Lightroom has a vast array of buttons, sliders, and selection boxes that can improve just about any photo, but sometimes the options are so overwhelming you don’t even know where to start! It’s impossible to say what specific adjustments will work for any given photo, partly because there are infinite possibilities and every photographer is unique. However, there are a few Lightroom tips you can use with certain types of images, such as landscapes, that improve them with just a few clicks. If you have ever wanted to punch up your landscapes quickly and easily, there are four options that you can use right away to make any landscape look amazing.
If you import a landscape picture into Lightroom but find yourself staring dazed and confused at the array of editing options, try focusing on the four items below. I use these on most of my landscapes, and you might be surprised at how well they work for you too.
Of course, you can always continue tweaking and adjusting with as many options as you want, but these are great to start with.
- Basic tone
- Graduated Filter
Learning to use these four adjustments goes a long way towards improving not just your landscapes, but many other types of pictures too.
As you gain more editing experience, you will start to figure out what your editing preferences are and learn to adjust the options accordingly. Maybe you like a little more tonal contrast or a little less saturation? Perhaps you prefer your images to have a little less sharpness? Experimenting with these options helps you understand what you prefer. It helps you develop your skills as an editor to get the results you like.
There’s a reason that the Develop module in Lightroom has a panel called Basic. This contains the most popular adjustments that most photographers use right away. They are especially useful for landscapes too. The following are what I recommend as a starting point for these types of images.
Highlights: Drag this slider to the left to make the brightest portions of your landscape a little darker.
Shadows: Drag this slider to the right to make the darkest portions of your landscape a little brighter.
Whites: Drag this slider to the right to make the white portions whiter
Blacks: Drag this to the left to make the black portions blacker.
To show you how much of an effect these simple adjustments can have on a landscape, here’s an image without any adjustments straight from my camera.
The picture is dull, lifeless, and not all that interesting. 15 seconds of adjusting those four sliders in the Basic panel does wonders and transforms it into a whole new picture.
The resulting image is vibrant, lively, and exciting to look at, especially when compared to the original. It doesn’t take much work at all to use those four simple sliders when editing a landscape photo, and the results can be breathtaking.
The effect of the Texture tool isn’t quite as pronounced and may not take your breath away in the same way. However, Adobe’s latest addition to Lightroom can produce impressive results. While Texture is particularly useful when editing portraits, it can also bring out detail in grass and rocks, and other areas of a landscape image that has a great deal of natural texture.
Many landscape photographers are already familiar with the Clarity tool, which can have a similar effect as Texture. But, the former can often lead to images that appear over-processed and artificial. Texture is really designed to enhance the look and feel of textured surfaces. If you have not tried it, you may be surprised by the results.
I took the picture below in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, and while I did some basic Highlight/Shadow/White/Black editing, I really want to bring out the details in the evergreen trees.
Increasing the value of the Texture slider helps the trees to stand out. They come to life while leaving the clouds and sky virtually untouched. Adobe designed the Texture option to look specifically for textured surfaces. It applies the effect only where it’s really useful instead of across the entire image as a whole.
When viewed at full resolution, the result is remarkable, but even on a small screen, you can see that the trees have become more pronounced. The background trees are clearer and more discernible as well.
This new option in Lightroom is not yet as popular and well-known as Clarity, but it’s a boon for landscape photographers who want to spice up their images without going overboard.
The Sharpening tool has been an integral part of Lightroom for years, but might be overlooked by new landscape photographers who feel overwhelmed with all the features in front of them when editing their images. In contrast to Clarity and Texture, the Sharpening tool helps you emphasize the edges of everything in your pictures while also giving you the power to specify precisely how you want to apply the sharpening.
As with the Texture tool, your results aren’t going to be as immediately impactful as other edits, such as the Basic panel. However, careful adjustments to Sharpening can add a level of resonance to your landscapes and bring to life the small details.
The Sharpening adjustment, which sits in the Detail panel, has four parameters: Amount, Radius, Detail, and Masking. While these are all important, the ones I recommend you focus on are Amount and Masking. Move the Amount slider to the right to make your picture appear sharper and add a sense of crispness. After that, use the Masking slider to tell Lightroom where to apply the actual sharpening.
You can hold down the Alt or Option key (on a Mac) to see how this works and adjust as necessary. The black-and-white preview updates in realtime. As you hold down the modifier key and drag the slider, it shows you just where the sharpening will be applied.
Use of the Sharpening tool is a great way to enhance your landscapes, especially when combined with some of the other editing options.
If you have never used the Graduated Filter on your landscape photos, you’re in for a real treat.
This tool allows you to apply graduated adjustments to part of the image, and even edit the adjustments using selective masking and brushing. It’s a great way to bring out the rich blue of a sky, the subtle greens of grass and foliage, or implement other edits to part of your picture without affecting the whole thing.
To demonstrate how the Graduated Filter works, I have a picture shot in southeastern Nebraska without any edits except for removing some spots of dust on the lens. The foreground is dark, and I’d like to change the color of the sky to reflect what I actually saw. However, global edits like the Basic panel just don’t work.
As a point of comparison, here’s the same picture with some simple adjustments, like in my very first example. The Basic adjustments help but don’t produce the results I’m after.
It’s an improvement but still a long way from what I want. Fortunately, the Graduated Filter is here to help! By applying this type of edit, I can alter the lower portion without affecting the upper portion. Also, the edit is applied gradually, so it appears more natural as the foreground recedes to the horizon.
You can go one step further and add additional graduated filters, which is especially useful when working with landscapes. In this image, I’d like to bring out the rich deep colors in the sky without affecting the field in the foreground.
A graduated filter is the perfect tool for the job.
I listed the Graduated Filter last because it’s the most complicated of these four adjustments you can apply to your landscape, but it’s also, in my opinion, the most powerful. There are lots of options for customizing your graduated filters, and it’s going to be worth your time to explore more. However, the example above should be enough to get you started.
There’s so much more you can do with landscape photos in Lightroom beyond what I demonstrated here. These basics should be enough to get you started and help you bring out a lot of the color, detail, and vibrancy that your landscape photos may be missing.
After learning these, I hope you start exploring the other options Lightroom has to offer.
I’d love to see examples of your landscape photos in the comments below!