Creating “A Touch of Color”

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3As most of my readers know I’m not very adept at Photoshop and prefer to use Lightroom and Nik Software’s plug-ins to “finish” my images. When Lightroom was first introduced post-capture processing was somewhat limited but in LR3 Adobe has made it possible for me to process over 95% of my shots without a round-trip to Photoshop.

I took the Touch of Color shot a few weeks ago during a late evening shoot at Buescher State Park near Smithville, Texas. The late afternoon and early evening clouds looked very promising for a sunset shoot but most dissipated in the last hour of daylight. For folks living in central Texas this is a common occurrence in the summer.

Having little drama to capture I decided to see if I could get a few shots just after sunset but before twilight. The calm waters of the small lake in Buescher SP created an almost perfect mirror reflecting the trees, clouds and sunlight. This type of scene creates a wonderful symmetry that can transform a fairly dull scene in to a very nice composition. Not a great exposure, but one that makes a nice starting point.

Step 1: Normalized
While many photographers prefers to start out with a “zeroed” file, I almost always begin with Lightroom 3’s default settings which include brightness & contrast as well as daylight white balance. It’s just a place to start so it doesn’t have to be perfect.

A Touch of Color (Zeroed)

Step 2: Basic Settings
My next step is to adjust the Basic settings such as White Balance (usually set for Daylight depending upon the image), Clarity (which adds some wonderful mid-tone contrast) and Vibrance (which is more subtle than adding saturation).

I generally adjust the White Balance to somewhere between 5000K and 5500K in Lightroom to make the images match what I remember seeing. This is a key step in creating the mood you want in the image.

At this point in my workflow, I’ll also adjust the Exposure, Recovery, Brightness and Contrast settings until I find the right exposure balance (lights and darks) and tone (color gradations) for the image. I may spend as little as ten minutes or as much as several hours trying different combinations until I achieve the look and feel I want.

Basic Adjustments

Making the Basic Adjustments

Step 3: Tone Curve
Next I generally adjust the Tone Curve by setting the Point Curve to Medium or Strong which adds contrast to the entire image. Notice how I’ve set my “Shadows” slider to bring back some detail in the deep shadows in the trees. More on this later.

Tone Curve

Adding Contrast

Note: It’s important to remember Ansel Adams’ Zone System. To make a scene look realistic you need some bright whites and pure blacks in the shade, so a little “clipping” in the histogram is perfectly acceptable.

Step 4: Luminance
My next “tweaks” to the image are done by adjusting the color Luminance settings. This is where my fine tuning is done to create drama in my images. In this case I reduced the luminance of the red, orange and yellow tones to add some saturation in the sky but increased the luminance values for the greens to make the foliage stand out in the shot.

Luminance Adjustments

Color Luminance Adjustments

Step 5: Saturation
I don’t normally mess around with the Saturation settings but in this case it was necessary to creating the mood of the final image.

Saturation Adjustments

Color Saturation Adjustments

Step 6: Local Adjustments
As you can see in the next few screenshots I made extensive use of the adjustment brush and graduated filter to create “depth” in the scene and to highlight the trees to catch the viewer’s eye. One thing to remember is with any of the local adjustment tools you have incredible flexibility in what adjustments to apply.

The Adjustment Brush

Using the Adjustment Brush for Creating Highlights

Graduated Filter Adjustments

Graduated Filter Adjustments


More Graduated Filter Adjustments

The Final Result
I’m fairly pleased with the final results considering how dull the sunset and clouds were in the raw file. It’s not my normal way to processing images but LR3 makes it very easy to experiment to see what works and what doesn’t.

A Touch of Color

A Touch of Color – Buescher State Park, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 29mm, f/16 for 1/2 second at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: A Touch of Color – Buescher State Park, Texas

10 thoughts on “Creating “A Touch of Color”

  1. Jeff,

    Great info. I use LR3 most of the time also, and it is a great tool.

    I was recently in Kyle, and spent some time at Pedernales and McKinney Falls parks, as a result of some of your posts. Great scenery. I’m going to try to sign up for your Spring tour.


    • Hey Wes,

      Thanks for the kind words. Pedernales Falls is always a great spot to visit and McKinney Falls can be great when Onion Creek is flowing. I’ll put you on the mailing list for the spring 2011 workshop.


  2. Jeff,
    after seeing your photo on the 5th, I was curious what you actually did to reach your final photo. Now I know and I appreciate the sharing of these steps. Thank you very much!


  3. Jeff,

    First off. I really enjoy your work. I’m from Austin and had no idea that these places existed so close to me.

    I have a question regarding step 6. Why are all of the trees in the first image red? I’m a bit confused by that.

    • JD,

      Thanks for reading. When you hover over a control point for the LR3 Adjustment Brush it shows you the affected areas in red.

      BTW – You should joins us in April for the Spring 2011 Texas Landscape Safari. We travel all over the Hill Country to some of the best landscape photography locations in Texas. There is more information on my blog.


  4. I got Lightroom3 a few weeks ago when I upgraded my camera to the Canon 5D MarkII, and I have to say I love Lightroom3. I read David duChemin’s Vision & Voice and now reading Within The Frame.

    On some photos I Zero and others I go with the Adobe. Depends on what processing I do. With the Graduated Filter, that is fun and tricky and I have flipped it in all kinds of ways. By the way, I’m reading also Digital Landscape Photography by Michael Frye who mentions Ansel Adams’ Zone System.

    Jeff, I appreciate all you’ve shared concerning Lightroom as it helped me when I got started. 🙂

    • Anna,

      You are very welcome and I enjoy your shots of rural Kansas. It’s a lot like central Texas and your images make me feel right at home.


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