How I edit a high contrast photo in Lightroom

In the video, you'll see how I edit a high contrast, color photo. No presets are used and I take you step-by-step through my thought process.
In the video, you'll see how I edit a high contrast, color photo. No presets are used and I take you step-by-step through my thought process.

Every time I take a photo, I do my best to make sure the in camera image is a good as possible.

This helps with how little I have to edit in post processing.

However, sometimes, even if the image is amazing and doesn’t need too much editing, I like to go a little crazy and edit a high contrast, moody image. These require a bit more work in post processing but can be quite fun… at least for me.

I use Lightroom for editing about 95% of the time. There are occasions where I will take an image into Photoshop for cloning or changing the composition of a picture. But for most of the images I edit, Lightroom is perfect for what I need.

In the video below, you will see how I edit a high contrast, color photo. This is a straight out of the camera, RAW image of my son. No presets are used and I take you step by step through my thought process behind why I edit it the way I do.

Typically it takes me 5-10 minutes to edit a picture like this, but because I am walking you through my thoughts and basically re-editing it from scratch, the video is a bit longer.

To recap, here are my final settings below.

  • Exposure: -.20
  • Contrast: +16
  • Highlights: +31
  • Shadows: +100
  • Whites: +14
  • Blacks: -19
  • Clarity: +81
  • Vibrance: +16
  • Saturation: +1

Tone Curve: In the video I passed over this section in the beginning but decided I wanted to do a little tweaking later. The picture was still feeling a bit bright for me so I wanted to fix it and give you that info. I typically fool with this panel at the end of my editing.

Here are the adjustments I made in this section to help darken the image just a tad:

  • Highlights: -12
  • Lights: -8
  • Darks: -7
  • Shadows: -10

HSL Panel adjustments:


  • Orange: -14
  • Yellow: -15
  • Green: +17


  • Orange: +20
  • Green: +16


  • Orange: +13
  • Yellow: +1


  • Amount: 40
  • Radius: 1.0
  • Detail: 25

Noise reduction:

  • Luminance: 6

Multiple brushes were added in the background, one to darken around Max’s face and the window and it’s light. Another brush was used to completely black out the background. Be careful when doing this around hair and make sure to blend the darkness with the hairline.

Another brush was used to take red and pink out of Max’s face as well as one to lower the contrast and clarity. Lastly, I used one to add more contrast and lift more shadows in his hair just to add some extra WOW to it.

Let me end this article by apologizing for all of sniffling in the video – these Austin allergies are for real!

Second, thanks so much for reading this article and for watching me edit. I hope you learn some new techniques to help you achieve a very high contrast and bold look.

About the Author:

Tia is a documentary family photographer from Austin, TX as well as a wife and a mom of two fun and crazy kiddos. She loves capturing their everyday lives and creating beautiful photos that they can cherish for all of time. When she is not making photos for her family or her clients, she enjoys mentoring new photographers and using her lens for good by giving back to the community.


  1. GABRIELA HELLING Jan 31 2018 at 2:04 pm - Reply


  2. Marisa Feb 10 2018 at 11:17 am - Reply

    OH MY GOOOOSH!! Thank You so MUCH! I knew how to do some of these things, but when you went to the brushes–I was blown away. So much control. Thank you!! Btw, the your son is adorable. His curles are magnificent!

  3. Alan Feb 27 2018 at 4:30 am - Reply

    This an amazing work which proves your efficiency, I enjoyed s much!

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