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In Advanced Lightroom Editing for Food Photography, we’re ready to really dive into Lightroom editing and all of the different ways it can elevate your food photography. We’ll go over some of the most important features in the Develop tab and point out tools that are absolutely essential to mouth-wateringly good food photography. Let’s get started!
Your histogram is a great visualization tool that will help you balance both light and color in your image. If you’ve ever worked in Photoshop, this might remind you of the Levels adjustment layer, or maybe you already use your camera’s histogram.
In Lightroom, you’ll find your histogram in the Develop tab, at the very top right. You can’t miss it! The first thing you’ll probably notice is all those bright colors. We’re working in RGB color in Lightroom, so they represent the red, green, and blue color balances in your image. You’ll see that the areas where red or blue overlap with green are shown as turquoise and yellow, so nothing gets hidden.
Your tonal range goes from blackest blacks (far left) to whitest whites (far right). So ideally you’d see a pretty even histogram for a perfectly balanced photo, right? Not necessarily. If you shoot dark and moody images, your histogram will usually be weighted to the left. If you shoot bright and airy images, your histogram will show a trend toward the right.
There aren’t any rules with your histogram, it’s just a way to understand the image you’re working with. So don’t edit your photo to make the histogram look good!
When you view the histogram in the Develop tab, two up arrows will appear in the top corners. By clicking on one of these arrows, you turn on a kind of alarm system for the darkest or lightest portions of your image, depending on which arrow you select. When the “alarm system” is on, some areas of your photo may show up as dark blue. Those are called ‘clipped’ areas, and you want to avoid them. They represent parts of your images that are over or under exposed to the point where you lost all the details.
You can make some basic adjustments right there on your histogram by hovering your mouse over different portions of it. As you hover and move your mouse from left to right, you’ll see your blacks, shadows, exposure, highlights, and whites. If you click on a section and move it back and forth, you’ll see the corresponding slider in the Basics section move with it. You’ll also see that attribute changing in your image.
Beneath the histogram is this small tool panel. These are tools for fine-tuning your photos, removing small crumbs for example, and adding a little artistic flair. What we’ll cover from this section is the tool every photographer is guaranteed to need at some point: the crop overlay.
When you click the Crop Overlay button (all the way on the left), this menu will pop up. As you can see, there’s the option to lock and unlock your aspect ratio. You can also click the small up and down arrows next to the word “Original” to select a standard aspect ratio or create a custom one. This is really helpful for clients with super-specific parameters!
All of that is pretty standard, but what I like most is the “Angle” slider. Slide it to the left or right to straighten crooked images in just a matter of seconds. If there’s a particular line that you need to be arrow-straight, click on the ruler symbol next to the word “Angle.” You’ll see your cursor change to a ruler. Now using that line in your image as a guide, click and drag your ruler to set the correct angle for your composition.
One last note. You might be wondering what the “Constrain to Image” box does. This box probably won’t affect your image unless you’re changing its perspective, and we’ll talk about that more in the Lens Correction section. You can feel free to check the box here to make sure that your crop does not go outside the edge of your photo, but don’t stress if you forget. There’s another way to do the same thing that we’ll cover soon.
At the very top of your Basics menu, you’ll see two sliders that control the white balance of your image. Next to “WB” you will probably see “As Shot,” which of course just means it’s showing your image at whatever white balance settings your camera used during capture.
You can click on those little up and down arrows to use a different baseline like “Auto” or “Custom,” but generally you’ll be tweaking based on what you see anyway, so “As Shot” is as good a starting place as any.
The sliders themselves are pretty self-explanatory; whichever color you slide toward will have more intensity in your white balance. Notice that you have the option to change your photo’s “treatment” at the top there. Selecting “Black & White” does not remove white balance as a factor in your edit! Lightroom remembers what colors appeared where in the color version, and it will intensify or de-intensify the areas those colors appeared when you move these sliders, even when you have it set to black and white.
This is a good time for an important PSA: check your screen! If your device is not calibrated, then you’re basically editing blind. Your absolute best chance of showing your clients an identical finished product to what you’re editing now is to have a reliable view of that product while you’re working on it.
You’ll see a “Contrast” slider in your “Basics” menu, but that slider is really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to working with the light and dark areas in your image.
