Lightroom – How to Edit Food Photos in Lightroom

There are many online tutorials for editing photos in Lightroom (LR) but very few on editing food photos. When I first started using LR, it was a challenge. I was clueless what I was doing. Then I found some LR tutorials by Anthony Morganti. These tutorials are not for food photos but learnt a lot about each tool. I have only seen 3-4 videos but those were helpful in getting a grip over LR. I am still a novice user of LR and yet to learn many more features and tools LR has to offer. In today’s tutorial, I shall show my workflow and how I edit my food photos. I shoot RAW and edit RAW files in LR but JPEG files can also be edit using these tools and techniques. I use the basic tools to processing my images.

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As I mentioned yesterday, in Develop Module, of the 9 tools available in the right panel, I use Histogram, Basic, Details, Lens Correction and Camera Calibration tools the most. For food pictures I do not use camera calibration that often and today I picked a photo where I used it. I occasionally use the tools in the Tool Strip and Effects panel. I shall talk about each tool, in the order I use them when editing the image. Below is the screen shot of Develop Module from yesterday’s tutorial. Click the image for large view. At any time, click any of the images for bigger & clear view of the screen shots.

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Import images to LR and select the image to edit. If you haven’t done so, check yesterday’s tutorial for importing files to LR. For today, I picked a laddu photo. This is an old photo from March, few days after I purchased LR.

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I reset all the setting to original RAW file and will show step by step edits.

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Lens Correction – This is the first tool I use as soon as I select the photo to edit. This corrects the distortion, chromatic aberration and lens vignetting caused by the lens. Sometimes I don’t notice much change when I apply these settings to food photos but I do it anyway. There is no harm. I also apply the Upright settings, ‘Level’, ‘Vertical’, ‘Full’. By default it is set to off. What these settings do is apply horizontal and vertical leveling and perspective correction. All these settings can be applied by clicking the auto button but I prefer to click each setting separately. This way, if I do not like the effect of any of these settings, I can undo it and use the rest of the settings. Most often, I don’t see much difference on food photos but really works great for buildings where there are vertical and horizontal lines. I also see the difference when the the image is shot in a slant, weird angle.

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Histogram and Clipping – I look at the histogram to select my pictures but to be honest, I don’t really know how to read the histogram graph properly. I know a well exposed and balanced image should have a dome like curve but still, at times it is beyond my comprehension on how to edit photos based on the graph. However, I do use clipping to guide me in adjusting my photos. When an image is clipped, shadows and highlights are clipped. This means underexposed and overexposed areas of the images are clipped. The areas where the image is underexposed, it shows up as blue and overexposed areas show up as red. These areas can be fixed by adjusting the shadows/blacks and highlights/whites of the image respectively. I always keep clipping on and use it when selecting the images. I highly recommend using this feature, specially beginners. In my early days of LR, I was clueless where to start and how to edit my images. Once I learned about clipping, I got a grip on my workflow. At least I knew where to start editing my images.

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How to clipp images? The key ‘j’ clipps and unclipps the image. When an image is clipped, the triangles/arrows on the top left and right corners of the histogram graph are boxed, outlined with in a white square box. The left box is shadows and right box is highlights clipping. Another way to turn on/off clipping is by clicking on the arrow; for shadows clipping, click on the left arrow and for highlights the right arrow.

In the below screen shot, laddu image is perfectly shot and does not have any bleedings (too much of blacks/shadows or white/highlights). To illustrate clipping, I adjusted blacks and whites. In the second picture from the top, in the develop module screen shot, notice the reds on the spoon? That area has lot of whites.

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Basic Tools – As the name says, this panel has basic tools. The tools in this panel are White Balance (WB), Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blackes, Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation. Until few days ago, I use to follow the order starting with WB and adjusting saturation last. When I followed this order, sometimes I had to go back and adjust Whites and Blacks. Now what I do is, follow the order till shadows, then adjust clarity, whites and blacks, followed by vibrance and saturation.

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White Balance – I usually adjust white balance in camera itself, I use sunny/day light on sunny days, cloudy on cloudy days. When unsure, I shoot in auto white balance. During post processing, I try not to tinker with this setting. In the below screen shot, WB is as shoot. Click the screen shot for full view of the screen shot.

