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RAW Processing for a Poppy High Contrast Look – Weekly Lightroom Edit Episode 1

Pin ItRAW Processing for a Poppy High Contrast Look - Weekly Lightroom Edit Episode 1

This is the written article for our Weekly Lightroom Edit – Episode 1 that was released on November 18, 2011 on SLR Lounge. To view this tutorial in video form, click here.

The nice thing about doing written tutorials is that I get to include a bit more explanation as to why we are going to do certain things. Without further adieu, let’s get started.

RAW Processing Software

RAW processing doesn’t mean that you are using any specific program. In fact, you can pretty much use any of the following software titles and get the exact same results.

Lightroom, ACR (Adobe Camera RAW), Bridge, Aperture, Capture One, ACDSee Pro, etc.

Each RAW processor will have virtually the same set of controls, with slight variations when it comes to the details. There are arguments as to which RAW processor creates the best conversion. Some of the elite professionals prefer Capture One because they feel it gives them better tone conversion. However, believe me when I say that each software is not without its strengths and weaknesses. The standard is probably Lightroom, and that is what we use in our studio as well. So, we are going to do this tutorial in Lightroom, however the same methods can be used to get the same results in any RAW conversion software.

Download the Exercise File

First thing, let’s download and take a look out our zeroed out RAW file. Download the exercise file by clicking here. (Note: This image is provided by Lin and Jirsa Photography for educational purposes for DPS and SLR Lounge users only)

Here is our zeroed out RAW file, meaning all default processing values have been reset.

RAW Processing for a Poppy High Contrast Look - Weekly Lightroom Edit Episode 1

Default Develop Settings

While the image was correctly exposed for the subjects skin, it appears very flat prior to any processing. Now, when you bring this file into Lightroom or any other RAW editing program, that program will apply default settings.

Lightrooms default settings are the following:

Blacks +5
Brightness +50
Contrast +25
Tone Curve – Point Curve: Medium Contrast
Sharpening Amount +25, Radius 1, Detail +25

These default settings get you to an image that should look like what you see below.


RAW Workflow Tips

While the image above looks much better, it is still just a starting point. So, let’s proceed in finishing the image.

Now, whenever I am teaching editing workshops or lecturing online, I always start by saying, “start with your largest adjustments first.” This means that if an image is heavily under exposed, don’t adjust the White Balance prior to adjusting the Exposure/Brightness. Why? Because making smaller changes prior to broader ones will waste your time. In the afformentioned situation, if you were to adjust White Balance prior to adjusting your Exposure, then you will have to readjust the White Balance once again once the proper exposure value is set as the tones will look different with a brighter Exposure setting.

So, this is the general workflow process I follow when editing RAW files.

1. Brightness/Exposure
2. Temperature/Tint
3. Recovery/Fill Light
4. Blacks/Contrast
5. Clarity
6. Vibrance/Saturation
7. Lens Corrections
8. Sharpening

While I may still make minor adjustments here and there, correcting in this order prevents me from having to constantly make major adjustments and redo work.

Starting with a Vision

Before starting our adjustments, I always have a vision of what type of style I think would look best for a particular image. Vintage, Black and White, Poppy High Contrast, Vibrant, etc. Editing an image without an idea of what you want it to look like is like getting on the road without knowing where you are going. So, as stated in this article, we are going to make this image pop, so we are going to produce it to be a nice vibrant high contrast image. Though it would work well as really anything you like.

Making the Adjustments

So, let’s start with Exposure/Brightness.

Brightness +80 – This image is already heavy in highlights. For that reason, I don’t want to adjust my Exposure up as it is highlight biased. So, instead I am going to bring Brightness up to +80 to brighten all of the image tones.

Temperature 4400/Tint -16 – The default Temperature as shot is 4650 with a Tint of -1. At this setting, I see too much red in my skin tones. While I like the warmth of the image, I don’t want to see so much red, particularly in the shadowy areas of the skin. So, what I am going to do is slide my Tint down towards the green side to -16. Afterwards, your image is going to be too green/yellow, so we need to then pull the Temperature down to adjust. This image was shot during sunset, and I love the warmth in the shot, so I don’t want to kill it by taking the Temperature too low. So I am going to leave the Temperature at 4400 to leave that nice moody warm tone in the image.

