Introduction: Guide to Creating a Mood in Lightroom!

About: My name is Anthony Bolognese. I am a highly motivated, enthusiastic, and flexible multimedia specialist and I love utilizing my talent and ideas to achieve the most desirable finished product. I am a team play…

Taking pictures is fun, we all know that. But when you get back into the comfort of your home office or all cozy with some tea and your Macbook in bed, you may become disheartened at how "bland" the pictures you were so excited to have taken turned out. I mean they're in focus, the lighting is clear, but there's just something missing...

Editing your pictures isn't a sin, contrary to what some people believe. It's a method of expression. Seeing beyond what's really there and creating something new. In photoshop, you could fabricate a grandiose scheme and completely change the subject, but we'll save that for a different tutorial. Today, we're looking at the magic that Adobe Lightroom has to offer.

We'll start with a basic understanding of what this software is. Lightroom is a non-destructive photo editing software focused mainly on, you guessed it, lighting. It takes your raw pictures and lets you weave the webs of coloration, focus, and much more to give your initial product a greater purpose.

Let's dive into just one example of the Godsend that this software really is.

It's difficult to give you a pixel-by-pixel tutorial, so a lot of these instructions will be fairly vague and explain more about how the software best interacts with a picture, rather than how to create an exact mood with this exact picture.

(If you have Lightroom and would like to follow along, download my original Canon RAW image here.

If you'd just like to follow the differences and take notes as I explain the process, download both images here)

Step 1: Importing and Selecting Your Picture(s)

Upon opening Lightroom, you will be presented with the Library interface.

Clicking "Import" will get you started.

Select the individual picture or the entire folder you'd like to bring in for editing.

Step 2: Beginning Your Edit

Keep in mind that this tutorial will be based on my personal preference, but will still give you a basic understanding of Lightroom's interface and what can be done with it. For anything else, you can toy around with the software and find your own personal style.

Now that we've got our picture imported, click over to the "Develop" tab (top right of the screen). This brings you a vast series of options for your initial dive into the photo's future. You'll see on the right hand side a series of tabs labeled:

Histogram - A visual representation of the elements of your photo, paired with the camera's data of the picture.

Basic - For the usual control sliders like Exposure, Hue, Saturation, and more.

Tone Curve - For highlights, lights, darks, and shadows.

HSL/Color/B&W - For a more detailed look at your colors.

Split Toning - For perfecting the relationship between your highlights and shadows.

Detail - For adjusting the very close up aspects of your photo. Sharpening edges, noise reduction, smoothness, etc.

Lens Corrections - For fixing the distortion in shape and color your lens creates. Also offers drop down boxes to fill out the lens's information for higher accuracy.

Effects - Highlight Priority, Color Priority, and Paint Overlay. Each with their own set of sliders for even more personalization.

Camera Calibration - Offers RGB sliders and color profiles to get the best out of your camera.

I personally recommend your first editing choice be to select all three check boxes in the basic tab of Lens Corrections, and click Auto. This will mildly crop your photo and vertically/horizontally align the lines it thinks work best (which are usually the right ones. If not, you can manually change them with the Crop & Straighten tool under the Histogram tab).

After that, you have the option to use a standard (or downloaded and installed) preset to get the ball rolling. Lightroom offers a plethora of effects for a variety of photography styles to the left of your picture. You can toy around with these to make the decision on which tone and feel you think works best for the photo in question. If you like the look of a particular preset, you can open up the tabs to the right and adjust the preset's values or just leave it as is.

Step 3: Burn It Down

The Mask tool is located under the Histogram to the far right. With this, you can add adjustment layers in the form of a brush to your photo.

Right now, we'll be using the Burn tool.

When I look at the raw versions of my pictures, I look to see where the shadows are, and what contrast can be heightened and accentuated to look incredible. Here is a close-up of part of the raw image next to the final edit. See how much more vividly the glass reflects the sunlight? By darkening areas of the patio with the Burn tool, the lights and highlights are preserved, and the darks are "burned" in a little more (depending on where you drop that little slider that appears over your first brush mark. It's a live preview of what you're doing). Look also at the grain of the wood. The entire image looks much deeper and darker. It also gives off a more somber, lonely, desolate mood than the vague 4:30 PM shadows that were actually there.

The Burn tool is one of my favorites in Lightroom. For my photography style, it creates the most dramatic mood and helps me to distinguish the colors I need to lessen later on in the editing process.


