How to edit photos taken in less than ideal lighting

How to edit photos taken in less than ideal lighting

When it comes to post-processing, tricky lighting doesn’t have to be something to shy away from.

Great moments happen regardless of the ‘optimal’ environment, and especially within documentary photography, we should learn to embrace all of it.

However, before approaching how we edit, it’s really important to get everything as correct as possible in camera.

The reason that great photos can happen from great moments is because the photographer is able to observe her surroundings with a keen, sharp eye. In doing so, the strength of the photo distracts from the less than ‘ideal’ conditions, allowing the viewer to focus on what really matters.

Still, what the heck do you do when it comes to editing for harsh sun, mixed light and dark nighttime indoor light?

We are three of the instructors from The Documentary Approach and are here with three video Lightroom tutorials to show how we tackle these situations.

Even though we may approach our editing a little differently, the first step we take is to adjust white balance and exposure.

It’s always important to set the right color temperature before you start applying anything else. This can be achieved in a number of ways but one of the simplest is to make use of the eyedropper tool and click on a neutral value within the image (white walls, clothing or even clouds can work for this).

One big thing to note here is that we don’t try to ‘fix’ the white balance to make skin tones or light look perfect – we only change the white balance to make it look the way it looked when we saw it in person. Therefore, mixed light will still essentially look like mixed light once the edit is finished.

Because all of us apply presets, we make sure to customize the sliders to dial down (or bring up) any changes we might need to make post-application. This typically involves adjusting contrast, highlights, shadows and clarity. Occasionally, a trip to the HSL panel will be needed (like in Lauren and Felicia’s videos).

Lastly, we make local dodge and burn edits if needed. This can be applied with the LR brush tool. Again, we’re not trying to do an overhaul of a subject – it’s really about small, minimal enhancements to bring forth the moment.

1. Indoor bad light

What the heck do you do when it comes to editing for harsh sun, mixed light and dark nighttime indoor light? Here are three video Lightroom tutorials to show how we tackle these situations.
before
What the heck do you do when it comes to editing for harsh sun, mixed light and dark nighttime indoor light? Here are three video Lightroom tutorials to show how we tackle these situations.
after

2. Mixed light

What the heck do you do when it comes to editing for harsh sun, mixed light and dark nighttime indoor light? Here are three video Lightroom tutorials to show how we tackle these situations.
before
What the heck do you do when it comes to editing for harsh sun, mixed light and dark nighttime indoor light? Here are three video Lightroom tutorials to show how we tackle these situations.
after

3. Harsh light

What the heck do you do when it comes to editing for harsh sun, mixed light and dark nighttime indoor light? Here are three video Lightroom tutorials to show how we tackle these situations.
before
What the heck do you do when it comes to editing for harsh sun, mixed light and dark nighttime indoor light? Here are three video Lightroom tutorials to show how we tackle these situations.
after

About the Author:

Jessica Thomason is a documentary family photographer who lives with her husband, two little girls and two golden retrievers in sunny Sarasota, Florida. Her approach to photography is one that celebrates the chaos, clutter and mundane details of daily life. She aims to tell the stories of her family and clients in a way that captures the essence of who they were, how they lived and what they loved. Jessica is also the instructor of The Documentary Approach, an online 4 week photography workshop. Visit Jessica Thomason online.
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One Comment

  1. P. Kevin Morley Jan 31 2018 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    You make some excellent suggestions about shooting in light that the photographer may not find 100% appealing. And the corrections you have suggested for the images above do illustrate how to make a photo more impactful in terms of contrast, saturation, etc. The beach scene is an especially useful example. Nice image! However…we should all take a look at how some newspapers go a bit beyond the tweaking of the elements of their images. In a few instances, newspaper photojournalists have been fired for altering reality just a bit too much. So, the suggestion is that the photographer should be cognizant of the goal of the image. Is the photographer trying to record reality as closely as possible? Or, will all the stops be pulled for a Photoshop free-for-all, cranking up vibrance, saturation, contrast, highlights, etc…..to the point where the image becomes a sample of reality rather than the real thing? Do we write with light or make the light right? Something to consider. There isn’t a ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ way. Whatever works for you is the right way. But the ease with which images can be altered often can lend itself to a twilight zone of imagery that–when we look back on those images–may not be the version of the scene we wish we had.
    Always remember this: simple pictures are best.

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