In the past I’ve struggled to get good results taking shots of fields of flowers. In Yorkshire, where I lived until recently, May and June are spectacular months with the pastures becoming carpets of yellow and the woods carpets of blue. I’ve never really taken a shot of this that I’ve been entirely happy with but I’ve been getting better thanks to Lightroom.
Here’s a recent shot of wild flowers next to Derwentwater in the Lake District (part of a set I posted just the other day).
I was pleased with the final result and thought I’d share the Lightroom processing steps it took to get there.
Here’s the picture straight out of the camera, as Lightroom shows it. Note that if you’re not viewing this on a well adjusted/calibrated monitor I can’t vouch for what you’ll see.
Apart from needing the usual adjustments, the shot is flat and lifeless. When you take a shot of a field of flowers they recede into the distance. That’s the key feature I see when I’m composing the shot and it’s the thing that doesn’t appear when you first look at the raw file. So that’s the key thing I want to achieve, a sense of depth to the picture.
My first steps in most pictures are often the same – bring up the shadows and bring down the highlights. I usually simply set Shadows to +100 and Highlights to -100. Lightroom sliders are pretty clever and selective. These two adjustments show me all the detail in the high and low ends. This results in the histogram being more bunched up in the middle, which puts more of it into the range that is affected by Contrast.
However, to make sure the histogram is in the right place I’ll use the Exposure control. I want the main bunch of the histogram to be either roughly centred where it is most under control of the Contrast slider or I’ll judge it by eye depending on whether I want a high-key or low-key look to the picture. In this case I want the shot to be low-key overall to get the saturation in the colours but I can give it more brightness later on if needed using the Whites control.
The picture may now look flat and dull but we can now fix this with the Contrast slider. Set this to positive values, anywhere from +5 to +100, judged purely on the look. I slid about and settled on +41 to give me the look I wanted.
After Contrast I’ll usually set Clarity. I do this purely by eye and sometimes will try a variety of settings and flick between them. I chose -20, which softens the shot. This seemed appropriate to the scene.
Now for the sense of depth. The tone and contrast adjustments have already helped with this but I wanted the eye to be drawn to the very dark red flowers in the centre. I did this by using a radial filter to darken the borders of the shot relative to the centre. I first tried a Vignette but this wasn’t enough, I wanted the darkening effect to be more gradual and come in further. I positioned and sized the filter, then set the exposure. I left “Invert Mask” unticked so the exposure adjustment would apply to the outside of the mask. then I reduced the exposure to -0.50 which darkened the borders and left the centre unchanged.
You can see the filter here:
The result is to lead the eye to the centre of the shot, which is almost-but-not-quite the foreground. The sides, nearest foreground, and background are then steadily darker and this gives the sense of depth I wanted.
Almost finally, with the tone right, I did fine adjustment of colour temperature. The in-camera setting wasn’t far off so I only did slight adjustment by eye.
Finally finally, always my last step, using the Detail controls to sharpen. I always use exactly the same settings for every picture – Amount 60, Radius 1.0, Detail 40, Masking 30. I usually shoot at low ISO so don’t normally use noise reduction.
Disclaimer – in the past I’ve standardised on Radius 0.5 for sharpening. I’ve recently re-standardised on 1.0. Some people choose different settings for every shot.
Here’s a screen shot of the full Lightroom history. It isn’t as concise as I’ve laid it out above, as there was some trial and error involved and some back and forth with different settings.
The real key that gave me the result I wanted for this picture was using the radial filter to darken the shot away from the centre. I could have used selective focus for this but I didn’t want that look, I wanted to be able to see flower details all around the frame.