One Tool, Three Ways: Selective Edits in Lightroom Classic CC
Talking to so many photographers and immersing myself in their work has taught me much about the medium. No two photographers approach a scene the same, and what they choose to do in postproduction make the resulting photographs as unique as their fingerprints.
In this installment of One Tool, Three Ways, we’re examining how the collection of brushes, sliders, and gradients of Selective Edits become very different instruments when put in the hands of artists across three different fields of professional photography. Once again, we’re joined by Maddie, Kevin, and Jonpaul to examine different applications of this powerful suite of tools.
Architecture and landscape expert Kevin Wong took us through how he approaches his photography with Selective Edits. He explained, “In the beginning, I use Selective Edits on an area that requires immediate attention, such as a puddle reflection that is underexposed or a sky that is overexposed. After applying the subsequent adjustments to the overall image, I’ll go back to the Selective Edits tool for a second round of editing.”
To demonstrate, he gave his breakdown of a particularly striking sunset. “In most instances, one single application of Selective Edits is enough to produce a finished and polished image. With this image, though, I had to select two areas and edit them independent of each other, in particular — the sky as one selected area and the skyline as the other.”
As with much of Kevin’s photography taken during golden hour, there’s a duality to his edits. By selecting just the sky, he is able to add luminance to the warm colors of the clouds and keep his overall saturation in check. Then he addresses the skyline, which is left underexposed and visually mute compared to the rippling splendor of the sky above. However, with a couple of edits, Kevin offsets the smoothness of the sky by increasing the brightness and clarity of the city below.
Moving on to the human side of Selective Edits, we turn to Maddie McGarvey to get her photojournalist perspective. “Selective Edits are crucial in my post-processing workflow. Often times, when exposing for a photo, either the background or the subject matter is too dark or too light. Using the adjustment brush, I can either bring out the hues of the background or lighten the subject so all parts of the photograph are balanced,” she said.
Maddie showed what she meant by pulling up a photo she took recently. The photograph is of a woman standing in an alley with the light of the afternoon sun pouring in behind her. With several different brushes and adjustment levels, Maddie used Selective Edits to separate the layers of the photo.
“The goal is to bring out a person’s face. I’m always drawn to their eyes, expression, and features,” she said while adding the finishing touches. The end result was what could best be described as a human moment — cinematically perfect and yet organic. “I think the trick is to not overdo it. You don’t want the person in the photograph to look unnatural from the background.”
Finally, we spoke with Jonpaul Douglass to get his take on how Selective Edits helps him electrify his abstract work. “I typically try to get a photograph as close to my original vision as I can in-camera. But, the reality is that when shooting in raw, the photograph will always need to be enhanced in post no matter how good the starting place is,” he said with a shrug. “In mixed lighting situations where correcting the white balance globally won’t suffice, I’ll use the adjustment brush to paint over specific portions of the photograph to correct each portion with a temperature mask.”
With a long history of tinkering and pushing Lightroom’s tools to the limit, we were interested in a walkthrough of Jonpaul’s process, which he was happy to provide. He opened a photograph of many colored objects against a white background in Lightroom and started by establishing consistency with his whites. “I batch edit with a lens profile correction, which many times will take care of any unwanted vignetting,” he said.
Using a hotkey to quickly switch between his brush and eraser, he masked out what he wanted and began his explorative process of enhancing each color. “Since this photo was all about making those colors pop against the white background, I simply painted over each color with the adjustment brush and pulled up the exposure and saturation. I then painted the white background, boosted exposure to taste, and desaturated it so it actually felt like more of a true white.”
A parting thought
Cameras rarely capture everything that photographers see or imagine in the scenes they compose. But the beauty of professional tools is their ability to help realize a professional vision. No matter your subject, Selective Edits can help ensure the viewer actually sees what you visualize in your mind’s eye.