Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Digital Photography > Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

This chapter is from the book

Getting That Trendy, Gritty High-Contrast Look

There’s a Photoshop effect that started making the rounds last year, and now it’s one of the hottest and most requested looks out there, and you see it everywhere from big magazine covers to websites to celebrity portraits to album covers. Anyway, you can get pretty darn close to that look right within Lightroom itself. Now, before I show you the effect, I have to tell you, this is one of those effects that you’ll either absolutely love (and you’ll wind up over-using it), or you’ll hate it with a passion that knows no bounds. There’s no in-between.

  • Step One: Before we apply this effect, I have a disclaimer: this effect doesn’t look good on every photo. It looks best on photos that have lots of contrast, and if it’s a portrait, it looks best to have multiple light sources (in particular, one or more bright lights lighting your subject’s side from behind). Think gritty, because that’s the look you’re going for (not soft and glamorous). Here’s a contrasty, broad-daylight shot taken in Bruges, Belgium.
  • Step Two: Now you’re going to really crank just about everything up. Start in the Develop module’s Basic panel and drag (1) the Recovery slider, (2) the Fill Light slider, (3) the Contrast slider, and (4) the Clarity slider all the way to the right (until they all read +100, as shown here). I know, it looks terrible, but we’re not done yet.
  • Step Three: Dragging the Fill Light slider all the way to the right will usually make the image way too bright in the shadow areas, so you’ll need to drag the Blacks slider quite a bit to the right until the image looks fairly balanced again. This brings back the shadows and the color saturation to the shadow areas. The problem is that saturation in the shadows usually makes the image look to colorful and punchy, which isn’t the worst thing in the world (in fact, it looks like a fake HDR at this point), but the key to this look is an overall desaturated feel (if that makes any sense).
  • Step Four: So, you do that by going to the Vibrance slider and dragging it quite a bit to the left (as shown here. If this was a portrait, you’d drag it left until there’s just a little color left in the portrait). You can see how doing these two steps brings out incredible details in everything from the bricks to the planters.
  • Step Five: The final step is to add an edge vignette to darken the edges of your photo, and put the focus on your subject. So, go to the Lens Corrections panel (in the right side Panels area), click on Manual at the top, and drag the Lens Vignetting Amount slider nearly all the way to the left (making the edges really dark). Then drag the Midpoint slider pretty far to the left, as well, but not quite as far as the Amount slider (the Midpoint slider controls how far the darkened edges extend in toward the middle of your photo. The farther you drag this slider to the left, the farther in they go). At this point, you could save this as a preset, but just understand that because each photo is different, the preset is just a starting place—you’ll always have to dial in the right amount of desaturation yourself using the Vibrance slider.
  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account