So I thought I would walk you through a quick edit and let you in on my thoughts.

Starting image... reset to just the RAW image for you to see all the steps. (I have a preset that is applied on import usually.)

Starting image… reset to just the RAW image for you to see all the steps. (I have a preset that is applied on import usually.)

The first step that sets the tone for the image and helps clarify the editing is getting the crop and composition how I like it. I crop to the image, not to a set ratio, but some folks prefer to keep certain ratios for printing… it is up to you. Since the main story of the image is the boy and his bike, there is a lot of extraneous area that can be cropped. For action shooting, it is often better to shoot a little wider/looser and then crop after the fact, where as in most slower situations trying to get the composition in camera is always a good practice. In this crop I put Sam on the left third to give him room to move into the frame, and I made sure to show a little of the ground to give visual clues about how high he is jumping.

sam 2

First step… get the composition/crop right.

after the crop

after the crop

After the crop, I then click Auto tone to make sure the black and white points are set, and then I usually bring back the exposure just a touch as it tends to run a little too bright. I tweak a few settings such as Highlights and Shadows and add a little Clarity. Lately, I have been dialing down the Vibrance and Saturation just a touch also, but that is a personal taste.

Tone settings

Tone settings

after toning adjustments

after toning adjustments

After working the toning, I look for distractions that I can remove. The rock on the jump, the post and some bright spots and lines in the background. This helps settle the image and not have parts that are pulling the eye away from the main story.

removing distractions

The points of the spot healing tool used for removing distractions

After removing distracting elements, the next step is to tone down any parts of the image that are too sharp or bright. Bright parts and sharp areas call for the eye to investigate, so if I can tone these parts down, the eye will spend more time where I want it to… so the first thing I do is tone down the dirt hill in front that is pretty bright by using the Gradient tool and setting it to darken just a touch and using a -100 Sharpness to give it a bit of a blur, so that the eye will pass more easily from the hill to Sam’s face.

Gradient tool to darken the jump just a touch

Gradient tool to darken the jump just a touch

Gradient tool settings

Gradient tool settings

Now I use the Adjust brush to tackle the back area and tone down the bright tree trunks and give the whole area a bit of a blur, so that Sam has even a bit more separation.

Overlay showing where the background has been toned down

Overlay showing where the background has been toned down

finished image

finished image

After the crop... comparision

After the crop… comparison

So there you go, nothing fancy but, this is the kind of editing that I do on a regular basis with most of my images. Hope that helps



    • Jan Wagner 4 August, 2015 at 23:33 Reply


      Thank you for the big boost to my confidence. I am fairly new to Lightroom (5 & now 6.1). I am pretty much self-taught.

      The first thing that I noticed in your before and after photos is that you lightened the bike rider’s face. I do that too. Then, as I read your steps, I realized that I am following almost exactly the same process with my action photography that you are — except when it comes to removal of distracting elements. I guess I’ve read too many stories about journalists getting censured for doing that.

      The tool that I seem to have the most trouble with is the gradient tool. Also, on the rare occasion when I take a photo out of Lightroom to do further editing on it in Viveza 2 (Nik Tools), and then I save it, I seem to end up with two identical but separate photos in my library — to the point where I do not know which is which

      I still cannot figure out what those one to three little white-on-black graphics that are superimposed on the lower third of edited photos represent. Those things and more are dangers of being self-taught. There are glaring gaps in my knowledge of the program.

      I just bought Scott’s older Lightroom book (“Lightroom cc Book for Digital Photographers” to see if I can learn some more tips.

      Thanks again for the confidence booster. Seriously. And I like your humility.


  1. Arlyn 31 July, 2015 at 08:39 Reply

    Thanks Pete, I always learn something when I get to see inside your head during your post processing. Nicely done! Regarding Mike’s comment, I would assume you were using the default Adobe Standard profile since you made no mention of switching profiles.

  2. Mike 29 July, 2015 at 10:35 Reply

    Pete, discussing things like clarity, vibrance, and saturation are only useful if you make mention of the profile you are using. The profile has a more drastic effect on some of these visual settings than minor changes in the sliders.

    • Craig 29 July, 2015 at 23:13 Reply

      Me too! But why dull the color in the photo? I usually raise the vibrance and leave saturation to HSL.
      (Pssst, don’t forget to “constrain to image”/warp when cropping.)

        • Richard Adams 10 August, 2015 at 10:03 Reply

          Is your colour blindness red/green? Do you have articles that discuss how you work with colour images knowing that you can’t see some colours? I have the same problem and couldn’t see a magenta colour cast in a sky once, so now I am afraid to make large changes to temperature in case I go too far. Thanks Pete.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *