How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar

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For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it’s that time of year again. It’s cold, windy, snowy and very, very white. Winter wonderlands are the ideal things to shoot this time of year. When everything around you is frosted with snow and ice, even everyday things take on a magical feel.

When you step outdoors to shoot this winter, however, an icy fairytale landscape might not be exactly what you get. Here in Chicago if it’s not white, it’s pretty darn grey. That doesn’t make for very pretty pictures. Grey weather days look really blah in 2-D. Actually, even an amazing landscape filled with sparkling snow can make a surprisingly flat image. Let’s break down a few ways that you can process your winter images in Luminar to really make them pop.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Running horses

My final version of wild horses running through a white-out snowstorm in northern Nevada. I adjusted the black point to -20 by dragging the slider until the histogram just touched the left side. I also made a few more adjustments in Luminar, including boosting the Shadows, reducing the Highlights and enhancing Vibrance. Canon 7DII with 100-400mm II plus 1.4x III extender @ 560mm, f/8, 1/1000th, ISO 400.

Adjust Your Whites and Blacks

In Luminar, you adjust the White and Black points in the RAW Develop Filter (if you’re adjusting a JPG it’s just called “Develop”), or in the dedicated Whites/Blacks Filter. These adjustments are an important first step for images with snow. By shifting the Blacks and Whites, you maximize the range of light and dark tones in your image. That helps give white snow texture and depth.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - running horses raw image

The unprocessed RAW file of the above image. Compare it to the lead image and look at the difference just a few adjustments made.

Adjust your Whites so that your snow isn’t “blown out” (which means it won’t show any detail). Usually, you’ll need to drag the Whites slider to the left. The histogram should just be touching the right side. Now grab your Blacks and drag it so that the histogram just touches the left side.

Fine-Tune Your White Balance

The White Balance setting is also in the Develop Filter. To help add pop to your winter images, adjust the Temperature of your image to be either warmer (more yellow) or cooler (more blue). You can also make a separate adjustment to the Tint, adjusting it to reflect more green or magenta. Be forewarned though, Temperature and Tint adjustments get tricky when dealing with white snow.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Paint Pots

In this image of one of the paint pots at Yellowstone National Park, just after a light snow, I’ve adjusted the White Balance to a cooler/more blue Temperature of -5, and a more magenta Tint of +2. These very slight shifts, along with Contrast, Clarity and Vibrance adjustments make a big difference in this image’s feel. Canon 5DIV with 24-105mm II lens @ 24mm, f/10, 1/320th, ISO 1250.

Often, if you look at your favorite landscape and wildlife images, they have a warm, yellow glow to them. Warm colors tend to make us happy so we gravitate to them when we post-process. However, snow that is too yellow often looks wrong because we rarely have a full-on snowy landscape in bright, golden sun.

Be careful adjusting Tint too. Pink snow isn’t any more appealing or realistic than yellow snow. Ultimately though, these adjustments are up to you. Experiment to find a wintery look that’s right for your photography style.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar

Here’s the original RAW file of that same paint pot at Yellowstone National Park. You can see the original White Balance and the huge difference that simple change made to make the image above feel colder.

Boost Saturation for Eye-Catching Color

One exception to having vibrantly-colored snow is when an image has colored light reflecting from the sky. In the paint pots image above, you can see that the snow has a bit of a grey-blue cast. That looks natural to me because the snow would reflect the cast of the grey-blue sky.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Old Faithful

Old Faithful steaming away at dawn one very cold morning. In this final image, I’ve boosted the colors quite a bit. Saturation +30, Vibrance +20 and Contrast +20. Canon 5DIV with 24-105mm II lens @ 56mm, f/13, 1/125th, ISO 800.

Sometimes, cold wintery images aren’t as much about the snow, either. In this Old Faithful landscape, the story is the drama of the winter sky. My instinct was to amp up the blues in this image, and also the golden grass, to create a striking, complementary color scheme.

When you try this, play around with the color sliders a bit (Vibrance and Saturation are great starting points) and see what works best. Strong color can be gorgeous but doesn’t work for every winter image.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Old Faithful

Here’s the RAW, unprocessed file of Old Faithful. The original image is composed well and exposed properly, but very flat. Luminar does an excellent job bringing it to life.

Convert to Monochrome for Stark Drama

Sometimes winter scenes don’t lend themselves well to color images at all. This wild horse running on the snowy ridge in front of the mountain was spectacular in real life. The RAW file wasn’t much to look at though. See for yourself.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Wild Stallion

Wild horse running along the snowy ridge in northern Nevada. Canon 5DIII with 100-400mm II lens @ 255mm, f/5.6, 1/1000th, ISO 1000.

What is nice about the image is that the bay-colored horse makes an incredible silhouette against all that white snow. Monochrome tends to work well with silhouettes, especially when you boost the contrast.

With their cool grey and white tones, monochrome images can make bland winter images spectacular. Remember to give it a try if experimenting with the color options we discussed above doesn’t work for your image.

How to Make your Winter Images Pop with Luminar - Stallion Silhouette

Isn’t that an amazing change for the better? Look how that silhouette just pops out of the snowy mountain backdrop now.

Share your Winter Image Post-Processing Tips

These are my four favorite ways to make my winter images pop using Luminar. Bundle up, head on out to the great wintry outdoors, shoot a few frames and give them a try yourself.

And hey, share with the dPS community too. What are your favorite post-processing tips for editing gorgeous winter images?

Disclaimer: Macphun, soon to be Skylum, is a dPS advertising partner.

Read more from our Post Production category

Lara Joy Brynildssen is an avid equine, wildlife, nature and travel photographer. She is crazy about her two cats, loves her new Canon 5D Mark IV, and never refuses a sip of limoncello. Follow her at www.LaraJoy.us.

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