Recovery +25 – Recovery is great for balancing out and pulling back highlight tones. However, be extremely careful. One of the most common color correction mistakes is over using Recovery. When Recovery is over used it will not only flatten and kill image contrast, it can also cause posterization where you will see unnatural color graduations. Remember, in every poppy high contrast image you want to have some true blacks and some true whites. Use Recovery moderately to balance and reduce some of the strong highlights particularly on skin, but don’t over do it. For this image, +25 recovery is fine.

Fill Light – If Recovery is the brother of common color correction mistakes, then Fill Light is the sister. Fill Light is being used far too heavily these days to create faux-HDR style effects. Large amounts of Fill Light will not only make images look fake and surreal, it also kills image quality by pumping up noise in the shadows, as well as causing edge fringing. I typically use Fill Light in the range of 0 to +15. Rarely do I go higher.

Blacks +12/Contrast +35 – I always adjust Blacks and Contrast together starting with the Blacks. My goal with every high contrast image is to add blacks until I have some true shadows in the image, areas that are completely clipped. Not a lot mind you, but a little. I want to be careful to preserve hair detail, particularly with those that have dark brown or black hair as it will be the first to go. So, what I will typically do, is adjust my Blacks to this level, then if I still need additional contrast, I will add a small amount of Contrast as needed. Be careful with adding too much Contrast as it will only strengthen highlights and colors over skin tones which can really look unflattering. For this image, Blacks at +12 and Contrast at +35 gives me a nice pop without being overpowering.

Clarity + 20 – Clarity is great for increasing mid tone contrast which has a sort of “detail enhancing” type of effect. You want to be careful that you don’t take clarity up too high as it will cause edge fringing in high contrast areas, such as where the rocks meet the highlights of the horizon in this image.

Vibrance -10/Saturation 0 – Once again, these are two sliders I am always adjusting together starting with Vibrance and almost never touching Saturation. Vibrance is going to increase/decrease image saturation while attempting to preserve skin tones. Thus, it is much more subtle than its overpowering gorilla of a cousin Saturation. Saturation will adjust every color in the image equally. This makes it very easy to overuse. Generally, I use vibrance in the range of -20 to +20 while saturation I leave around – 5 to +5. For this image, I want to pull a little bit of the color out and just leave that nice warmth and tone. So I am going to take my Vibrance down to -10 and leave everything else.

We are done with our Basic corrections, the last thing I want to adjust is my Lens Vignetting prior to moving on to sharpening.

Lens Vignetting (NOT POST CROP) Amount +36/Midpoint 20 – I have two styles when it comes to vignetting. I either like to have a very subtle darkening vignette when edge and background details are distracting. By very subtle, I literally mean very subtle. I don’t like people to be able to see any vignetting, but rather just a slight darkening of colors. For this reason I use Lens Vignetting in the Lens Corrections panel as opposed to the Post Crop Vignetting in the Effects panel.

The second style of vignetting I use is a reverse vignette to brighten edges when I like the edge detail and I want the image to be bright from the center to the edge. For this image, either would work actually. But, I like the edge detail and the rocks, so I am going to choose to go with a reverse vignette and set my Amount to +36 and my Midpoint to 20 to pull in the edge brightening effect into the center of the image a bit more.

At this point, we are done with our basic corrections and you should have an image that looks like this.

RAW Processing for a Poppy High Contrast Look - Weekly Lightroom Edit Episode 1


Sharpening Amount 70, Radius 1.5, Detail 30 – From here, all we have left is to sharpen our image. I always get questions on what amount of sharpening is enough? Well, here is the rule of thumb. Take the image, and zoom into 100% by mouse clicking on the image in the workspace. Move over the faces so you can see the faces at 100% size. From here, adjust your sharpening until your edges are defined to your liking. I like my images slightly on the sharper side, so for this image I am going to take my sharpening Amount to 70 with a Radius of 1.5 and Detail of 30.

Now, you should see the final image below. We now have a nice sharp image that pops by simply making a few RAW corrections. Hope you all enjoyed! As always, let me know what you think below!

RAW Processing for a Poppy High Contrast Look - Weekly Lightroom Edit Episode 1

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Post Production Pye
Post Production Pye

I hate speaking of myself in the third person, haha. I am a Partner and professional photographer with Lin and Jirsa Los Angeles Wedding Photography, and the Senior Editor for SLR Lounge Photography Tutorials. I am passionate about photography as an art as well as my part as an educator in the industry. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel and feel free to hit me up with questions anytime on Facebook.

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