Find my new tutorial about Luminosity Masks with Photoshop here.
The tutorial below applies mostly just to images from my Stock Photo Archive. 80-90% of all images which are released for print as Limited Editions are processed using luminosity masks in Photoshop, which gives me more creative control and power and just Lightroom.
Landscape Photography Workflow with Lightroom 4
Those of you who have been following me for a while, now quite well, that I have gone through months of testing of various post-processing tools. My main goal is to spend more time on the road shooting various locations with my limited time and reduce the amount of post processing I have to do. Over the recent years, I have realized that taking more photos also results in more really good photos and over-processing is simply not my style of photography. I prefer to keep the location as it is. I mainly use Adobe Lightroom 4 for all my post-processing needs to keep the image authentic and realistic. This short tutorial will focus on the my workflow within Lightroom 4 as a landscape and nature photographer. Your’s might be different and that’s perfectly fine. I’d be interested in reading your experiences as well.
1. Getting back from a shoot
I hope you don’t mind that I skip the whole part of location scouting, equipment, composition, etc. This I have already covered partially in another tutorial. Ok, so you come back home with a number of memory cards that are loaded with photos. How do you move from here? First off all, I recommend you use the existing SD card slot on your computer or a SD/CF card reader, as the import process will be much faster and doesn’t drain you camera battery. I personally use a 21.5″ iMac, which comes with a SD card slot on the side of the screen and works very well for me.
2. Import Process
Insert the card in the card reader / SD card slot. If Lightroom is your default photo application, it will open automatically. If it doesn’t, open it manually :). Go to “File –> Import Photos/Videos”. I always “Copy” the images. I do not “Move”, “Add” or “Copy as DNG”, simply because I see no reason in doing so :). My personal settings for imports are the following:
2.1 File Handling: a) Check on “Don’t import duplicates” (kinda self-explanatory)
b) Second Copies: This is great for direct backup of your photos. In case anything goes wrong during the import process. If have an external harddrive, I’d recommend backing up the imported photos. You can delete them later, after you have backed-up your Lightroom Library to another external harddrive.
2.2 File Renaming: I use custom settings here, to help me find images faster when needed. The file will be renamed to the exact date and time (hour, minute, second) is was taken, but leave the extension as it is. In my case (Nikon guy ;)), that’s NEF.
2.3 Apply During Import: If you have preset, you really like and want to apply to all photos, choose it here. It saves a tremendous amount of time later. Same goes for the Copyright. I don’t apply any other settings to the image as most of my processing is targeted at very specific areas of the image using luminosity masking techniques.
2.4 All other things are standard settings. Lightroom does a great job in putting your images in the right place.
3. Finding those Keepers
After the import process has finished, I go to the main library and the folder, I imported those photos into. Alternatively, you can also choose the “Recently Imported” from the top. Either way is fine.
To figure out, which ones I keep and which I don’t need, I go through all images one-by-one. This is probably the worst part of the process, especially if you come back from a vacation or a long shoot with thousands of photos. Anyways, it well help you later – believe me ;). What has worked well for me personally is to rate the image accordingly. Really good ones, or those that have the potential to be really good, get a rating of 4 or 5 stars. Those that I want to keep, but I know will never be published (merely for reference later), will become a rating between 1 and 3 stars. The really bad ones and those that are not 100% sharp, out of focus, bad composition or I know, I will never have a need for,
are marked as “Rejected”. To do so, you simple have to press the “X” on your keyboard and the images will get this little black flag at the top left hand corner of the preview. To rate the other images between 1 – 5 stars, simply press the number on your keyboard and the rating will be applied. These little short-cuts help to speed up the process with a large number of photos.
I personally like to keep Lightroom clean and light. Therefore, I always filter and delete all rejected images directly after I have finished the rating process. To double check that I have delete all rejected images, I have created a smart folder, which contains all rejected images. This should be empty after I have deleted all rejected images :). Please note, that you cannot delete from the smart folders. You have to do this through your library!
All other images will move according to their rating in other smart folders with 3, 4 or 5 star rating. I usually start processing the 5 star images first and then move backwards.
How you rate your images is up to you. It is you art. Let know one tell you how to rate your photos. If you like it, rate it 5! Don’t always listen to what others tell you…well, sometimes you should and some people might need to hear that ;).
4. Make them look pretty
Here’s is where everybody expects the magic formula :). Have you actually read the first steps of the process ;)? If not nevermind – there is no magic formular. It is up to your creativity now. Let it flow. Get inspired by other photographers on Google+, Flickr, 500px or any other social networking site. Also don’t underestimate the old masters of imagery. The only thing that has developed are processing techniques and technology. Photography itself is still the same.
Now let’s cut to the chase. Every photo has different needs. Start playing with the slides on the right hand side and you will see what they do. Again, there is no magic formula for any given image. Some might need some exposure tweeking, others more blacks, whites or clarity. Others need noise reduction or to remove chromatic abberation. I would say that 80% of my images only experience adjustments within the “Basic” or “Tone Curve” settings of Lightroom. Over-processing and using too many slides will literally ruin your photo. It will become very noisy, grainy, with highlights where they shouldn’t be and making large size prints will not look good. Try to keep your photos balanced and realistic. The histogram on the top right corner in Lightroom will help you to keep your photo balance. Avoid, extreme spikes at right or left side. At least that’s my style. Especially beginners, tend to over-process their images and think they have created an amazing piece of art. What is a lot more important for landscape photography is to be at the right place at the right time. I can’t count how often I have climbed one single mountain, just to get one good shot. The conditions have to be perfect and I have a hard time telling nature, how to behave ;). If you are shooting models, that’s a different story. You can create your own lighting and change studio settings…anyways, if you are shooting models you are probably reading the wrong tutorial :).
5. I am done processing – what now?
Good job – you have created the perfect photo. I will then move the best images into my “Portfolio” Collection within Lightroom. Now I want to publish my shot. Either for my website or for publication on a social media plattform. As you know, I try to streamline as much as possible and reduce the amount of processing on the computer. Therefore, I have setup a “Publish Service” for my Portfolio Collection in Lightroom. The publish service, publishes directly to my “Google Drive” folder on my computer. The Google Drive folder in turn syncronizes automatically with my Google Drive online. So, I have access to my Portfolio photos anywhere and anytime.
To set up the Publish Service, open the “Lightroom Publish Manager”. As far as settings go, I use the following for all web exports. The file naming remains the same, to that I can easily find it later. If you remember from the above, it is the same file name, that is used in Lightroom – smart, eh ;)?. My file settings are set to JPEG, sRGB (best for web export) and Quality of 80 to keep the file size small. Also the image will be resized to 1600px on the longer side. This is usually too small to copy the file from the web and print it yourself. Also with the reduced quality level, I try to keep people from stealing my images. I also do not apply and output sharpening or watermarking.
When I publish images to the web (doesn’t matter where), I always take them directly from my Google Drive folder online or offline. There is no need anymore to open Lightroom if I am in a hurry. The files are all up to date and synced between all devices automatically.
When printing images for clients, I only work with professional printing labs, that know best how to do it. I neither have the equipment nor the time to do it. For North America it is Bay Photo Lab in Santa Cruz, CA and Whitewall or The Print Space for Europe. I then export the highest quality file size and use and FTP or web upload to receive the first soft-proof of the image, before it is dispatched to the client. This has proven for me as the best solution and allows me to spend more time outside and capturing images.
I hope this tutorial will help you to organize your workflow and become more efficient. If you have any questions please feel free to ask.