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Getting Started With Lightroom

A year ago, when I opened Go Backpacking up to contributors, I got an email from Troy Floyd, an American traveler/photographer/blogger who wanted to share some of his ideas and images.

The instant I saw his photography, I knew I wanted to work with him.

Over the next several months, I began to feature portrait photos from the “Faces” series at his blog, FOGGOdyssey.com.

I admired the way he got up close to people, capturing the details in their faces, and how he used editing software to enhance the original photos, making them more vibrant and colorful.

My first exposure to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom was during my Rwanda trip this past April.

As it was a social media press trip, my group included Eric Lafforgue, a BBC photographer on assignment for Lonely Planet, and Peter Stuckings, a freelancer based in Vietnam.

By merely being in their presence, I improved as a photographer. However, I still figured editing photos was over my head.

To further grow as a photographer this year, I bought a Canon S90 before leaving for Colombia in June.

Not only was it recommended by Jodi at Legal Nomads (and I knew she did her homework before buying one), it allowed me the opportunity to shoot in RAW. This meant I would have more leeway to edit my photos versus shooting in JPG, should the desire arise down the road.

And arise it did, after returning to Medellin and hanging around Troy for 3 1/2 months.

It was like hanging around Eric and Peter, but for a prolonged period.

Not only would I be with Troy when he was taking photos, but I'd also see what they looked like after he edited them.

Before he left Colombia a few days ago, we sat down together, and he gave me a tutorial on Lightroom and file management (which becomes essential when you're amassing tens of thousands of photos).

Below are some of my early attempts to take old travel photos and spruce them up through the magic of Lightroom.

As I found my style and voice through writing here every day for close to four years, I know I will eventually develop my photo-editing abilities too.

Here are a few before/after examples from my experience getting started with Lightroom.

And be sure to tell me what you think! If you have any specific feedback (positive or constructive) on specific “after” photos, please share in the comments section below.

Before: At the beach on Moorea, French Polynesia After: At the beach on Moorea, French Polynesia

This was supposed to be my “making you jealous from a beach in the South Pacific” photo, but overcast skies and a Canon Powershot 6MP camera (on a low-quality setting) left me with a dull result.

Together with Troy, we highlighted the turquoise waters, warmed up the sand with yellows, and gave the clouds some definition.

We also brightened up my face to help draw the viewer's focus.

Before: Luxury bungalows on Moorea, French Polynesia After: Luxury bungalows on Moorea, French Polynesia

On a snorkel trip around Moorea, we passed by these luxury bungalows.

With the lush green mountain backdrop and the dolphin swimming to the right, I thought this photo would reflect the paradise I was visiting.

But again, overcast skies and a low-quality photo left it looking bland.

I used a Lightroom preset called “General – Punch” to pump some life back into the shot.

I then tweaked the brightness, exposure, and contrast to show some definition in the clouds.

Before: Les Roulettes (food trucks) in Papeete, Tahiti After: Les Roulettes (food trucks) in Papeete, Tahiti

Back on Tahiti, I ate the pork being cooked in this photo as my last supper before heading on to New Zealand in the morning.

Again, overcast skies, combined with a setting sun, diminished the available light.

I used another Lightroom preset to give me a quick 1-click improvement and then adjusted individual settings for both practice, and to ensure the photo looked the way I wanted.

I was specifically focused on brightening the flowers painted on the truck and warming up the fire.

Before: Sky Tower in Auckland, New Zealand After: Sky Tower in Auckland, New Zealand

Often, looking back at the photos from my 'round the world trip, I remember a much more vibrant scene than was captured on camera.

When I took this night photo of the Sky Tower in Auckland, the picture on the right is closer to what I saw then how it came out originally on the left.

In Lightroom, I did a little crop to focus attention on the Sky Tower, removed dust spots, and brightened the greens and reds.

Before: Contemplation in Cathedral Cove, New Zealand After: Contemplation in Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

As my Lightroom tutorial with Troy wound down, I started editing this photo from New Zealand, which is one of my all-time favorites.

It was too stormy at Cathedral Cove for us to go sea kayaking, so we hung out for a bit, looking at the rough waters.

One of the backpackers on our bus hopped up on the rock, his boots dangling from his hand.

The silhouette of him against the sea says “contemplation” to me. Troy helped tweak it a little further.

Before: Signs of danger at Lake Taupo, New Zealand After: Signs of danger at Lake Taupo, New Zealand

As I get started editing photos, I'm sure I will be over-editing many of them.

Adding too much saturation, too much color, and turning natural landscapes and people's skin tones into what I think looks good. But it might end up unappealing to everyone else.

As Troy suggested, I'm going to chalk it up to the learning process.

In the case of this photo on Lake Taupo, I took a more subtle approach, and I think it shows how a few small improvements can make a big difference.

Before: Barrio San Antonio, Cali, Colombia After: Barrio San Antonio, Cali, Colombia

While visiting the historic San Antonio neighborhood of Cali, Colombia, Troy took a few photos of me against a variety of painted buildings.

In this photo, he was drawn by the textures, so in Lightroom, I darkened it up a bit, which brought out the texture of the blue area of the wall.

I brightened my face and tried to add a little to the orange without going overboard.

The photo didn't need to be cropped; it's precisely how Troy framed the shot with my camera.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:

Jenn - Who Needs Maps

Monday 17th of November 2014

Dave,

Wow, you have mastered lightroom, we haven't even heard of it but looks like it makes a huge difference. We put together a photo essay of Angkor Wat which we thought was awesome -- http://www.whoneedsmaps.com/angkor-wat-pictures/

But some of your pointers could really help make it better!

Thanks for sharing, super useful!

Cheers, Jenn

Amy

Friday 6th of June 2014

Thanks for linking this article in the TBS written articles section. I just downloaded photoshop and was wondering if lightroom was necessary. Apparently, totally is.

Dave

Saturday 7th of June 2014

I don't have experience with Photoshop, but one of the reasons people prefer Lightroom is that it's easier to use). It can make a huge difference in your photos if you learn how to do even basic edits.

Islandvacations

Saturday 9th of April 2011

Thanks for the post. I too had experimented about light room but still has to master the art of photo editing. Though the editing process seemed tricky as there so many commands to deal with, but I enjoy the trial and error process.

My Travelz

Monday 22nd of November 2010

I would be interested in knowing how much more functionality Lightroom has than Picnik which I have been using. I guess I should try the free version. Also is Paint.net an option which is a free version similar to Photoshop.

Dave

Monday 22nd of November 2010

I'd been using the free basic version of Picnik via Flickr to do simple things like crop and brighten photos, but I can't imagine the premium versions even come close to what you can do with Lightroom, which seems to be one of the top choices for serious photographers.

Jaime

Wednesday 3rd of November 2010

This is some great information to know. I never thought about maybe getting photo editor software but you can really see HUGE differences in the pictures. Im going to have to look into & maybe getting it before going on my RTW trip!

Dave

Wednesday 3rd of November 2010

Hey Jaime, I use to do small touch-ups via Flickr/picnik.com online, but Lightroom is so much more powerful. I'm most excited about the chance to breathe new life into some of my early travel photos, when I was using a less powerful camera, and didn't have the same approach to taking pictures that I do now (take a lot, different angles, etc).

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