You can certainly adjust it there for a quick boost, but there are also sliders for “Exposure,” “Highlights,” “Shadows,” “Whites,” and “Blacks,” right there in your “Basics” menu. You’ll have a lot more control over specific tonal ranges using these sliders, and there’s yet another option I’ll cover in the next section: “Tone Curve.” Don’t forget also that you can make some tonal adjustments using your histogram!
Photoshop veterans have probably used the Curves adjustment layer, the sister tool to Lightroom’s Tone Curve. Here you can fine-tune the overall tonal range or you can choose a particular color channel to edit.
By clicking that little round dot at the top left, you can select points in your image that need to be adjusted. It’s helpful to work with them directly when you’re doing advanced Lightroom editing.
To work with the image as a whole, click and drag the diagonal line (just like in your histogram, darks are to the left and lights are to the right) or use the sliders below.
Now for the really neat part: color curves! The square at the bottom right of this section, once clicked, will remove the slider section of this menu and replace it with a “Channel” option. You can now create a curve tailored to the reds, greens, or blues in your photo!
This section looks more complicated than it is. No, really! There are a lot of sliders, but once you know the difference between hue, saturation, and luminance this will probably become your favorite menu. Let’s take a look:
Lightroom allows you to control hue, saturation, and luminance differently using the same menu. You can isolate one color to work with by clicking the “Color” tab at the top of the menu, or you can choose to view only H, S, or L. Or, you can do what we’ve done above and see everything at once.
The “B&W” tab is basically a way to adjust luminance without hue. You’ll see your image in black and white when you click that tab, and any adjustments you make in the new set of sliders will affect the lightness and darkness of the areas where your selected color appeared in the full-color image.
Note that the same handy little dot we pointed out in “Tonal Curve” appears in each section here. Once again, this dot allows you to adjust the H, S, or L of a specific point or range in your photo.
Your choice of lens may be a creative one or it could be due to circumstance. For example, to get everything you want into a shot, you might go for something wider angle (although I don’t typically shoot food with a wider lens than a 50mm). However, that lens can distort your image.
That’s a problem when you’re photographing a product, because you want to represent that product as realistically as possible. Lightroom’s lens correction menu can help you there.
Let’s start with the first tab in this menu: “Profile.” Your image metadata may tell Lightroom what equipment you used, which allows Lightroom to make automatic adjustments based on the known tendencies and flaws of your lens if you click “Enable Profile Corrections.” But first! Check the “Remove Chromatic Aberration” box if you see tell-tale fringes in your photo.
Known equipment flaws will open up the two bottom sliders to you if they apply. Now you can accommodate for unwanted distortion or vignetting due to your lens.
If, as you see in the example above, your equipment info is not available, you’ll see an alert at the bottom warning you that Lightroom is unable to locate a matching profile automatically. Try manually entering your info using the three dropdown menus under “Lens Profile,” or compensate for distortions on your own in the “Manual” tab.
You can manage any distortion you see with the slider at the top of this tab. Just below, you’ll see a checkbox for “Constrain Crop.” This is that other option I mentioned way back in “Crop Overlay,” when we talked about the “Constrain to Image” box. When you make adjustments to the distortion, the edges of your image may warp and change. This checkbox will fit your crop inside those changes so that you aren’t seeing any blank white space at the edges.
To deal with chromatic aberrations manually, you have the “Defringe” section. This is advanced Lightroom editing at its finest. Depending on whether your fringe is showing as purple or green, you can use the sliders here to nudge them away. This is where it helps to remember what we learned back in the HSL section. “Amount” is like your saturation. You can reduce the intensity of purple or green with the corresponding “Amount” slider, but don’t overdo it! This will impact other purples and greens throughout your image.
Purple and Green also each have a “Hue” slider, where you can change the appearance of your fringe color to blend with its adjacent colors in the photo.
Lastly, your vignette sliders will get rid of unwanted dark corners in your image (or add them for artistic effect, if you choose.) “Amount” controls how much vignette you see, while “Midpoint” controls how far into your image that effect begins.
And just like that, you’re ready to do some advanced Lightroom editing! Have a blast trying out your new editing skills on your next project. Once you’ve finished your first real Lightroom edit, use the backslash shortcut key to see a before and after of your work. You’ll be absolutely amazed at how far you’ve come.
Check back soon for more food and product photography tips and tutorials, or sign up for my newsletter to make sure you don’t miss a post!