the truck, allowing for deeper blues to come through. After I was happy with this first radial filter I dropped in a second one to increase the brightness and detail of the grill of the truck. To do this the radial filter was inverted and the exposure and clarity sliders were increased.
Once you’ve gone through all the work of drawing attention to a particular area of a photograph you’ll want to go through with Lightroom’s clone/healing tool and remove anything that competes for that attention. Adobe has greatly improved this tool in Lightroom 5 allowing you to drag paths, making it possible to remove distracting branches with ease.
With a few quick adjustments in the basic tab, a simple crop, and a few of Lightroom’s filters – this utility truck really grabs the attention and is a vast improvement over the original straight out of camera shot. Go try this workflow for yourself and share your own before and after in the comments below!
For those who prefer to sit back and watch – here’s a quick video of the edit above.