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Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom — Bound

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David duChemin walks you through the adjustments he made in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to a powerful photo of a woman praying in a Sufi shrine.
From the book

I shot “Bound” in Nizamuddin Darga, in Delhi, India. The darga is a shrine to a Sufi saint and is, at times, a magical and intense place. This woman had prostrated herself and was praying. The shackles on her wrists are promises she’s made to the saint or to Allah. It’s a simple image and in my mind’s eye it draws its power from the gesture, so my postprocessing work will go in that direction. There are some lovely earth tones in this image, and the photograph could work rendered in several ways, but I wanted fewer elements competing for the attention of the eye. So I rendered it in black and white.

Before I even touched this image I knew what I wanted from it. I wanted it in black and white, possibly a duotone. I wanted it to feel stark and a little harsh. This is not a gentle image. It’s an image with a woman pouring her heart out, and she’s physically, if not also metaphorically, in chains. And I wanted the eyes of the viewer to go where mine went—to the intersection of her hands and head, to the texture of her skin and the juxtaposition of the chains on an otherwise soft and feminine figure. That’s my starting point.

Correcting flaws in the image will be easy. The only thing I feel needs fixing in the original file is the slight skew; it’s just not straight, and the horizontal lines on the marble make this not only obvious but easy to fix.

Click the Crop Overlay tool, or just press R on your keyboard to bring it up. Now you can eyeball this—grab a corner of the image and rotate until straight—or you can use the Straighten tool. Click the icon for the Straighten tool to activate it, then click and drag it across the horizontal line of marble at the bottom of the image. Press Enter to make the change. This works great for any image in which there’s a line you know to be vertical or -horizontal—it takes the guesswork out of straightening an image.

Because I want to get straight to the black and white conversion for this image, and there’s not a lot of fancy tweaking I want to do with the exposure, I’ve used the Auto function in the Basic panel to get me to a starting point faster. I’ll come back later to tweak, but as you can see it gives me a good place to work from without doing anything weird to my histogram.

Before we do the black and white work, I’m also going to introduce a little more contrast to the image, this time with a simple Point Curve preset. Open your Tone Curve panel, go down to the bottom, and from the Point Curve drop-down menu select Strong Contrast. This is a decision made by preference—I like strong contrast in my black and white images—but it’s also specific to this image because I know that a stronger contrast is going to accentuate the stark feeling I want in this photograph. A gentler imager—something I wanted to be softer—would likely benefit from a softer contrast as well.

Now we’re ready to tweak this in black and white. Go down to the HSL/Color/B&W panel and click the B&W option. This immediately converts the image to a black and white representation of the underlying color file, but will keep those color channels intact, allowing you to push and pull the tonal values according to your tastes and vision for the image.

The default values will need some tweaking, but first take a moment to push each slider back and forth. You’ll notice the Red slider doesn’t affect much more than the dark skin of the woman’s arms. Orange also affects the arms but alters the tonal values of the marble and the woman’s covering, as does Yellow. Each slider makes subtle changes to the image. Take a moment to notice what each one does and which changes you might use to push and pull the eye of the viewer. Blue, for example, seems to really pop the chains if you pull the slider to the right.

The values I settled on came from this same exercise. I wanted the skin tones lighter so I pulled them back to 0. I noticed the Yellow slider introduced a moiré pattern into the woman’s garment, so I pulled it back to 0 as well. Green helped lighten the garment without reintroducing that moiré pattern. Aqua got reset to 0 because it didn’t do much for me. Blue, as you discovered, made the chains pop a little, and so I’ve pulled the slider to +60. The changes here are subtle but they’re important, and in images with more color you’ll notice the changes are less subtle.

Now that I’ve tweaked my black and white conversion, I’m ready to go back to the Basic panel to tweak the overall feel of the image. I’ll do this tweak now because shifting around the values in a conversion can affect the histogram, and it’s easier to fine-tune things after you’ve made the big shifts.

The last round of adjustments kept things pretty dark, so let’s bring the Brightness to +40 and the Fill Light to 20. Notice how the histogram reveals some clipping in both the shadows and highlights? Press J to reveal which shadows and highlights are being clipped. They’re few, and we can correct them later. Remember: fix the big issue first. In this case, it’s the need to brighten the image. The small bits of clipping are easily fixed with a brush or gradient filter later. While we’re here, pull the Clarity slider to +50 to pull a bit of focus to the textures in the shawl, the hands, the chains, and the marble.

The final tweaks will be made with two separate gradients. The first will be used to slightly burn the lower-left corner, the second to both darken and slightly defocus the dark slab of marble at the bottom of the image. I want to darken it to further anchor the image and give it more weight, and I want to slightly defocus it in order to make it less distracting. Again, subtle changes.

The first gradient is pulled from bottom left and up to the end of the first triangle of light with the Exposure at –.50 and Brightness at –20. The second is pulled from just inside the black strip of marble until it touches her little finger, with Exposure at –.50, Brightness at –30, and Clarity at –65. Hold the Shift key down as you drag the gradient and it’ll stay straight.

The image, as it is now, is where I stopped the first time. But the more I played with it the more I wanted two more things, so these are optional. I wanted to try pulling the eye even harder to the hands, chains, and folds of the cloak, and I wanted to introduce a subtle tone.

For the first, I simply painted in the changes I wanted. With my mask visible (the keyboard shortcut is the O key), I painted in a little Exposure, Contrast, and Sharpness, along with a maxed-out Clarity slider.

Lastly—and I really mean it this time—I used the Split Toning panel to create a slightly warm tone for the image. I chose warmer earth tones, kept the saturation quite low, and kept them evenly balanced. I’m still undecided on which of the final prints I like more, but the final image with the warmer tones and the slightly more dramatic hands and folds seems a little closer to what I felt about this scene to begin with.

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