Final Edited Photograph

Lightroom Tutorial: How to Edit Dark Photos in Black & White

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In this tutorial we are going to start with a tough, dark photo because every concert photographer, whether just starting or a seasoned pro, runs into the issue of dark venues with sub-par and hard to catch lighting. Note: Some shadow detail, highlight detail and color is lost during the conversion from RAW to JPEG. You can download a low-res .tif copy here to follow along with this tutorial (right click the link and download or save image as).

 

Original Unedited Photo

Original Unedited Photo

Photo Meta Data:

Image Type: RAW
Focal Length: 50mm
Shutter Speed: 1/160
Aperture: f/1.4
ISO: 1600
Flash: No Flash

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Step 1:

Presets-in-Action-01---02The first thing we want to do is to increase our exposure to bring out more light in all areas of the photo. For this we simply select “Exposure – (+2)” from the Basic Workflow Presets Pack. Alternately you can increase you exposure via the slider. Immediately you now see much more detail and some areas that are almost over exposed but don’t worry! We’ll get to that later. Also notice that there is a lot more noise showing through in the previously dark areas because of the high ISO. More on this coming later as well.

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Step 2:

Presets-in-Action-01-03Now you should apply the preset “Spotlight Highlight” from the Black & White Presets Pack. The photo is a more pleasing already because the color noise isn’t there to distract us any more. The contrast was adjusted by this preset as was the tone curve so there are no blown out highlights left except for some in the bokeh.

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Step 3:

Presets-in-Action-01-04Instead of applying noise reduction we are going to change a few settings in the panel titled “Basic”. This image already has quite a bit of grain and because it’s black and white, applying noise reduction will remove some fine details that make the photo what it is and will make it appear blurry.

  1. Color Temperature – Change from 4900 to 9000 to bring out a bit more contrast and depth.
  2. Tint – Set to “-30” to help manage some of the noise in the shadows.
  3. Shadows – Set to “-25” to add a little more contrast and to help us so we won’t have to use as much noise reduction since the noise is in the shadows and blacks on this photo.
  4. Blacks – Set to “-10” for the same reasons as #2.
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Step 4:

Presets-in-Action-01-05The very bright areas of bokeh to the left of the photograph are distracting to the eye and the overall look. To correct this quickly we are going to use the graduated filter tool. It’s the one under the histogram that is shaped like a rectangle with solid lines. You can also press “M” on the keyboard to select it right away.

The settings I used are as follows:
Contrast: 38
Highlights: -74
Shadows: 17
Everything not listed is set to 0.

To apply the graduated filter, simply click and drag from your desired point. In my photo I started about an inch from the left and dragged the filter all the way over to the fingers. Feel free to adjust the settings after you apply the filter to your liking. Now our eyes are easily drawn to the hand without being distracted by extremely bright bokeh!

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Step 5:

The final adjustment is to change the Highlight Priority located in the panel titled “Effects”. Set it to somewhere between -10 and -20, the other settings are fine. You want to use it just enough to subtly guide the viewers eye to the hand in the photo, without actually making an oval spotlight effect.

We now have a clean, beautiful, natural-digital high ISO grain. You can apply the “Sharpen – I” preset from the Basic Workflow Preset Pack if you wish. It does not apply much sharpening, but just enough to bring out some further detail.

Final Edited Photograph

Final Edited Photograph