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Scott Kelby's Editing Essentials: How to Develop Your Photos in Adobe Lightroom CC

Intimidated by Lightroom's Develop module? Don't be. Scott Kelby shows you how to manipulate all of those scary-looking buttons, checkboxes, and sliders to improve your hard-to-fix photos, in this excerpt from The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC Book for Digital Photographers.
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Photo by Scott Kelby | Exposure: 1/60 sec | Focal Length: 70mm | Aperture Value: f/5.6

I kinda like that subhead above—How to Develop Your Photos—because even though it sounds like a direct reference to Lightroom’s Develop module, the name of that module itself is a direct reference to what we used to do in the darkroom—develop our prints. Of course, this chapter isn’t about prints, which pretty much throws that whole line of thought out the window, but we’re not going to look that closely at things like that (or grammar, spelling, or ending sentences with a preposition), because instead we’re going to bask in the fact that now we can develop our photos without having to mix dangerous chemicals. Now, of course, back in the old days (which was only about 10 years ago), we didn’t realize these chemicals were dangerous, so we’d be in the darkroom, developing some T-MAX P3200, and somebody would get thirsty, so we’d just take a big swig of some Hypo Clearing Agent (which was a chemical we used to remove the fixing agent from fiber-based paper, but doggone it if that stuff didn’t taste just like Welch’s grape juice, so we’d usually finish off a bag or two before coming out and grabbing a Reuben and a bag of Doritos). Anyway, it seemed like a pretty good idea at the time, but then my darkroom buddy Frank got this huge goiter in the shape of the Transamerica building, so we backed off on the Hypo Clear, and just stuck to chugging the Indicator Stop Bath (we loved those little salmon-colored bottles. We’d keep ‘em in the fridge and even take them on picnics). Anyway, that was a different time. Now we know better, and so we stick to chain smoking and strutting around in our asbestos photo vests.

Making Your RAW Photos Look More Like JPEGs

Why would we want our RAW photos to look more like JPEGs? It’s because JPEGs look better straight out of the camera—they’re sharpened, contrast is added, noise is reduced, etc., all in-camera. When you shoot in RAW, you’re telling your camera to turn off all that stuff and just give you the raw, untouched photo. That’s why RAW photos look so flat, and why the #1 complaint I hear is “When my photos first appear in Lightroom, they look great, but then they change and look terrible.” That’s because you see the JPEG preview first, then you see the actual RAW photo. Here’s how to get a more JPEG-like starting place:

Step One:

First, let’s take a look at how this will play out onscreen, so you’ll know what to look for. When you first import photos into Lightroom, and you double-click on a thumbnail to look at one of them larger, you’re likely to see “Loading...” appear either under or near the bottom of your image (as seen here, circled in red). That’s letting you know that (a) you’re now seeing the JPEG preview onscreen (the version that has been sharpened, had contrast added, and so on), and (b) it’s loading the RAW image, which takes just a moment. While you’re looking at this JPEG preview, you’re probably thinking, “Hey, this looks pretty much like what I saw on the back of my camera when I took the shot.”

Step Two:

After your RAW image loads (it only takes a second or two), you now see the actual raw image (seen here), and you’re probably thinking, “This looks nothing like the image I saw on the back of my camera! It’s flatter and less contrasty and less sharp.” That’s because even when you shoot in RAW mode, the screen on the back of your camera still shows you the nice, sharp, contrasty JPEG image. This is why I hear so many users say, “It looked really good when it first imported, but now it looks really bad.” That’s because you saw the JPEG when it first imported and a few seconds later (after it loads the real RAW image), you see the rather flat-looking image you see here. So, if you’d like to start your editing process with an image that looks more like the JPEG did, go on to the next step.

Step Three:

To get a more JPEG-like starting place for your RAW images, go to the Develop module and scroll down to the Camera Calibration panel. There’s a Profile pop-up menu near the top of this panel, where you’ll find a number of profiles based on your camera’s make and model (it reads the image file’s embedded EXIF data to find this. Not all camera brands or models are supported, but most recent Nikon and Canon DSLRs are, along with some Pentax, Sony, Olympus, Leica, and Kodak models). These profiles mimic camera presets you could have applied to your JPEG images in-camera (but are ignored when you shoot in RAW). The default profile is Adobe Standard, which looks pretty average (if you ask me). Here I chose Camera Standard and the image looks more vibrant and has more contrast.

Step Four:

Another one I think looks more JPEG-like is Camera Landscape (for Canon or Nikon images) or Camera Vivid for Nikons, both of which are more vivid and contrasty (choose the one that you like the best). I’ve learned that these profiles look different on different pictures. That’s why I recommend trying a few different profiles to find the one that’s right for the photo you’re working with. Here’s a before/after with the RAW image on the left and the same image with the Camera Standard profile applied on the right. Note: You only get these camera profiles if you shot in RAW. If you shot in JPEG mode, the profile is already embedded.

TIP: Apply Profiles Automatically

If you like a particular profile, Lightroom can automatically apply it to your RAW images as they’re imported: Go to the Develop module, choose the profile (don’t do anything else), and create a Develop preset with that name. Now, choose that preset from the Develop Settings pop-up menu in Lightroom’s Import window. (For more on creating presets, see Chapter 6.)

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