Looking side by side at the raw photo and complete photo, I'm sure you can already see a lot of the specific parts I darkened using the Burn tool.

- I started with the former glass areas of the door. The natural light still shone enough inside to show the wood panel closet door and the debris on the floor. I didn't want that to distract from the subject of the photo and I really liked the idea of having a mysterious look inside. Something you can clearly see is open to the air, but is pitch black in contrast to the destroyed door. This was done with just one brush, so I could fill in all the inside space and bring the exposure down to an appropriate black. I took care to rebrush over the areas of the door I accidentally included to get them back to the way they were (Alt + click for the subtraction brush)

- I prefer to create my own vignettes through trial and error. It's much better to be able to control the viewer's visual direction down to the pixel rather than just slap on a preset and leave an overly rounded clear area in the center. Some photos call for a more subtle approach than others. This was one. In another version of this photo I edited, I cropped even more, almost to the top of the door. This was to compensate for the imperfect centering job I did in the first place (hey, you live and learn right?). Giving some dark space under the porch's overhang let me create more contrast with the light on the right, which we'll get to in a little bit.

- After I did the bottom vignette, I noticed more potential in the patio. There was so much action down there, it had to be a more prominent part of the photo. I used one iteration of Burning to darken everything south of the door, then a few more passes with separate brushes to accentuate the transitions between shadows and daylight, as well as the individual pieces of glass and the plank of wood to the right. I then darkened my lower vignette a little more to keep the focus away from the corners.

- I traveled up the wall a little bit to define the more subtle shadows more, then took to the doorframe and door's details.

With the burns out of the way, I took to my next tool, Dodge.

Step 4: Dodge and Weave

There's a photography law that I now understand the reasoning behind. ALWAYS shoot in RAW. A raw image retains an incredible amount of detail, even in the darkest shadows (for a more extreme example and information about this, check out British landscape photographer Freddie Ardley's "Details in the Dark" blog post here). Sometimes it's more necessary than others, but used in a subtle way, the Dodge tool can create highlights the sun couldn't even dream of showing you.

Dodge is located right under Burn in the Effects drop down box.

I used it very sparingly in this particular photo, but it's a great tool to know you have.

My main two uses were to help accentuate the reflections of the glass on the patio floor and to make it seem as though the light to the right of the door was still powered, even in the decay and destruction. They're pretty simple steps, so I'll spare you the "Click here... Now click here..." deal. It's got the same mechanics as the Burn tool, with the opposite effect.

Seriously though, click that link up there. Freddie Ardley could create a masterpiece with Lightroom in his sleep. Read up on the potential you get when shooting in RAW, then take a look at his work and blog.

Step 5: Gotta Keep It Saturated (or Not)

Color can tell a lot about your photo. It's what creates a mood. In photos like this one, I like to stick with lightly saturated and cool colored. As you can see, the residual redness of the wood in the door seems a little jarring to that idea.

In the HSL/Color/B&W tab, you've got all the sliders to take care of this. If you scroll back up, you can see exactly where I let mine rest. I took out a lot of the Hue colors, Desaturated the yellow and green to make the outer walls seem less grimy, and got very specific with Luminance. Depending on your picture, Hue, Saturation, and Luminance will have varying effects, and one will always be more drastic than the others. In this case, it was Luminance.

After the general HSL editing, I went back up to the Mask menu and created a new Saturation brush.

I noticed that the broken and bare wood was still very red, even after the previous adjustments. I brushed over it all, then brought the saturation slider down until it wasn't so out of place. That's more of a personal preference thing, so you can mess around with it yourself.

Step 6: Step Back and Take a Look

As humans, we have the general ability to tell what we like and what we don't. After all the previous steps are said and done, scoot your chair back and look over your progress. You may notice any number of things that still don't quite look perfect. This is okay.

Bottom line, things don't usually turn out perfect on the first try. Good thing I'm not timing you! This is your learning process. It's the time for you to try new things. Some will work, some won't, and that's perfectly okay. I've shown you what I did with this picture, now it's your turn. You can make it anything you want.

If you're as excited with your first edit as I was, you probably can't wait to go take your own pictures and bring them into Lightroom. I wish you all the best with yours, and I hope to see them all across the internet!

Thank you,

Anthony Bolognese

Inspired heavily by the work of Freddie Ardley, a phenomenal photographer and editor.

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