Thursday, October 18, 2012

RAW Processing in Lightroom 4: Split Toning

Today I would like to introduce you to the possibilities and advantages of using the Split Toning Panel when developing RAW files with Adobe Lightroom 4. In my previous Blogs I had focused on the Basic Panel and the HSL Panel of the Develop Module:

Lightroom 4 - My RAW Processing Workflow
Example: RAW Processing in Lightroom 4

This time the focus will be on the next step: Finetuning your image by tweaking the overall hue and saturation for the highlights and the shadows of a photograph - and defining how to actually distinguish between 'Highlights' and 'Shadows' by means of balancing the two with a separate slider in the Split Toning Panel.

But before we get into these details, let's begin with a little refresher on what to do before we get to working on the Split Toning Panel. For this little tutorial I decided to use an image I recently took of the Dubai Skyline when it was partially covered by fog at sunrise. I substantially worked with Split Toning on this one so I thought it would serve as a good example.

This is what the image looked like straight out of the camera when I imported it into Lightroom 4:

ISO 200, 116mm, f11, 1/40s, 5600K, Tint -1

Briefly: Basic Panel and HSL Panel 

It is pretty obvious that this image needs to be properly developed in a RAW Converter for it to shine. These are the settings I applied to it in the Basic Panel and the HSL Panel (Note that all sliders are set to zero by default, the default color temperature as per the automatic white balance was 5600K and Tint was -1):

(For details on how to deal with the Basic Panel click HERE)

(For details on how to work with the HSL Panel clicke HERE)

Applying the above settings left me with this result:

Some significant improvement is already visible, as the image already shows a lot more contrast, saturation and clarity. However, the tonal range still appears to be a bit uniform and dull. And this is exactly where Split Toning comes into play!

In Detail: The Split Toning Panel

So what exactly is "Split Toning"? To be honest, until recently neither did I have an idea what this Panel is all about. But believe me, just play with it for a while, try it out on a few pictures - and you will be amazed! 

Basically, as the term indicates, Split Toning separates the Histogram of an image into two ranges: Highlights and Shadows. This is the Panel with its default settings:

The "Balance" slider allows you to define which parts of an image are being allocated to "Highlights" and which to "Shadows". But we'll take a closer look at this in a minute. First of all, move any of the "Hue" sliders and you will notice: No change at all!

This is because "Saturation" is set to zero. Therefore, I recommend sliding "Saturation" up to somewhere around 20 in order to be able to see the effects applied to the "Hue" sliders. You may also click on the small grey box next to where it says "Highlights" and "Shadows" and it will open a new dialogue. However, I find that dialogue rather confusing to work with and it only offers the exact same functionality as the aforementioned sliders do.

Now start playing with the sliders and try to get a grip on what happens with your photograph. After a few minutes I came up with the following settings for my picture:

You will notice that the little grey boxes have changed their colors as per the settings of the "Hue" sliders. They now give you a rough idea of what I am after: I want to make the shadows of my picture look cool and blueish while enhancing the warm pinkish glow of the morning sun in the highlights of the photograph, such as the clouds, the sky and the top of the buildings. Here's the image after applying the above settings:

Now, that's very pink, isn't it. This is why we should also use the "Balance" slider! It allows you to define what is to be regarded as "Highlights" - it actually balances the split in the toning and is very important. See what I did:

...And what this shift of "Balance" to a value of -85 did to my image:

As you can see the balance shift has changed the appearance of my picture in a way which applies the pink hue of the "Highlights" only to the sky, the clouds and the tips of the buildings - as I had actually intended it.

Going the extra Mile: Control Points in Viveza 2

I am still not entirely happy with the picture, because the sky is not saturated sufficiently for my liking. I am still missing the icing on my cake, so to speak. For finishing the image I used a very nice and immensely powerful software called "Viveza 2" by Nik Software (which, nonetheless, I rarely do). This software offers incredible possibilities of changing the luminance, contrast, saturation and clarity of any part and aspect of an image by applying so-called "Control Points". These Control Points sort of substitute the godawful task of masking in Photoshop and, instead, provide great freedom to let your creativity go crazy beyond limits. However, I prefer to use them very subtly and only when I believe they are really required.

If you have Viveza 2 you can use it as a Plug-In in Lightroom. Just choose "Photo" --> "Edit In" --> "Viveza 2" in the Lightroom menu and a TIFF with all Lightroom changes applied will open in Viveza 2. This is what the interface looks like (I only have the German version):

The black oval in the upper right corner shows where to click for adding a new Control Point. Feel free to add as many as you need and adapt their size, i.e. the area of the image each of them will have an effect on. Depending on where you place it a Control Point will recognize that specific hue and the allocated image area (one of the Control Point sliders allows you to define its size) and then apply all changes made only to that specific tonal range and area. It is simply amazing how reliable this is! And plus, without any recognizable loss in quality!

