How to easily brighten your backlit subjects in Lightroom

How to easily brighten your backlit subjects in Lightroom

Sometimes it can be hard to brighten your subject in post without leaving that tell-tale halo that looks unnatural and overly edited. I’d like to share a simple way to brighten your subject quickly and precisely in Lightroom (this also works in Adobe Camera Raw).
before
Sometimes it can be hard to brighten your subject in post without leaving that tell-tale halo that looks unnatural and overly edited. I’d like to share a simple way to brighten your subject quickly and precisely in Lightroom (this also works in Adobe Camera Raw).
after

If you’re like me, you love a beautifully backlit photo!

There’s just something about that dreamy, golden hour light that makes a picture sing.

You probably also know that backlit photos can be tricky! You have to slightly underexpose your subject so that you don’t blow out your background.

Sometimes it can be hard to brighten your subject in post without leaving that tell-tale halo that looks unnatural and overly edited. I’d like to share a simple way to brighten your subject quickly and precisely using Lightroom CC Classic’s new color and luminance range masking tool (this also works in Adobe Camera Raw.)

Don’t let that techy sounding name frighten you! The tool is incredibly easy to use and makes editing in Lightroom faster and more precise.

The tool can be found in the Adjustment Brush (keyboard shortcut “K”) which I’ll be showing you below. It can also be found in the Graduated filter, as well as the Radial filter because let’s face it… editing tends to be a bit more complicated than a straight line or a circle.

This tool gives you the precision that you never had in Lightroom. To explain it simply, you can quickly brush on an adjustment (like exposure) and then using the range color selector, tighten up the selection to more accurately choose what you want to adjust. It is actually quite simple. Let me show you…

Here’s my original photo exported straight from RAW. The sun was setting quickly behind the tree line just as we saw this really cool old car sitting in the parking lot as we were wrapping up our senior portrait shoot. You can see the sky is slightly blown out and my subject is quite dark.

Sometimes it can be hard to brighten your subject in post without leaving that tell-tale halo that looks unnatural and overly edited. I’d like to share a simple way to brighten your subject quickly and precisely in Lightroom (this also works in Adobe Camera Raw).

First, I made a few global adjustments. I increased the exposure slightly, decreased the highlights to get rid of the clipping in the sky, and I added a little warmth to the white balance.

It was a good start but it wasn’t enough to get my subject exposed correctly.

Sometimes it can be hard to brighten your subject in post without leaving that tell-tale halo that looks unnatural and overly edited. I’d like to share a simple way to brighten your subject quickly and precisely in Lightroom (this also works in Adobe Camera Raw).

Next, I used my adjustment brush and painted over her face, arms and hair very quickly and not very precisely.

I scrolled to the bottom of the adjustment brush tool to “Range Mask” and chose “color” from the dropdown menu. I clicked on the eye dropper tool which activates the range color selector. Then I just click and drag a small portion of her skin under her chin to tell Lightroom which colors to zero in on.

If you don’t like what it chooses you can click another spot and it will make a different selection. You can see in this case, it very accurately highlights only what I want to brighten up.

Sometimes it can be hard to brighten your subject in post without leaving that tell-tale halo that looks unnatural and overly edited. I’d like to share a simple way to brighten your subject quickly and precisely in Lightroom (this also works in Adobe Camera Raw).

I then make exposure and warmth adjustments to her skin. Because I have only highlighted her skin and hair, it doesn’t add yellow to her teeth, eyes, and shirt. I can go back and do the same thing on her shirt if I want to brighten it up as well.

Additionally, if I wanted to pop the blue of the car without taking away from the overall warmth of the scene I can easily highlight the blue, use the color range mask tool to pinpoint only those colors you wish to enhance and then increase my blue saturation.

It really is as easy as that! You can see below I’ve brightened my backlit subject in just 3 easy steps:

  1. quick global adjustments
  2. painted on exposure and warmth adjustments to her hair and skin
  3. brightened her white top without adding additional yellow.

She’s gone from dull to wow in less than a minute’s time.

Sometimes it can be hard to brighten your subject in post without leaving that tell-tale halo that looks unnatural and overly edited. I’d like to share a simple way to brighten your subject quickly and precisely in Lightroom (this also works in Adobe Camera Raw).
before
Sometimes it can be hard to brighten your subject in post without leaving that tell-tale halo that looks unnatural and overly edited. I’d like to share a simple way to brighten your subject quickly and precisely in Lightroom (this also works in Adobe Camera Raw).
after

If you’d like to see me edit this from start to finish you can watch the video below.

