Editing photos is a funny process.
Each one of us could take an image into Lightroom or Photoshop and we would each come up with a different end result. That individual vision of an image – for shooting or for editing – is part of what makes us special as photographers.
When I first started out, editing was an exciting and creative process. Unfortunately, I got a little too excited and creative – as I discovered the heady thrill of actions at 100% opacity and presets with no adjustments. Neon colors and orange skin were not unusual during this time. Then, gradually, as I learned the technical basics of good editing, the pendulum swung the other way, and I went through a phase of being afraid to do anything beyond a by-the-numbers clean edit. I feared anything which deviated from perfect CMYK skin tones and vibrant-but-not-too-vibrant colors.
This is a common progression in a photographer’s editing journey. But once we are armed with a strong understanding of the technicalities and rules, the next step is to once again start experimenting, hopefully with more control and fewer actions this time. As I experimented, I often had a hard time deciding which way to go with an image. The many options seemed overwhelming. Many great photographers said they edited according to their vision. But I wasn’t sure I had one.
Eventually, I discovered that for most of us vision takes time to develop. It means listening to our intuition. It means being willing to follow our inclinations, whether they are quiet or daring. And finally, it means honoring our moods: the mood of the photo and our own mood as we shoot and edit.
Now, I try to always listen to my mood as I edit. And it generally informs the way I interpret and express the straight-out-of-camera image. I think about the feeling I had when I clicked the shutter. The same image could be expressed as bright with brilliant color pops, moody and dark, or harmonious and soothing. So much of it comes down to listening to our voice as we edit.
To do this, we don’t need huge changes or bold edits. In fact, one of our most powerful tools for affecting the mood of an image comes in the simple-to-use, yet powerful Hue, Saturation and Luminance slider in Lightroom. This tool gives targeted and precise control over the tones and values in an image. The Hue slider adjusts the individual color hue, shifting colors from blue toward green, or yellow toward orange, for example. The Saturation slider controls how vivid and saturated specific colors will be, while the Luminance slider is in charge of the lightness of the individual colors.
To show how my process of editing for mood works for me, I’ll share some recent edits and the story behind them.
Recently, I took a trip with my family to Hawaii, where I was born and raised. As I took photos of my daughter on the beach, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic, remembering faded photos I have of myself at about her age, on that exact same spot. As I went to edit my pictures later, I found myself not wanting a perfectly clean image, nor did I want a typical bright and colorful beach edit. My mood when shooting and then when editing was bittersweet. I wanted to capture that feeling of a memory, or a dream of the past.
For my edits, I found myself warming the images up and moving Lightroom’s yellow Hue slider to turn my daughter’s yellow clothes a more mustard tone. The blue slider I shifted toward green, to give the water a soft, green-tinted color. It struck me, that those were the tones of my childhood, being about my daughter’s age in the 70s. The muted, faded, yellowed tones felt nostalgic, as I wanted my images to feel. I also did some cloning, as well as added a tilt-shift blur to one of the images to give it more of a dreamy feel of a memory.
In a different mood, I might have chosen to edit in an entirely different way. I could have played up the blue and bright yellow for a colorful and happy feel, or turned the ocean into a stormy gray to give a dark and moody edit.
No two photographers will feel exactly the same way about a scene or an image. That’s part of what gives us each our individual self expression that turns straight reality into art. When we listen to our feelings and stay true to our mood as we edit, we can better bring our vision to life.