The Five Biggest Mistakes to Avoid in Lightroom

by | 2 years ago

Avoiding the following five mistakes in Lightroom can really help you as a photographer. Even if it’s to promote your photography on social media, to sell your prints, or to send your photos to the press, these ideas apply to everyone. As a photography teacher, I review many photos from students, and I see the same mistakes over and over again, so this is why I want to help you to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Too Much Clarity, Contrast, and Texture

This example has too much of all three. Especially when you have clouds, everything gets very sharp, there’s a lot of Contrast and Clarity in them, and it kind of hurts the eyes.

Here’s how to make your photos more natural: Simply lower the Texture and Clarity to 0 (I sometimes even go to –4 on both), and you can back down the Vibrance Saturation, as well. It does make a big difference: The photo is now more pleasing to the eyes and there’s no halo in the sky.

One problem with the kind of retouch where there’s too much Clarity, however, is that it screams, “I retouched this photo! I know how to use Lightroom and I overprocessed the photo!” But this isn’t what we’re trying to achieve here.

In this next example, there’s a lot of contrast in the clouds, which creates dark parts that aren’t particularly pleasing. Although the clouds are very defined, I think it’s much better to have puffy clouds.

To add depth and make your image more dynamic, play around with having part of the photo blurry and some parts sharper. That kind of contrast makes a big difference. You don’t want to have everything sharp in your photo, as it makes it flat. Try lowering the Texture to +5 and the Clarity all the way to –10. To add depth and create a nice contrast, use the Adjustment Brush to add Clarity (+74) over the building.

Do not add Clarity on the water or clouds, as it’s more pleasing when they’re a little blurry and fuzzy. Adding Clarity over clouds and water is probably the number one mistake that I see.

Mistake #2: Too Obvious Dodging and Burning

I often see very defined strokes of light on a photo, and that doesn’t serve it well. You’re not supposed to notice dodging and burning; it should just add that nice contrast. Here’s the fix: Make sure that the Flow and Density of your Adjustment Brush are set to around 80, and your Exposure is set to around 1. Now you can brush over your subject and re-create the sun. After that’s done, I usually back down the Exposure a little (to around +0.5) to make it less obvious.

In this second example, the dodging/burning is very obvious and, instead of enhancing part of the photo, it becomes distracting. My golden rule for a good dodge-and-burn is to retouch your photo and then come back to it later, with fresh eyes, to see if you notice the dodge and burn. If you do, then it’s too much. If you can see your brush stroke, erase it by pressing-and-holding the Option (PC: Alt) key, and paint back over it. The great thing with the Adjustment Brush is that you can create a new brush with different settings and build up your dodge and burn little by little.

Mistake #3: Colors from Another Planet

Years ago when I learned about amazing photographer Peter Lik and went to some of his galleries, it changed my life. His images were very saturated, but people really loved them. No one mentioned the retouch, because all of his colors were correct and easy on the eye. (I used to have very saturated, over-the-top photos, and people called me, “Mister Magenta.”)

But it’s not about the saturation, it’s about the hue—the actual choice of color—that needs to be appropriate for your scene, or it will look odd. To avoid that mistake, try a white balance, such as Daylight (shown here).

This will take all the red out, however, so it isn’t going to work. If you want to add warmth to the photo where there was none, you’re better off staying in the range of colors that were there when you took the photo. But, with the help of the Adjustment Brush, you can make some parts of the photo warmer, or at least make them pop. On this image, I used the Adjustment Brush to add some Exposure, Clarity, Tint, and Temp on the trees, but it’s still very subtle.

Mistake #4: Not Using the Standard Crops or a Straight Horizon

This is a photo that I took in New York, and I made the horizontal line crooked, so I’ve been guilty of that mistake. There are a couple of tips to handle this.

You could, for example, use the Straighten tool (found in the Crop Overlay tool’s options). Then, just click-and-drag a line on the horizon, and Lightroom will adjust the photo.

Another way to fix this problem is to use standard cropping. I work with galleries and newspapers, and they usually work with 4×3 or 16×9 format. The format I use most with fine art photo galleries is 16×9, which gives a more panoramic look to the photo and works well with most photos.

If you’re going to publish photos on social media, such as Instagram, 4×5 is a better choice. It will take up the most space on your viewing screen and so will be more attractive.

To make the photo 4×5 in portrait orientation, press X on your keyboard. Then, just find a great frame to boost your pic on Instagram!

Mistake #5: Oversaturated Photo

The last (but not least) mistake we’ll discuss here is adding too much saturation to your images. I’ve been guilty of that particular error for quite a while, because I get excited when I find new photo techniques, and tend to overuse the new features. But this gives me overprocessed photos: For example, this is a great photo, but it’s too saturated.

Don’t get me wrong! I love saturation; but the more I grow as a photographer, the more I get the saturation level correct. The game here is to add the maximum amount of saturation that your viewer can experience realistically.

That’s what I apply now when it comes to saturation on photos, but if you witness a fantastic, very saturated sunset (very red), you can also develop your photo that way in Lightroom. You just have to stay true to the colors and the intensity of it.

There you go! Those are some things that I’ve learned throughout my career as a photographer. I made all those mistakes, and now I can say that I learned my lessons. I hope these tips will be helpful for your career as a photographer.