Use Lightroom to Transform Dull Photos

Use Lightroom to Transform Dull Photos

Take those flat, lackluster photos that were destined for the trash and set them free in a flash with these simple Lightroom tweaks.

It's easy to skip over those grayish looking photos that we took while on holiday. Perhaps the sun just wasn't shining on the day you had the family round for dinner. Whatever the situation, there's no reason to throw out all those perfectly good photos. You just need a little help from Lightroom Classic.

In just a few minutes you can lift that drab, mundane photo into something punchy and impactful. I'll be taking a look at how to do just that with a few alterations to the color profile and making some tweaks to the levels. I'll also look at altering the optical performance from the lens and show you how to introduce a filter that will grab your attention every time. See below for the before and after, then check out how I did it below.

Change the Image Profile

Change your image profile first before carrying on with any other edits, this will help set up the basic color and tonal palette for you to then work on

The first way to wrangle a flat photo like this is to take it from the top. I like to experiment with altering the image profiles right at the top of the basic editing panel in the develop module. Now, this is a photo that has to really pop so I'm going to change the profile from the default Adobe Color to Adobe Landscape and that's because it seems to give this shot a bit more vibrancy in both contrast and saturation. I can use this change as a solid foundation on which to lay the rest of my edits.

Adjust the Tone

Make large-scale adjustments first by increasing the exposure slider to uniformly boost the brightness of the whole image then lift muddy shadows after

Working my way down the basic panel it's good to next move onto correcting the exposure. This dull photo is a little underexposed so I've added +0.38 on the exposure slider to lift everything slightly. It's important not to overdo this too much as you may end up making the photo too bright too quickly because we'll be making some adjustments to the rest of the levels range later. Now is a good time to address any issues you have with muddy shadows that hide detail. In this shot there's plenty of murky shadows in the buildings so I lifted the shadows slider to +23 to correct this.

Balance Your Levels

Make the shot shine with a wider dynamic range, do this by boosting the whites and blacks sliders

This is where the photo edit really starts to come alive. After making my exposure and shadows adjustments it's time to go wild with the rest. I really want my bright areas to be punchy so I've added +48 on the whites slider and that makes the very brightest portions even brighter. It's crucial to stop before you clip the whites though because otherwise you'll lose detail and ruin the photo. Lifting the shadows has revealed detail in the buildings but now the photo is starting to look a little washed out, to remedy this I'll turn the blacks slider down to -23 which introduces depth to the darkest blacks in the shot. The histogram is now starting to stretch out in the top-right of the window and that means we're introducing a much wider dynamic range - and that's what we want to see.

Reveal the Presence

Under the presence section you can change things such as texture, clarity, and dehaze to help add definition to murkier areas of the photo. The vibrance slider boosts saturation of colors, starting with the subtler colors first, and makes it virtually impossible to clip them

Another reason this cityscape is a little drab is due to the definition between the buildings. Most of the scene is photographed under a blanket of cloud so the shadows are soft and wrapping. You can even see a rainbow in the center indicating that it's raining with the sun camera-right and behind me. So that's where the presence section in the basic panel comes into play. By adding +15 on the Texture slider I introduce these tiny fragments of micro-contrast across the buildings, helping to define the windows and sharp edges. I also want to boost the Dehaze slider just a tiny bit (+5) to remove glare across the entire photo.

But something still isn't quite right, so I decided to increase the Vibrance slider to +18 in order to boost the colors in the photo without clipping them. The subtler colors in the sky and in the shade of the buildings are greatly enhanced thanks to the unique way the Vibrance slider works.

Enable Lens Corrections

Lens corrections helps to remove unwanted optical aberrations that the lens captures. In this case the barrel distortion is corrected and the dark vignette around the edge is removed automatically

This drab photo is nearly there, but the image still looks flat edge-to-edge. I skip down to the bottom of the editing panels in the develop module until I get to the lens corrections panel. From here I switch on enable profile corrections and let Lightroom Classic do all the heavy lifting trying to match up the metadata from my image file with the correct lens profile built into Lightroom. By doing this the barrel distortion is removed and the outer vignette caused by the optical characteristics of the lens has been reduced, letting the edges of the frame lift in brightness. This gives a much clearer and fresher feeling to the overall shot.

Highlight With a Radial Filter

Draw the eye into the center of the photo with an increase in the whites slider on the radial filter which is situated right in the middle of the frame

To polish things off it's time to draw the eye to the center of the frame. Traditionally, I would opt for a dark vignette around the edge of the frame to encourage the eye to move towards the middle of the image, but the last step was taken to specifically remove this. Instead, I opt to drop in a radial filter to the center of the shot, boosting the whites slider to +53. This makes a huge improvement to the impact of the photo and makes it come alive. The rainbow is also thankful for the increased intensity. I've boosted the saturation slider to +11 to help draw the attention to the center of the frame, leaving the outer edges just slightly less interesting.

Jason Parnell-Brookes's picture

Jason is an internationally award-winning photographer with more than 10 years of experience. A qualified teacher and Master’s graduate, he has been widely published in both print and online. He won Gold in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 and was named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014.

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Using Lightroom to edit a photo, why didn’t I think of that.

Thanks Jason!!!