Apologies for the clickbait title, but BAN adjustments just seemed like such a snappy description.
Lightroom is a great tool for carrying out basic image enhancements. It’s also great for applying a range of creative effects. However, I like to keep these two things separate and treat them differently. That’s because I want to see both my original raw materials in Lightroom just so that I can see what potential the photo has, and then I create a Virtual Copy when I create special effects or do any serious editing work.
I think this separation between Basic And Necessary (BAN) adjustments and creative editing is important. My BAN adjustments fix all the things I know I’ll want to fix in every image and they let me see the image’s potential and provide a starting point for any future versions, but without distorting the basic ‘look’ of the picture.
These BAN adjustments are quick to do and give me a proper idea of my photo’s potential so that I’m, not just looking at raw, unprocessed images all the time with no idea of whether they are any good or not.
So here’s my start image. This is how Lightroom renders my RAW file by default. The colours and contrast are rather flat, and there’s a grey/green tinge that leaves the picture looking dull and lifeless. There are also some distortion and perspective issues which aren’t Lightroom’s fault, but I can fix those at the same time.
01 Camera Calibration
So I’m not going to start right at the top of the tools stack as you might expect, but right down at the bottom with the Camera Calibration panel. I’m always surprised by how few people know about this, and how Lightroom (and Adobe Camera Raw) use the Adobe Standard colour rendering profile – and that’s what makes pictures look flat. Instead, click the Profile drop-down menu. This doesn’t always work with really old cameras, but usually you’ll get a list of all the photo styles offered by the camera maker. This was shot with a Nikon DSLR, so you get Camera Landscape, Camera Portrait, Camera Standard and so on. If I choose Camera Standard I immediately get the stronger colours, richer greens and increased contrast I’m used to seeing from this camera. Adobe’s picture style simulations are very close to the camera maker’s own styles and a big improvement on its default Adobe Standard profile.
02 Lens Corrections
Next, I apply Lens Corrections. Lightroom has correction profiles for a huge range of lenses – it can look up the lens from the camera’s EXIF data and apply a correction profile automatically. This corrects any barrel or pincushion distortion and any corner shading (vignetting). Most zooms suffer from quite strong distortion at the extremes of their zoom range, and when it’s taken away the picture suddenly looks a lot better. Make sure you check the Remove Chromatic Aberration box. This removes any colour fringing around object edges and it works independently of the lens profiles – it can remove chromatic aberration even where Lightroom can’t find a lens correction profile. Correcting lens distortion is vital when you need to carefully judge perspective corrections, which is what comes next…
Lens corrections won’t fix perspective problems. This shot was taken with an ultra-wide Nikon 10-24mm lens and the camera had to be tilted upwards to get the whole of the building in the frame. This has caused the strong converging verticals in the original image – and it can be fixed in Lightroom’s Transform panel. You can just click one of the buttons at the top to apply a correction automatically – the Vertical button would normally fix about 75% of shots like this one. It didn’t work so well this time, so I applied a correction manually, dragging the Vertical slider to the left to straighten the sides of the building and then applied a slight Rotation adjustment because it turns out the camera wasn’t quite level. If you check the Constrain Crop box, Lightroom will automatically crop off any untidy edges left behind by the perspective corrections.
04 White balance (optional)
Now that I’ve applied a colour profile and corrected any lens distortion and perspective issues, I’ve got a good idea as to whether the picture is a ‘keeper’ or not and worth taking to the next stage – tone and white balance adjustments. Both of these are carried out in the Basic panel right at the top. Normally, I shoot with the camera’s white balance set to Auto and change it later in Lightroom only if it looks wrong – so this step is optional. You can set the white balance using the eyedropper, but it’s often difficult to find a truly neutral area in a picture to click on. Instead, it’s easier just to try out the different white balance presets on the drop-down menu. In this case, choosing the ‘Daylight’ preset has given a slightly warmer look that’s closer to how I remembered the early evening light. If you do intend using Lightroom’s white balance presets, I strongly advise using one of the bespoke camera profiles in the Camera Calibration panel first (step 01) because if you don’t, Adobe’s white balance presets can look unnaturally warm.
05 Exposure, Shadows and Highlights
This shot has some very bright areas of sky that look overexposed, so I need to see if I can recover some detail. One quick way to do this is to click the Auto button in the Basic panel, and Lightroom will then apply automatic adjustments to all the sliders to deliver what it thinks is an optimum result. This can work out well but often results in a rather over-processed look, so I prefer to make the minimum adjustments just to bring the tonal range back under control – I’m only trying to apply Basic And Necessary adjustments to produce a baseline image for editing, after all. So here, I’ve dragged the Highlights slider to the left to try to recover as much detail as possible in the sky, and I’ve increased the Shadows value to keep detail in the darker areas. Here, I’ve also had to reduce the Exposure value to give the Highlights slider half a chance of getting that sky detail back, and it is often a case of juggling these three sliders to get the optimum effect. There’s still some ‘blown’ detail in the sky, but I can see there’s enough detail left to produce a pleasing image, and I’ve recovered about as much of this sky detail as I can.
06 Spot removal
This is the one final thing you can be sure you’re going to want to do without even thinking about it. Every interchangeable lens camera can pick up spots on its sensor, and these become even more obvious if you apply heavy contrast-based image manipulation. So if your camera does have a spotty sensor, don’t forget to blot them out with Lightroom’s excellent spot removal tool.
These are the standard adjustments I make to just about every image in Lightroom before I even start thinking about an special effects or treatments.
There are three advantages to applying these basic adjustments:
- You can see which images have the basic quality needed to make them ‘keepers’ and the potential for further enhancements and effects.
- You get images ready to send straight to plug-ins for special effects that Lightroom can’t do, and with a bunch of corrections already applied that the plug-in can’t do.
- And if you don’t quite like the BAN adjustments you’ve made, don’t forget that Lightroom is completely non-destructive and it’s easy to undo them individually or as a whole to give yourself a whole new starting point.