How to Retouch a Sunset Naturally

by | 1 year ago

In this article, I’ll take you to Paris to show how you can make your sunset images come alive, and still keep them looking natural. I used to make my sunsets quite dramatic and oversaturated, but as I became a better photographer, I finally found the perfect way to retouch sunsets in Lightroom Classic by making them natural and pleasing to the eyes. You’ll see how you can revive your sunsets in the following easy steps! 

Step One: Basic Development 

We’ll start by opening up the Shadows to +100 and bringing down the Highlights to –100. Then we’ll set the white point (Whites) to +50 and the black point (Blacks) to –13. We then added some Contrast (+50) and boosted the Exposure to +0.55. 

Step Two: Bring Back the Sunset 

The first step to bringing back the sunset is to get the right white balance. Here we’ll set the Temp to 5920 and the Tint at +25 to warm up the overall photo and add a little magenta. 

Step Three: Use a Radial Filter for the Sun 

Using the Radial Filter (Shift-M), you can re-create the sun itself. You need to turn on Invert for the circle near the bottom of the tool’s panel, and set the colors of the sun to a Temp of 65 and Tint of 41. You can drag out a pretty big circle to set the sunset. Click-and-drag inside the circle to reposition it, and click-and-drag the points on the outer ring to resize it. 

Step Four: Use Graduated Filters to Focus Attention 

To focus the viewer’s attention on your sunset, you can “close up” your photo. What I mean by that is to use Graduated Filters (M) to darken the top and bottom of the photograph. Drag out one filter on top, and another at the bottom. For both filters, lower the Exposure to –0.40 to darken those areas, set the Temp –24 to make it a bit colder, and drag the Saturation to 17. 

Tip: After creating your first Graduated Filter, Right-click on its pin and choose Duplicate, and then drag the duplicated filter into position. 

Step Five: Tweak Your Photo As You Go 

It’s important that you fix things in the Basic panel as you go. If you see that settings such as Contrast or Exposure aren’t right after some of your other edits, fix them now so all your settings come together nicely. Here we added some Vibrance (+16) and Saturation (+14) to the overall photo in the Basic panel. 

Step Six: Fix the Radial Filter for the Sun 

As you can see in the previous image, the Radial Filter we added in Step Three to enhance the sunset doesn’t look quite natural because the adjustments are affecting the buildings. So, I’ll share with you my secret tip to make it awesome! Click on the pin of the Radial Filter to make it active, go to the Range Mask drop-down menu at the bottom of the tool’s panel, and select Luminance. Drag the Range sliders until you have a natural effect of the sunset appearing behind the building and not in front of it (which isn’t natural). Here we set the sliders to 65/100. 

Step Seven: Use Adjustment Brush to Add Life 

Now that you have a good sunset image, you can add life to it by using the Adjustment Brush (K) to paint around the areas of the sunset in the photo. In the Brush settings section at the bottom of the tool’s panel, set both the Flow and Density to around 80 and boost the Exposure to 0.34 and Saturation to 17. Then just brush over parts of the image that should be brighter from the sun, such as the left side of the building in this example. 

Step Eight: Crop Your Photo

Cropping your photos can make a big difference in the end result. Here we used the Crop Overlay tool (R) to crop the image to a 16×9 ratio to make it more panoramic and powerful. Cropping is also a great way to cut out unwanted things that are distracting. In this image, the car on the right was a bit distracting, so I removed it with the crop.