For my image I chose to apply 4 Control Points. Here they are in detail:

1. A rather large one, covering the sky and increasing saturation on the same
2. A smaller one, covering the three buildings on the upper left, giving them a bit more clarity
3. A rather tiny one for the building in the middle, in order to make it look a bit more distinct by increasing clarity
4. And one applied to the clouds in the lower right corner, in order to slightly increase their luminance and clarity

And this is it, the final result:

I hope you liked this tutorial and it could give you some inspiration on how to move forward with processing your images! If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment or drop me a message.

Further information about my photography and more resources:


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Example: RAW Processing in Lightroom 4

In the future I want to give you a few examples of how I process my Dubai Night Cityscapes in Lightroom 4. When I first got into working with Lightroom I was actually quite surprised at how much can be accomplished just by carefully working with the Basic Panel and the HSL Panel when developing RAW files. The following examples are to encourage you to get more confident of working with Lightroom and messing about with the sliders. Don't worry, you won't break anything! Everything you do in Lightroom is non-destructive, the original data of an image is not altered and no information is lost. If you are not happy with your changes just double-click on the center position of a slider and it will go back to its default setting.

Today's example shows Downtown Dubai at night. My intention, when processing the RAW file, was to enhance the purple glow in the sky and to somewhat desaturate the yellow street lights. The image below shows the final result after applying some changes in Lightroom 4:

ISO 200, 14mm, f11, 25s

So how to go about this? Here is a screenshot showing what it looked like straight from the camera compared with the final version:

The camera was set on Automatic White Balance when I took the picture. Night shots tend to have a rather warm, orange look when taken with Automatic White Balance. This is the Basic Panel right after importing the photo into Lightroom. It shows the original Color Temperature and Tint for this image:

Below is the Basic Panel after developing the RAW file to my liking. Note that I have significantly changed the Color Temperature and the Tint. 

For a more elaborate guide explaining the purpose of all sliders please see my blog post about RAW Processing in Lightroom

Now let's turn our attention to the HSL Panel of the Develop Module in Lightroom 4. This Panel allows you to change the Hue, the Saturation and the Luminance of eight different Color Channels. This offers great possibilities in terms of giving your photo a distinct look and leaving your own footprint on its appearance. Note that the default setting is 0 for all sliders. This is the HSL Panel after I had applied all changes:

I don't think it makes sense to elaborately explain all changes in detail (unless you have a question, of course). Above all, this post should encourage you to start playing with the sliders and to see for yourself what effect they will have on the image you are working on. The great thing about HSL is that you can target specific shades of color in your image to enhance what you feel should be more emphasized.

Have fun! If you have any questions please feel free to drop me a message.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lightroom 4 - My RAW Processing Workflow

Now that Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom® 4 has recently been released I felt that I had to update my little guide on how I develop my "Dubai Cityscapes at Night" pictures. I will explain most of the steps of my workflow in detail. Please note that the following guide describes a worflow that I personally feel happy with - it is by no means the only possible way to develop RAW files. All roads lead to Rome, as the saying goes. It is also possible to carry out most of the steps described below with tools other than Lightroom. "Camera Raw", a Photoshop application, eventually offers just the same functionality.

What is Lightroom 4

Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom® 4 is a powerful software to develop and manage your photographs. It offers sophisticated color and exposure controls and allows you to professionally develop your RAW images in a well-arranged environment. The software consists of seven modules: Library, Develop, Map, Book, Slideshow, Print and Web. In the following I will focus on the Develop module.

Screenshot of the Develop module in Lightroom 4

Develop Module

A very good thing about Lightroom is that it is non-destructive, meaning your original photograph is not altered. Your edits are continuously and automatically stored as a set of instructions. Saving in a traditional sense is not required.

You can make adjustments to your photograph in any order, but usually it is best to start with Basic at the top and work down through Tone Curve, HSL / Color / B&W, Split Toning, Detail, Lens Corrections and Effects (see above image). I personally only use the Basic panel, the HSL panel, and sometimes Split Toning in Lightroom and then do the rest in Photoshop.

As mentioned above, if you own Photoshop CS5 you will not find anything in Lightroom that could not be done with Photoshop. I just very much prefer the functionality of Lightroom for developing RAW files (instead of using Camera Raw in Photoshop). And I like that it automatically keeps track of my changes in the library without having to worry about saving and possibly destroying any original data.

