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How to Process Flash Photography Images Using Lightroom Classic

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In this portrait photography post-production tutorial, I'm going to show you how I post-produce my images in Adobe Lightroom.

I've been using Lightroom since version 1, many, many years ago. Back then, Lightroom didn't do a whole lot, so I did most of my post-production work in Photoshop. But every new release of Lightroom has added new features that have allowed me to spend less and less time in Photoshop. I now spend about 95% of my processing time in Lightroom, and I almost never open Photoshop anymore.

These two tools in particular are useful for editing flash photos:

  • the Graduated Filter
  • the Radial Filter

Let's get started and see how this works in real life. I've selected a few photos from a previous lesson in the Intermediate Flash Photography course. In this tutorial, I'm going to be using these photos to show you how I edit a photo in Lightroom.

photos to be editedphotos to be editedphotos to be edited

The first thing that I want to do is to Crop the photo. I don't like the head space in this image, so I'm going to crop in a little bit closer. 

cropping in lightroomcropping in lightroomcropping in lightroom

Next, I want to make Global Edits, or, edits that affect the whole photo. I'm pretty happy with this photo, but I want to make it just a little bit brighter. Let's bring up the exposure a bit until it looks good.

increase exposure in lightroomincrease exposure in lightroomincrease exposure in lightroom

That looks great. Now, I also think the image is a little bit pink, so I'm going to adjust the Tint down just a little bit.

Now I can turn my attention to Local Adjustments, which are adjustments that don't affect the whole image.

As you make these adjustments, you should consciously think about how you could have avoided making that adjustment by making a change during the actual shoot. This turns your post-processing time into not only a time to fix and enhance images, but also a time to learn better photography.

With that in mind, I think this photo needed some fill light on the left side, and I can take this as a lesson. So the next time that I have to take a photo like this, I'll know that I want to add a little bit of fill light. I think the shadows are a little too dark, so this is where the Graduated Filter comes in. I'm going to drag the graduated filter from the dark side of the photo, across our subject's face.

using the Graduated Filter in lightroomusing the Graduated Filter in lightroomusing the Graduated Filter in lightroom

The way the filter works is that on one side of the filter line, Lightroom applies the adjustment that you decide on, and on the other side of the line, Lightroom applies nothing. The space between the lines is the soft transition between the adjustment side and the non-adjustment side. Play around and move the filter to the correct position. I usually start with a pretty strong adjustment so that I can see it better, and then I go back and dial it down to make the effect more subtle.

Now we move on to the most important part of any portrait, which is getting the eyes just right. You can mess up a lot of other things, but as long as you get the eyes right, you can have a great portrait.

In this image, I think the eyes are pretty good, but I'd like them to be a little bit brighter. I'm going to use the Radial Filter to make this adjustment. The radial filter works just like the graduated filter, except that instead of a straight line, it's an oval shape.

I'm going to start by dragging out a radial filter over the subject's left eye. The filter will start by doing the opposite of what I want it to do, so what I want to do is Invert the Mask.

invert the mask

Now I just want to adjust the size and placement of the mask. If you hold down the H key, this will hide the interface so that you can see what you're doing a bit better. Once again, I start with a strong adjustment so I can see what it's doing, and then I back it off to make it look natural.

adjust the size and placement of the maskadjust the size and placement of the maskadjust the size and placement of the mask

And once that eye is done, you can right-click the filter, Duplicate it for the other eye, and then just move it over.

duplicate the filter for the other eyeduplicate the filter for the other eyeduplicate the filter for the other eye

To add just a bit more pop to the eyes, I like to use an Adjustment Brush to add some clarity. Make sure you do not go overboard with this as anything beyond subtle can look really unnatural.

use an Adjustment Brush to add some clarityuse an Adjustment Brush to add some clarityuse an Adjustment Brush to add some clarity

At this point, I think the image looks great, and I would be happy to put this out in the world as one of my photos. But, if I'm feeling artsy, I might use one of my Develop Presets to add a little bit of feeling to the image. Here's one I think I like best. 

using Develop Presetsusing Develop Presetsusing Develop Presets

And now it's done! Let's see how it compares with the original. Here's the before and after:

before and after:before and after:before and after:
Left: Before — Right: After

I think the image looks better, and I think we've done a great job of creating a compelling image.

Let's move on to the next photo.

new photo to editnew photo to editnew photo to edit

For this photo, I'm going to go through pretty much the same process. Let's start by cropping.

start by croppingstart by croppingstart by cropping

Now let's adjust the exposure.

adjust the exposure.adjust the exposure.adjust the exposure.

And now the white balance.

adjust the white balance.adjust the white balance.adjust the white balance.

Now, I'm going to move into local adjustments, starting with the gradient tool.

gradient tool.gradient tool.gradient tool.

And then moving on to the eyes, with an adjustment brush.

adjustment brush on the eyesadjustment brush on the eyesadjustment brush on the eyes

Just like that, I think the image is ready to go!

For our last image, I've already got the work done on it, but I wanted to show you a common issue that I have when using off-camera flash. I love to get my lights very close to my subject, and sometimes that means I get little pieces of the umbrella in my shot.

piece of the umbrella in a shot.piece of the umbrella in a shot.piece of the umbrella in a shot.

You can see this umbrella in the upper right corner. I also shot off my background a little bit in the back. In the past, this would have been a time for me to open up Photoshop, but now, I can just fix it in Lightroom. Obviously, the easy fix would be to just crop the photo in like this:

crop the photocrop the photocrop the photo

And honestly, I love this crop. So I'd probably be done at this point, but for the sake of learning, let's just grab the Spot Removal Tool and paint over the umbrella in the corner. You want to make sure that you paint over the entire thing with the inner circle of your brush.

using the Spot Removal Toolusing the Spot Removal Toolusing the Spot Removal Tool

And just like that, the umbrella is gone! Now we can do the same thing to extend the background all the way to the edge of the photo.

extend the background all the way to the edge of the photo.extend the background all the way to the edge of the photo.extend the background all the way to the edge of the photo.

And that's pretty much it for this photo, except that I think it would look great in black and white. I'm going to use my low-contrast black-and-white preset for that.

 low-contrast black-and-white preset  low-contrast black-and-white preset  low-contrast black-and-white preset

I love it! And I think we're all done with this portrait photography post-production tutorial. That's the process for most of the flash photos that I take. We are so lucky to be photographers in a time when it's so easy to manipulate images and get them just the way you want them.

Just remember that the better an image is to begin with, the better it will be after it's processed. So don't use these tools as an excuse to be lazy with your camera. Use them as tools to learn how to be better with your camera.

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