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When I do, I slide the temperature slider a bit to the right or left and fix on what looks best. Sometimes I use the picker to pick a neutral point in my image to get an accurate WB. I just go with the feel and look, and follow one of these options.

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For this image, I followed both the options. I tried to pick a neutral gray point in the image near the plate. The above screen shot is after picking the white balance. I did not like how it looked and moved the slider to the right until it looked ok to me.

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Exposure – exposure is the amount of light in the image. Move the slider to left for less light/exposure and to the right for more. For this image, I left it unchanged.

Contrast – I usually move this to the right, anywhere between 5-15. I slide the slider back and forth and settle on a number I feel gives a good contrast of colors in the image.

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Highlights – I usually tend to keep this setting in the negative numbers. If there is red color (whites/highlights) bleeding into the image when clipped, I move the slider all the way to the left until the Reds disappear. In this image, whites are not clipped. I played around with the slider and liked the darker look. Point to remember about highlights is, to my understanding, as the highlight slider is moved to the right the details of the image are lost and the image has more whites in it. When the slider is moved to the left, highlights are retained.

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Shadows – with this tool, I do the opposite of what I do with highlights. As the name suggests, use this tool to add or remove shadows. To add shadows, move the slider to the left and to remove shadows, move the slider to the right. I usually move the slider to right. I take the shadow/blacks clipping as a guide to remove shadows. Since this image is not clipped with blacks (blue bleeding into the image), I took a conservative approach and kept the adjustment at 28. There are times when I move the slider all the way up to 100. Since I used a dark background and the intent was to keep this image moody, I stopped at 28.

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Clarity – clarity is different from sharpness and do not confuse the both. I usually keep this setting below 20 or 25. Most times I keep it in teens. When more clarity is added, the color tones in the image change. Use this setting carefully.

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Whites – Since I clipp whites/highlights, I move the slider to the right just until it (red color) begins to bleed in. I stop there and move the slider to the left just until there is no clipping (no red bleeding into the photo). Remember, the image has to be clipped first. I always keep clipping on.

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Blacks – I follow the same technique as above. Since I use clipping, I slide the slider just until blacks (blue color) bleed into the image. I stop right there. Depending on the mood of the picture, I sometimes keep some blacks and sometimes I don’t.

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Vibrance – I keep this below 20.
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Saturation – I usually keep it below 5 and for this image I didn’t adjust. Kept it at zero.

Details Panel – this panel has sharpness and luminance tools. Sharpness sharpens the image and luminance removes the noise in the image. Always zoom in when using this tool I zoom in using the options available on Navigator panel on left panel. I normally zoom in near garnishes, herbs, spices, grains to monitor the sharpness as I move the slider to the right.

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When I first started using LR, I totally loved the luminance tool. When an image is sharpened, often noise is also added. Luminance removes that noise. Go slow here. LR might not render luminance adjustments right away and give it a few seconds before moving the slider.. I don’t if you can notice any difference but the laddu now looks smoother after applying luminance settings. Compare the zoomed in picture on the details tool in the above and below screen shots. Above one is before luminance was applied and the below screen shot is after applying the adjustment.

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Camera Calibration – I don’t use this for food pictures and the only exception is this photo. In fact, that is the reason for picking this laddu image. There are options to select and I usually pick each option and pick the one that looks best.

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After all the edits, I felt the pictures didn’t quite like how the laddus look. The color was off. So I used the standard camera setting and adjusted the red hues.

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Effects – The only effect I use once in awhile is vignette. The outer edges of the image are made darker or lighter depending on which side the slider is moved. I usually move left to get a dark edge, which will in turn put more focus on the subject.

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To see the before and after adjusting specific tools to a image, click on the tiny square on the left corner of the tools panel. All the tools from Tone Curve to Camera Calibration have this option. Basic tools panel does not have this option to turn off the settings. See the below screen shot to see where this turn off settings is.

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After making making all the adjustments, I was not happy the way the photo looked. I went back to Basic Tools and adjusted Clarity and Vibrance.

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Below is the before and after screen shot of the image. I usually edit the pictures at least a day before I post online, next day see the image and make adjusts if any. Now that the photo is edited, it is ready to share online. Wait a minute, we need to export it as a JPEF image before we can share it. This post has already gotten very long. Export tutorial is coming up in the next part.

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Check out the Blogging Marathon page for the other Blogging Marathoners doing this BM#66

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