Global Color Adjustments

So let's begin with the workflow. Below is an image for which I decided to work a bit more on the HSL panel than I usually would (see final result at the end of this guide). I chose this picture as an example, because it will be rather easy for you to follow the changes in its appearance. This is what it looked like when I first opened the image in Lightroom 4 - I had set the camera on automatic white balance:

ISO 200, 14mm, f11, 30s, 3050K, Tint -15

I recommend warmly to shoot all your photographs in RAW format so you later have the freedom to edit them as you wish. One of the major benefits of the RAW format is that it allows you to adjust the white balance / color temperature of your picture comfortably back home in your "Lightroom" as if you were changing a setting in the camera during capture. This is crucial for architectural night photography! You could, of course, set your preferred color temperature during the shoot, but I prefer doing this later.

After defining the visually most appealing white balance setting you can proceed with adjusting the overall tonal scale. However, sometimes I revise the white balance settings after having adjusted the tonal scale. I recommend seeing the complete workflow in Lightroom as an iterative procedure getting ever closer to the "perfect look" of your photograph. Going down the panels and sliders from top to bottom is just a starting point.

1. Set the White Balance

The white balance adjustments are part of the Basic panel and should be made first. It is best to come back later and fine-tune it. This is what the Basic panel in Lightroom 4 looks like for this image when you first open it:

The Basic panel in Lightroom 4

As you will see below, I have lowered the color temperature from 3050K to 2300K and I've raised the Tint from -15 to -10, in order to give the overall image a cooler, more blueish look. Fine-tuning the white balance, especially that of night photographs with different artificial lights, is not only great fun, but will often lead to stunning results! Do this "right" and the rest of the work editing your picture will be a minor matter. But whatever you decide is the most appropriate color temperature - avoid pushing any of the sliders too far in either direction.

This refers to the color temperature of your photograph in Kelvin. If you need a scientific in-depth explanation what this is all about then kindly refer to Wikipedia. I just know the basics and how to move the slider in Lightroom. The only thing that matters in the end is the visual impact of your image! Just move the slider and you will see the effects. Slide it to the left and your image will look more blueish, slide it to the right and it will become more reddish. Simple as that. For architectural night photography I usually apply a color temperature of something between 2300K and 3500K, depending on the surrounding lights.

This slider is meant to compensate for a green or magenta tint of your photograph. Move the slider to the left to add green, or move it to the right to add magenta to your picture. In architectural night photography I often add some magenta. However, this largely depends on the individual image and its ambient light. Sometimes I decide on a tint of -10, sometimes I end up with as much as +30.

This is the image after the adjustments in color temperature and tint:

3050K ➡ 2300K, Tint -15 ➡ Tint -10

Just by changing the white balance the image has already significantly changed its appearance. The Blues and the Greens are too saturated for my liking, but I will adjust this later in the HSL Panel. First, I will now work on the tonal scale.

2. Adjust Overall Tonal Scale

Night photography usually demands for significant adjustments of the overall tonal scale. Bright street lights tend to overexpose the respective parts of an image while the abundant shadows threaten to drown an image in featureless variations of black. Nowadays many people turn to HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography for dealing with this problem, but in my opinion this technique has major flaws. And from my experience a single RAW exposure can very well be adjusted as it is with satisfying results.

These are the settings involved in getting a well-balanced picture:

You can actually alter the overall exposure of your photograph to a certain extent without losing image quality. I only touch this slider carefully for general rescue if I have messed up a little while capturing the photograph so that it is fully overexposed or underexposed.

This slider decreases or increases image contrast, mainly affecting midtones. Moving the slider to the right darkens the middle-to-dark areas of the image while it lightens the middle-to-light areas. Moving the slider to the left decreases image contrast by the inverse effect on these image areas.

Use this slider to reduce the tones of moderate highlights and to recover highlight detail. In order to recover overexposed areas such as street lights I commonly move this slider to the left. However, it can also be used for emphasizing the glow of city lights by sliding it to the right. But I personally prefer controlling this with the Luminance sliders in the HSL Panel (see below).

When you move this slider to the right it will lighten shadows to reveal detail while maintaining blacks. But be careful! If you overdo this setting it might reveal image noise.

Use this slider to reduce the tones of extreme highlights. I use this slider for highlight recovery only very cautiously, as it tends to take the clear white finishing crisp from an image.

Moving the slider to the left increases the value of extremely dark areas, sometimes creating the impression of increased image contrast. The greatest effect is in the shadows, with much less change in the midtones and highlights. Be careful with this slider and constantly check the details of dark areas for noise and tonal breaks.

3. Overall Color Saturation

Adjusting the color saturation gives your photograph a more vibrant look and adds to its visual depth. But once again, be careful not to over apply the following settings.

This slider allows you to add depth to your photograph by increasing local contrast. It is best to zoom in to 100% or greater to judge on the effect. To maximize it, increase the setting until you see halos near the edge details of the image, and then reduce the setting slightly. I usually apply a value between 0 and +30 to my night pictures.