About the Author:

Andrea is a mom to two daughters who are inexplicably 18 and 16 already! Four years ago she left corporate America to spend more time with them and has since become the owner of Andrea Linn Photography which specializes in senior portraits, headshots, and personal branding. She also started "Shooting for a Cure," a local introductory photography class that has raised over $10,000 for charity through the years. Visit Andrea Ferenchik online.
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24 Comments

  1. patty connelly Mar 06 2018 at 9:15 pm - Reply

    Thanks so much for such a great tutorial. I’ve been meaning to learn how to use this new tool since the update and this post was just the thing!

  2. Lydia Mar 07 2018 at 12:06 pm - Reply

    Mind. Blown! I just tried this on a photo and it’s amazing how precise it is! So cool, and such a time-saver!

    • Andrea Mar 08 2018 at 11:06 am - Reply

      That is exactly how I felt the first time I used it! I may have yelled “shut the front door “ maybe not in those exact words!

  3. Andrea Ferenchik Mar 07 2018 at 5:07 pm - Reply

    You are welcome! I am so glad it was useful. I got lucky in that I tried it the first day it was out and was blown away at how easy and accurate it was!

  4. Kathy Mar 08 2018 at 11:39 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for the tutorial. What presets were you using to make your initial adjustments ?

    • Andrea Ferenchik Mar 12 2018 at 10:39 pm - Reply

      Those are pretty presets workflow collection. I use them on every single image. They are just quick easy “get this party started” presets and then I tweak from there.

  5. Christopher Hall Mar 09 2018 at 1:01 am - Reply

    I have been trying to work this out. I knew there must be a way. Thank you!

  6. Michelle Mar 09 2018 at 3:53 am - Reply

    Wow, this is great. I’ve been using the radial filter to do this, but as you mentioned, it does affect the eyes and teeth. Thanks for this!

    • Andrea Ferenchik Mar 12 2018 at 10:42 pm - Reply

      And the beautiful thing is that is works with the radial filter too! You can draw a nice big circle and then use the dropper to just grab the color within that circle.

  7. Julie Mar 15 2018 at 7:08 pm - Reply

    Great tutorial!! I will be using this tool 🙂 And such a beautiful image!!

    • Andrea Mar 16 2018 at 5:42 pm - Reply

      Thank you and so glad you can use it!! I use it every time I edit!

  8. cristina Mar 17 2018 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    I don’t see this tool on my panel. I just did an update too… I wonder why I can’t see it.. This tutorial is amazing and really want to try it

    • cristina Mar 18 2018 at 6:15 pm - Reply

      Figured it out!

      • Andrea Mar 21 2018 at 9:59 am - Reply

        Oh good!! Glad you found it!

  9. Allison McDonald Mar 25 2018 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    I never knew this! Thank you for sharing. I would love for you to do a video on all your preset short cuts!!!

    • Andrea Mar 30 2018 at 11:19 pm - Reply

      The presets on the left side are pretty presets from their original workflow collection. I think they have come out with new ones but these are a staple I use every single day!

  10. Melissa Apr 30 2018 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    Love it. Thanks!

    • Andrea Apr 30 2018 at 6:00 pm - Reply

      You’re welcome!!

  11. Katie Apr 30 2018 at 10:31 pm - Reply

    I have been scared of using the range mask tool! thank you so much for the video showing how easy it is to use!

    • Andrea Ferenchik Apr 30 2018 at 10:36 pm - Reply

      You’re welcome! Don’t ever be scared to use something in Lightroom because you can always go back and undo it! You can create a snapshot in the left panel in the develop module and you can always go back to that in case of emergency 🙂

  12. Kristiina G Craven Jun 12 2018 at 9:03 am - Reply

    Hi Andrea! I found the range mask, but it doesn’t show the color picker….I have the Adobe LR CC subscription. Any ideas (I’ve googled, but found nothing!) 🙂

    • Andrea Jun 12 2018 at 9:13 am - Reply

      Hi!! Do you have anything selected when you are looking for it? For instance, my friend didn’t see it either but once she made a brush stroke it appeared. Try that and let me know!! Happy to help!

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