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Processing Your Food Photography Images with Adobe Lightroom

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In this chapter from Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots, 2nd Edition, Nicole S. Young walks you through using the Develop module in Adobe Lightroom to get the most out of your food photos.
This chapter is from the book

The Develop Module

Now that you have made your selections, it’s time to start processing! In this section, we’ll head over to the Develop module and work our way through several of the panels to give you a good idea on how to get started with processing your photos in Lightroom.

When deciding where to start editing, the best approach is to work from top to bottom. This means you will start at the topmost panel and work your way down. Of course, you can always go back and make adjustments to any panel at any time, but it’s a good method to start with, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed or don’t quite know what you want to do with your photo.

Cropping and Cloning

At the top of the right sidebar, just below the Histogram panel, is a row of tools. These tools can be useful when the need arises. The two you will likely use most often with food are the Crop and Spot Removal tools.

The Crop Tool

One of the first things I do with my photos before doing any processing is to crop the image (Figure 6.18). I do this because I like to see the overall composition of my photo before making any other edits. To use the Crop tool, click the far-left icon and then use the overlay in the Preview window to make your changes with your cursor. (You can also use the keyboard shortcut R to activate it quickly.) Here are some things to keep in mind when cropping:

  • To keep your aspect ratio locked, you can click the lock icon in the panel to prevent it from changing.
  • If you would like to change the aspect ratio altogether, click the drop-down and choose one from the list or enter a custom ratio of your own.
  • To straighten the image, click the Auto button above the Angle setting. If that doesn’t do the trick, use the Angle slider to do it manually.
Figure 6.18

Figure 6.18 The Crop tool allows you to crop and straighten your images in Lightroom.

The Spot Removal Tool

If you have small spots in your image that need to be removed, such as a sensor spot or a crumb that is out of place, you can remove them using the Spot Removal tool. Here’s how:

  1. Zoom into your image by clicking once over the spot you want to remove. (A)

  2. Activate the Spot Removal tool using the toolstrip, or press Q on your keyboard to activate it quickly.
  3. Use the cursor and move the tool over the spot in your image that you would like to remove. If you need to resize the brush, you can do that from inside the panel on the right. (B)

  4. Next, click once over the spot, and watch it disappear! Lightroom chooses a similar area within your image to clone from, and you will see this overlay as you hover over the image. (C)

  5. If you need to make adjustments or relocate the cloned area, hover the cursor over the circular icon until the cursor changes to a hand. Then, click and drag to a more appropriate location.
  6. You can also make further adjustments to the Size, Feather, and Opacity of the cloned area inside the panel. (D)

Basic Edits

Now, let’s go through the panels and sliders you can use when processing the tones and color of a food photograph in the Develop module. This is a good introduction to using the panels in this module, and if you would like to see these settings in action, please turn to Chapter 7, where I show how to process several photographs from start to finish.

The Basic Panel

The Basic panel is where you will make the majority of the edits to your food photographs. It’s where you can change the white balance of your raw photo, and it’s also the best place to adjust the tones as well. Here is an explanation of how of these settings affect your images:

  • WB (Temp and Tint): This section is where you adjust the white balance of your images. Do this first before making any other changes, and try to get the photo to look as balanced as possible. It’s likely that your camera did a good job, especially if you used its auto white balance, but sometimes your images will still need minor corrections. You can also try the different options in the drop-down to the right, or you can use the eyedropper tool to select a white portion of your image to automatically set the white balance based on the colors in your photo (Figure 6.19).

    Figure 6.19

    Figure 6.19 The original white balance for this image was too yellow, so I moved the Temp slider to the left to cool it down.

  • Tone: This section is to increase or decrease exposure and contrast in your image. When you are starting out, the best way to discover which settings to use is to just try them. Slide them back and forth until you get to a good idea of where to place the slider. You can also use the Auto button to get you off to a possible starting point and then adjust the settings from there (Figure 6.20).

    Figure 6.20

    Figure 6.20 To adjust the tone in this image, I first clicked the Auto button and then made adjustments to add more brightness and contrast.

  • Presence: This section has three sliders: Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation. The Clarity slider is similar to a sharpening effect. Use it lightly, or you can add a little too much “crunchiness” to your image. Both the Vibrance and Saturation sliders either increase or decrease the color in your image. Again, try to not be heavy-handed with these sliders, especially if you are going for realistic color (Figure 6.21).

    Figure 6.21

    Figure 6.21 By zooming in on this photo, you can see that I added a slight amount of clarity, along with some vibrance and saturation to enhance the colors.

Tone Curve

The Tone Curve panel is a good place to further edit the tones in your image. You can either use the sliders in the section labeled Region or click the Point Curve icon to edit the curve yourself (Figure 6.22).

Figure 6.22

Figure 6.22 You can either edit the tone curve by using the sliders, like I did with this image, or you can click the small icon in the bottom right to manipulate the curve directly.


If you would like to make selective edits to the colors in your image, the HSL panel is the best place to do so. The Hue section will alter and change the colors of the image, Saturation will intensify the existing colors, and Luminance will either darken or lighten specific groups of colors (Figure 6.23).

Figure 6.23

Figure 6.23 For this image, I made several adjustments to make the colors stand out. I altered the Blue sliders to make them darker and more saturated, I decreased the luminance of the Yellow slider to darken the cup and the butter, and I also slightly desaturated the Orange slider to reduce some of the color in the toast.

Split Toning

With the Split Toning panel, you can alter the color of the highlights, shadows, or both. It is meant to mimic a cross-processed film photograph, and while you may not use it often with your food images, it can be a fun tool to use for other images (Figure 6.24).

Figure 6.24

Figure 6.24 This shows an example of a subtle split tone effect on a plate of blueberries.


The Detail panel is the place to go if you want to add sharpening or reduce the noise in your photo. My advice when using either of these sliders is to zoom in to make sure that you are not adding any artifacting or halos to the photo (Figure 6.25). Also, adding too much noise reduction can make the photo look “mushy.” Just be aware of the changes you are making so that they are not overdone.

Figure 6.25

Figure 6.25 It’s best to zoom in when making changes in the Detail panel to avoid overdoing it.

Lens Correction

Lightroom has the ability to correct your image for distortion and vignetting caused by certain lens types. It can also automatically remove chromatic aberration, which is the appearance of unsightly green or purple halos around the edges of some portions of your image (Figure 6.26). Chromatic aberration usually appears on photos with a lot of contrast or shiny metal objects (such as flatware) and is also more prevalent with lower-quality lenses. You can also access the other sections of this panel (Profile, Color, and Manual) to make more precise or manual adjustments to your image as needed.

Figure 6.26

Figure 6.26 I used the Color section in the Lens Correction panel to remove green chromatic aberration from an out-of-focus portion of a photograph.


The Effects panel is for adding vignettes and film grain. It’s unlikely that you will want to add grain to a food photograph, but you may choose to add a subtle vignette, and this is a good place to do so (Figure 6.27).

Figure 6.27

Figure 6.27 I added a vignette to this image to darken the edges.

Camera Calibration

The last panel in the right sidebar is Camera Calibration. Here you can select the process version (which is set to the most current version by default), as well as make adjustments to the profile (Figure 6.28). It is another way to adjust the colors in your image, but it’s unlikely that you will find much of a need to go here regularly.

Figure 6.28

Figure 6.28 Notice the difference in color saturation between the Adobe Standard profile (top) versus the Camera Landscape profile (bottom). (Note: the items listed in the Profile drop-down may vary depending on the camera model used for the photograph.)

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