Adobe Lightroom is my favorite program to edit underwater photos and it has extensive tools to help improve both images and the organization of images. Editing can be as personal as the act of taking photos and many people develop their own style over time. One can spend hours on individual images; however, I usually apply the same quick edits to most of my images. If it’s going to take me an hour to edit, I usually skip that photo completely. Here are a few of my go-to editing tools for my underwater images.
1. Post-Crop Vignetting
Vignetting refers to the shadowing or softening of the edges of an image. Some lenses create this effect naturally and Lightroom allows the ability to add or remove this within the program. There are two vignetting options, one under Lens Corrections which alters the vignetting caused by a lens or mimics it, but only at the edges of the image as it was shot.
Post-Crop Vignetting, found under Effects, applies changes to the image however it has been cropped. (For example, using the slider bar under Lens Correction and then cropping will mean you crop that edit out.) I use the Post-Crop Vignetting in moderation as a quick and dirty way to make a subject stand out. This usually works best if my shot includes a large subject in or near the middle of the image. By darkening the edges, the subject appears to pop. Like almost every tool in Lightroom, moderation is the key. Sliding the bar in either direction will create a black or white ring around your photo and using it towards the extremes can easily be noticed in your final product.
The tool gives the ability to change the amount added, adjust the midpoint, the roundness, feather and highlights. I usually adjust the midpoint and rounding slightly depending on the size and shape of the subject. Sliding the feather tool helps the edit to blend into the center of the image so a black circle is not evident in the image. Usually I set the amount to around -25 and feather to 75.
This is important, even if it isn’t the most fun of tasks. Lightroom allows you to add all sorts of information to you images (which is stored in the program and you can search for images later on using that information and you can set your export to embed that information in the new files you create.) Think of it like doing sit-ups, you will hate me for telling you to do them every day, but you’ll thank me in the long run.
My recommendation is that each time you import images spend a few minutes adding keywords. Add things like the location of the dive from country to dive site (for example: Indonesia, Lembeh Strait, Magic Rock.) If your camera’s date and time are set correctly that info will already be in the image metadata, but if that isn’t the case, add the month and year. Also add keywords about what subjects are in the image (diver, nudibranch, whale and get specific if you can) or any other notes to your future self of what is in the image.
This way, five years from now when you are trying to find that one image you took in Lembeh of a Glossodoris rufomarginata you can easily use Lightroom’s filter tools to search the key words and find your image. You can also sync a group of images and add the same keywords to many images as once.
3. Selective Editing Tools
If you don’t know what the Graduated Filter, Radial Filter, and Adjustment Brush are, this is your task for the day. Find where they are, how to use them, and you’ll love them. They allow you to isolate specific parts of an image and apply edits only to those parts.
Graduated filter lets you pull a line across the image and edit just whichever that side. It also blends the edits as it moves across the image. Radial filter lets you draw a circle and either edit the space in the circle or outside the circle (click the invert box to choose). The Adjustment Brush lets you paint the edits on the image, with the most control of which parts receive the edits. You can make the brush larger or smaller and change the feather on the outside of the brush to blend and make the edits looks natural.
4. Lightroom Mobile
Get this. I’ll admit my attachment to Lightroom Mobile is mostly from a vanity standpoint. This app is free for some editing tools and works easily on your phone or tablet. For full access you have to be subscribed to Adobe Lightroom and you can sync your mobile and desktop versions. As underwater photographers we are lucky to often find ourselves in beautiful places surrounded by awesome people who look super cool in dive gear. Those kinds of images are fun to post on social media minute-by-minute throughout your dive day. I can snap some Instagram-worthy shots and do a few quick edits including slapping on a watermark to protect my image and upload immediately.
Personally, I don’t use the mobile version for long editing sessions, like reviewing photos from a whole trip, but I know people who do (especially on a tablet.) I think it’s great for quick edits like adding a watermark in the field, cropping, etc., when I can’t access my computer right away.
A semi-new addition to Adobe Lightroom, dehaze can currently be found in Adobe LIghtroom Classic CC and in the mobile version. According to Adobe, “The Dehaze technology is based on a physical model of how light is transmitted, and it tries to estimate light that is lost to do absorption and scattering through the atmosphere.” Sometimes it works pretty well through water too.
This is another tool best used in moderation, but it’s not uncommon for underwater photos to become a bit blown out, particularly in the background. It makes the image look hazy (hence “dehaze”). This can help bring back underwater images that appear too blown out or backgrounds with little definition. In the past I have often used the clarity tool, but sometimes that over-enhances the background when applied to the whole photo.
Found under Basic tools (in previous versions it was under Effects), moving the slider tool to the right reduces haze (which is usually what I use it for) and moving it to the left increases haze, which can be fun for some creative editing adding blur and haze to the background, for example in black and white images.
Dehaze can also be found in those selective editing tools mentioned in #3 and will allow you to add the tool to only parts of the image. For example, sometimes I only alter the background and not the subject.
These tips hardly scratch the surface of what Adobe Lightroom can do, but they are some of my favorite tips and techniques I use on many of the images I edit. Want to know more or not sure how to get started with Lightroom? Check out this article:
Good luck and Happy Editing!
- Top Dive Spots in the Philippines that Every Underwater Photographer Has to Visit ASAP – July 21, 2020
- Shooting in Bad Viz by Brandi Mueller – April 29, 2020
- My Top 5 Lightroom Tips for Underwater Photography – April 13, 2020