Day 13 of “Lightroom Only” Month (A Cloudy Day)

Welcome to Day 13 in my self-project-ish, month-long postings of images I’m only using Lightroom to edit. If you’re just coming in to reading this and haven’t read the original post where I wrote why I’m doing this, then make sure you check that out too. Okay, here goes:

The Photo: A Cloudy Day
Well, I’m not winning any awards with this photo :-) But I really wanted to include a photo like this in the series I’m doing this month. See, I’ve been posting a lot of photos taken in beautiful conditions (sunny, great light, etc…). But I figured it was time to see what we could do with a photo taken on a cloudy day. We can’t always get perfect weather right? But sometimes it’s the only weather we get when we’re on a trip, so we have to make the best of it. This photo is one of those times. The clouds and fog settled in when I was on a cruise. I still wanted to shoot the beautiful scenery around me though. But it just looked so flat when I got it in to Lightroom, that I had to get a little creative with it afterwards.

(click to see the image larger)
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Photo Details:
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: Nikon 16-35mm
Aperture: f/6.7
Shutter Speed: 1/180 sec
ISO: 200

Straightening The Photo
First you’ll notice the photo is kinda crooked so I used the Straighten tool (located within the Crop Tool), and dragged along the water/fog line to straighten it.

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Basic Processing
The Auto button did a good job here to start with. I did go in after to pull back even further on the Highlights to tone down the sky. I also increased the Clarity to add some contrast.

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Color
There’s not much color here to begin with. I did click on the gray clouds with the white balance eye dropper though to get a good white balance point for the photo. I made it a little warmer which I think worked here. From there, I increased the Vibrance to boost the greens. Then I decreased the Saturation just a little to give the photo more of a desaturated look. I think it works for this one because of the dreary day.

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The Detail Panel (Sharpening)
Once again, there’s no noticeable noise in the photo so I left the Noise sliders alone. I did add some detail though. Like always, I increased the Amount, Radius, and Detail sliders. Because there’s so much detail on the sides you can really push the sharpening. And there’s no need for the Masking slider because the whole photo should be sharpened.

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The Sky
There’s a lot we can do with the sky here. Believe it or not, there’s a lot of detail and texture up there, but we just can’t see it yet. So I used the Graduated Filter with reduced Exposure and increased Clarity.

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The problem I have sometimes is that by dragging the filter down I also darkened the sides of the mountain on the sides of the photo. A little trick to help keep that from happening is to increase the Shadows slider to counteract the reduced Exposure. Since the sky doesn’t really have any shadows, it’ll usually only effect the darker areas and leave the sky alone.

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If you’re really looking for some dramatic skies, you can also add another graduated adjustment to the sky with increased Clarity. You can either drag a new one or right-click and choose Duplicate to make a copy of an existing adjustment. It’s hard to notice here, but it does add to the overall dramatic feel and texture/detail in the clouds.

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Retouching
I was standing on a boat so you can still see parts of it on the bottom and middle left. I used the Spot Removal Tool (in Heal mode) to paint away with the areas. Lightroom didn’t pick a good sample point right away though, so I had to help out a little after the fact and move the sample point over closer to what I was painting over.

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Finishing Touches
A vignette works good here. And I was able to use the one in the Effect panel since I really just wanted to darken the edges. Not too strong though, because the photo already has a darker feel to it. 

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What Else?
I’m not crazy about the boats in the middle. There’s not enough of them there to really make an impact so, to me, they’re more of a distraction. Lightroom didn’t work that great at removing them so I’d probably turn to Photoshop to help clone them away. Also, this photo would have been perfect if I had onOne Software’s Perfect Effects (the Dynamic Contrast filter). Those clouds have so much detail and texture in them and I know Dynamic Contrast would have pulled it out even better than Lightroom.

Here’s a quick Before/After:

See you back here tomorrow!

Author: Matt K

Matt is a full time Education Director for the NAPP and Kelby Training. He's a best-selling author of various books on Photoshop and Photography co-hosts the live weekly photography talk show "The Grid" and is co-host of "Photoshop User TV". In his spare time he practices as a 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo and enjoys spending time with his family in Tampa, FL.

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11 Comments

  1. Matt, This series have been the most helpful for me. After going through the video boot camp tutorials, it comes down to making the decisions you are going through in each step of each image. I’ve been using lightroom exclusively since it came out and rarely go to Photogshop or the Nix software anymore. Thanks for this series.

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  2. Thanks Matt, I have a whole series of photos taken in Alaska i weather just like this….. now I can go back and “fix” them!

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  3. Wow, what a difference, Matt. Like Marty, I have quite a few photos I took in Canada, Banff, Jasper, and Whistler that I can try this on.

    I still have a problem with sharpening … I just can’t seem to push it as far as you do. The photo starts to get gritty and dirty looking and the halos pop. I guess I’ll just keep messing around until I get the right combination. :-)

    Dennis

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    • You have my email don’t you Dennis. Send me a copy. Maybe you’re just pixel peeping too much? I’d like to see it though. Have you tried printing one of those photos you think is too sharp? Maybe it prints fine?

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      • Not sure if this has been said before, but it would be cool, possibly at month’s end, to see these photos ‘perfected’ in photoshop/plugins. I’m interested to see how much closer to your vision you can get them.

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        • Hey Scott – I’m going to do a post where I show a photo that I used in Photoshop. Don’t know that I’ll be able to go back and do ALL of the photos, but I’ll try to take one using just LR and one using everything that I normally would. My guess is that the results aren’t going to be hugely different. A lot of it is subjective so I think they’ll look close to what the LR version does. But I know that I’m kinda picky so even if I’m the only one that sees it, it makes a difference to me.
          Thanks!

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      • Hey Matt, I do have your email. I’ll get the picture to you. Pixel peeping? Does that mean, I’m looking to close at the photo? :-) Thanks, I’ll get the photo to you.

        Dennis

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  4. Mat, the buildings look like they could use some lens correction or is it only noticeable when zoomed in. I have been enjoying the series thank you.

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  5. Hey Matt, thanks for this series. It has really been enlightening on how powerful Lightroom really is and I’ve learned some cool tips from watching how you edit. I see above that you are thinking of posting a photo of how you edited it using Photoshop, which would be really cool to see how close Lightroom gets. But I’d love to see how a photo will look when you use onOne’s Dynamic Contrast. You talk about that plugin alot, so it’d be interesting to see how close Lightroom gets in comparison. Thanks again for putting your knowledge out there for us all.

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    • Thanks :)
      I’ll be posting a recap after it’s all done and most likely show some different photos and how they look the way that I’d do them if I had Photoshop and all my plug-ins.

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  6. hallo,
    you say so frequently that dynamic contrast is so fantastic that it would be nice you can suggest to adobe to implement it so we can remain in non destructive editing.nik has also this tool but again needs to create a tiff just for a sharpening and i don’t do that even if i have these two suites.
    same stands for heal mode : can you suggest they make a content aware spot removal one day like onone did ?

    Not sure adobe has developed camera raw and all good tools are in plugin so we can wonder what adobe really does. They must notice their tools are not very powerful in LR compared to what they can do in photoshop.

    best regards
    marc

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