Retouching the Same Photo 10 Years Later

by | 1 year ago

When I first started out in photography, I was trying every technique and going a little overboard when processing my images. Now after 10 years of experience, I prefer to go for a spectacular natural look, instead of an over-processed look. I learned from my mistakes, and that’s why I wanted to share with you the evolution of my photography; you might relate to some of the same things I went through. 

This photo I took in Paris is the first photo I’ve ever had published in a magazine and I was very proud at the time. But looking at it now, I can see how unnatural the colors are and how the processing is just a little too much. So let’s go through the entire process of how I’d develop it today. 

Here’s the original RAW file I shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II. When zoomed in, you can see a lot of chromatic aberration and noise in the image. 

Step One: Let’s start with a basic retouch by opening up the Shadows to +100, bringing down the Highlights to –100, setting the Blacks to –37, and the Whites to +38. 

Step Two: For the white balance, I picked Daylight as a predefined starting point and then tweaked the Temp to 6264 and the Tint to +20. 

Step Three: I then added more Contrast (+26) to harmonize the highlights with the shadows, and increased the Exposure to +0.35 to make the overall photo brighter. 

Step Four: To add some character to the photo, I set the Texture slider to +21. I also used a negative Clarity (–11) to make the photo appear smoother and nicer to the eyes so it’s not as harsh or HDR-looking. 

Step Five: Because the colors are so vivid, I could lower the Vibrance to –5; but, as an alternative to Vibrance, you can use the HSL panel to modify the hue, which gives better control over your colors. Here, let’s set Red to –5 and Orange to –2. Don’t go too crazy with those sliders because it can create weird colors if you’re too extreme. 

Step Six: This image can really use some help with the noise, so let me show you how to fix that. In the Detail panel, set the Sharpening Amount to 70 and the Noise Reduction Luminance to 30. (As a personal rule of thumb, I like to have the sum of these two sliders equal 100.) Now you have to use some Masking to prevent sharpening in areas of the image where it can accentuate the noise. If you hold the Option (PC: Alt) key while adjusting the Masking slider, the image will turn completely white, but as you drag the slider to the right, parts of the image will start to turn black. Anything that’s black isn’t sharpened. In this image, I set the Masking to 50 to make sure the sky wasn’t getting sharpened. 

Step Seven: Using a Graduated Filter (M) at the top of the image, let’s set the sky to a nice blue-to-warm gradient by adjusting the Temp to –10 and the Exposure to –0.29. We’ll use the same Graduated Filter at the bottom of the image to “close it up” so we can focus the attention of the viewer to the center of the photo. 

Step Eight: Now we can re-create the sun by using the Radial Filter (Shift-M). I boosted the Exposure to 0.34, the Temp to 48, and the Tint to 72 to add some warmth. Make sure to set the Feather of the filter to 100 and check on Invert. Also, so the effect isn’t visible over the buildings, set the Range Mask drop-down menu at the bottom of the Radial Filter panel to Luminance, and then adjust the Range sliders. Here I set the Range Mask to 61/100. 

Step Nine: No matter what image you’re working on, one thing that you can do is go to the Lens Corrections section and check on Remove Chromatic Aberration and Enable Profile Corrections. That will take care of any basic distortions and chromatic aberration based on the lens with which the image was taken. 

In this instance, the chromatic aberration is quite intense, so to fix this, let’s jump to the Manual tab in Lens Corrections. You first need to determine what color stands out most in the chromatic aberration; here it’s red, so I dragged the two Purple Hue sliders toward the right to 61/100, and then set the Amount to 2. Just use a light touch! 

Step 10: To close up the edges of your photo, use Post-Crop Vignetting in the Effects panel. Here I set the Amount to –9 to again draw the eyes of the viewer to the center of the photo. 

Step 11: To make your photos more dynamic, you can crop them in a panorama format, such as 16×9. Using the Crop Overlay tool (R) with the Aspect set to 16×9, I cropped the photo so the water appears in the lower two thirds of the image. 

Here are the before and after photos, including the edited photo from 10 years ago. 

Example #2 

Here’s another example of a photo I took in Paris processed 10 years ago. The sunrise was unbelievable, but in the edited image the colors seem off; they’re just too unrealistic. 

Step One: To make the overall retouch much faster, I’ll use one of my custom presets called Golden Hour. You can click here to download a set of my custom presets that includes the Golden Hour preset. To install presets in Lightroom Classic, click the plus icon to the right of the Presets panel, select Import Presets, navigate to the downloaded presets, and click Import. 

Step Two: The great thing with presets is that you can start with a certain look and then adapt them to your own photos! So from here, I made some edits to a few of the Basic panel sliders: Temp 5534; Tint +9; Exposure 0.10; Contrast +27; Whites +21; and Blacks –61. 

Step Three: I did like the crop I used 10 years ago, so let’s take the Crop Overlay tool (R) and make it more panoramic. 

Step Four: The Golden Hour preset already has a couple Graduated Filters applied, one at the top and one at the bottom. On the upper filter, I lowered the Temp to –9 and the Exposure to –0.50. For this shot, I don’t think we need the bottom Graduated Filter. To delete a filter, Right-click on its pin and choose Delete. 

Here are the before and after photos, again including the edited image from 10 years ago. 

I hope you’ve learned from my mistakes! I really feel that less is more, and I can definitely see the difference in the response to my work since I’ve been doing a more natural look: my Instagram followers have increased, and I get more people and publishers reaching out to me. These have been successful changes, and I hope they will be for you too