Six easy steps for editing low-light images
By Brian Fulda
Photographers can leverage certain editing techniques to bring out the full range of detail in their low-light photos. Just a few simple tweaks in Lightroom can totally transform your image, without sacrificing its quality or authenticity. I’ll walk you through my post-production process for low-light photos and show you how I turned the dark, unedited photo on the left into the stunning sunrise photo on the right in a few easy steps.
I export my selected .lri image from Lumen as a DNG. I always export my files as DNGs in Lumen because it retains more information in the image than a JPEG—and that can be especially helpful when editing low-light images.Then I import my DNG into Adobe Lightroom, my editing software of choice. (Feel free to use whichever editing application you prefer — these tips will also work for Adobe Camera RAW as well.) Here’s what the original image looks like:
Even though this was a 15-second exposure, the image is very dark. With heavy shadows like these, I like to start by making the most basic adjustments, such as raising the exposure or brightness by 1.30 stops. I also take care of the very dark parts of the image by raising the shadow slider about +25. Now I can at least see what I’m working with!
Once I can see all of the fine details in my image, I decide to crop it so that my subject is positioned in the center of the image.
Next, I start to make finer adjustments that affect contrast and color. The image looks slightly cooler than I want it to, meaning it has a bluish cast to it. I try to combat cool tones by raising the overall temperature, or white balance, of the image. This image was captured at a white balance of 5350K, and I raised that up to 7000K. This brings out the warm light of the sunrise at the bottom right of the image.
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