This is a great tool for literally adding vibrance to the colors of your image. It is somewhat "intelligent" enough not to overdo certain tones and offers great possibilities to pimp your image. But again, don't go crazy.

Adjusts the saturation of all image colors equally from –100 (monochrome) to +100 (double the saturation). Instead of using this slider, I recommend using Hue, Saturation and Luminance (HSL) for each color channel in the HSL / Color / B&W panel (see below).

The image after finishing all adjustments in the Basic panel

Basic adjustments for the above image

Other Means of Adjusting Color and Tone (HSL, Split Toning)

The image is now over-saturated, for my taste. This can be addressed in the HSL panel. As I have already mentioned, this panel offers great possibilities to adjust the hue, the saturation and the luminance for each color channel separately. You can either move the sliders individually or do the following. In the upper-left of each sub-panel you see a little button. Click this button, move the pointer over an area in the photo that you want to adjust, and then click the mouse. Drag the pointer to adjust the hue (H), saturation (S) or luminance (L) of that specific color. However, I rarely use dragging the pointer and and adjust each slider manually one by one.

This is what the HSL panel looks like for this image after applying all changes:

HSL panel after adjusting Hue, Saturation and Luminance of different colors

  • Note that I have changed the Hue of the Blue channel in order to create a turquoise look. Also I have changed the Hue of the Green channel in order to adjust the green color of the water.
  • I have desaturated Yellow and Green, as well as Blue, in order to make the colors pop less, thus giving the image a cleaner appearance.
  • Finally, I have increased the luminance of Yellow for adding a little glare to the lights, decreased luminance for Green and slightly increased it for the blue sky.

I also recommend checking out the Split Toning panel. It offers very much a similar functionality, but focuses on color adjustments with regards to highlights and shadows. Sometimes this can be very useful, so keep an eye on it.

That's it for the workflow of this particular image in Lightroom. From here I export the photo in TIF format to Photoshop CS5. There I remove dust spots, sharpen the image and convert it into sRGB color space before I save it as a JPG.

And this is the final result:

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask me. I'll be happy to help.

Further information about my photography and more resources:


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cloud City (Dubai Fog Time Lapse)

I've been living in Dubai for over four years now and always dreamed of taking one of those rare shots from above the fog. This only happens on 4 - 6 days per year and when it happens it will be over by 9 AM. So one has to make sure to be up on the roof of a tower before sunrise and hope for the best.

Eventually, everything came together for me and I was able to shoot a Time Lapse movie of the sunrise and the fog rolling in to Dubai, as seen from the rooftop of a tower in Business Bay. Here is one of the shots:

The Time Lapse itself consists of 1,915 interval shots taken over a period of a little more than four hours. At 24 frames per second this makes for a movie of 1 minute and 20 seconds. I did not add any music, since I want to use the sequence in the context of a longer Time Lapse Movie.

If you have any questions about the details of shooting the Time Lapse, please feel free to drop me a comment.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

New Dawn

Hi friends,

This morning I took pictures of Downtown Dubai shortly before sunset. And again I hoped you might just be interested in the details of how I have edited the image.

29mm, f11, 6s, ISO 200

Steps of post-processing the RAW format image:

  • Temperature: 3600K
  • Tint: -6
  • Exposure: 0,00
  • Recovery: 100
  • Fill Lights: 0
  • Blacks:5
  • Brightness: +50
  • Contrast: +35
  • Clarity: +30
  • Vibrance: +20
  • Saturation: 0
  • Export to Photoshop
  • Apply Healing Brush (removal of lens flares and dust)
  • Crop some of the foreground
  • Smart Sharpen Filter (Amount: 40%, Radius 1.3px)
  • Save as TIF
  • Apply U-Points to increase and reduce local brightness
  • Convert to sRGB with perception based rendering intent
  • Save as JPG
  • Insert watermark
  • Save as JPG

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tropical Island

Here is a picture from this year's first photo tour. It's the view of Dubai Marina and the Tallest Block from a tropical island somewhere in the infinite vastness of Interchange No. 5

20mm, f13, 30s, ISO 200

Steps of post-processing the RAW format image:


  • Temperature: 2200K
  • Tint: -2
  • Exposure: 0,00
  • Recovery: 70
  • Fill Lights: 0
  • Blacks: 6
  • Brightness: +50
  • Contrast: +35
  • Clarity: +35
  • Vibrance: +15
  • Saturation: 0
  • Export to Photoshop
  • Apply Healing Brush (removal of lens flares and dust)
  • Smart Sharpen Filter (Amount: 40%, Radius 1.3px)
  • Save as TIF
  • Apply U-Point to the street lights (Brightness: -30)
  • Convert to sRGB with perception based rendering intent
  • Save as JPG
  • Insert watermark
  • Save as JPG