The D(i)S(ney)LR Series: Editing Indoor Character Meetings
The Grotto at Magic Kingdom is well-known for its ridiculous lighting (the ambient levels aren't particularly good, but you're also supposed to feel like you're "under the sea" so there are tons of colored/stylized lights, too). Where are we starting from? On my Nikon D600, this frame was shot at ISO 5000, f 5.0, 70mm, 1/160 shutter speed. Despite the discoloration, everything is sharp and reasonably well-exposed, plus I love the expression on my kid's face. So this one is a keeper.
The first thing to do is your overall color correction (you can do further correction on skin tones with brushes/masks and such, but establish the right white balance for the rest of the frame and you'll be surprised how much time it can save you with other editing aspects).
I have a shortcut with this photo getting the white balance right, because my kid's costume has a true white apron. So the eyedropper is going to be a great starting point. Click the eye-dropper, then click on a place on the white apron that's not overexposed OR in shadow.
Now, from a personal aesthetic standpoint, this is a little warm for me, so I'll probably move the slider a little more toward blue.
There. Up next, Noise Reduction! Scroll down through the settings on the right side until you get to the Detail menu. You'll see Sharpening and Noise Reduction. The Luminance Noise Reduction setting is more or less a blurring tool, it will take that sharp grainy aspect of High ISO photography and smooth it out. BUT- be careful: there's a fine line between smoothing grain and just smoothing into oblivion. My personal recommendation is to max out the Noise Reduction Luminance slider at 20. If you want to be able to appreciate the difference, zoom way in.
Zoom back out. Tweak the basics. I choose to up the exposure and shadows a bit, while dipping the highlights and black. Due to the bright white in kiddo's costume, there's a huge discrepancy in dynamic range between the brights and shadows, these small changes help to balance those a little. The black dip helps to restore a bit of contrast once the other settings have diminished it. It's all a balancing act determined by your own personal photo aesthetics; these are mine.
The next step is to really draw the focus of the photo toward the subject (my kid's face, in this instance), so I like to add a vignette. Keep scrolling down through the settings on the right menus until you get to Effects. The first setting is Post Crop Vignetting. Lightroom comes with a couple of preset vignettes (left menu- Lightroom Effects presets) OR you can make your own by playing with these settings. Have fun, do what you like. Here's how mine ended up.
Honestly at this point, the photo is pretty much good to go. BUT... if you want to go further down the rabbit hole... BRUSHES AND MASKS.
The Brush feature on Lightroom is used to replace or cover up things, rather than selectively alter the settings. There aren't actually any blemishes or places requiring a brush on this photo, so let's just get rid of one of the freckles on Ariel's arm for the sake of demonstrating Brushes .
Zoom WAYYY in to the "blemish" and select the Brush or Spot Removal from the top right menu icons. Hover the clone brush over the freckle and adjust the size of the brush until it's just larger than the freckle. Then click.
The clone brush will replace what's inside of the circle you clicked with whatever is in that secondary circle that just appeared. By default, Lightroom will find an area of the screen that seems to be of comparable exposure and tone. But if it's not quite right, you can move that secondary circle to wherever you want until it looks right.
Moving on- Mask work. Even though my slider is maxed out to counter the pink... I can go in with a mask and do more. It would be silly to correct the pink on the shell, but I could go over the exposed skin and make it less pink. Or even just on my kid's face, which is more noticeably pink to me than other exposed skin. This same mask work can be done if you're photographing someone with naturally flushed or reddish skin and you want to help correct that.
Zoom in to the face, then select the Mask tool from the top right icon menu. When the Mask menu appears below the icons, next to Effect: there is a pull down menu with preset masks. These are great starting points for whatever you might want to tweak. From there, you can further modify the masks with all the settings in the Mask menu below the Effect pull-down. I chose the Tint preset mask as my starting point.
Adjust the size of your mask brush until it's a size you feel comfortable working with, then click and drag the mask over the areas you want to alter.
I selected the mask work to make it red, so you can see where I'd dragged the masking. When I'm done, her skin tone looks like this.
This is the tip of the iceberg with what you can do with Masks. I could whiten the teeth, sharpen the eyes. For princesses: you can darken mascara, tweak eyebrows, add eyeliner, diminish undereye circles, blur wrinkles, etc. etc.
When all is said and done, here's our finished photo.
Before and After.
Wow, did that feel like a lot of work? Why did you bother? Well, can I tell you a GREAT time saving feature? COPY AND PASTE YOUR EDITS ONTO OTHER FRAMES. And you can pick and choose what you do and don't want to take with you. When you select edit-copy, a menu will come up:
Now this doesn't mean that you won't have to do some further tweaks from frame to frame, but it saves a TON of time. Note that I don't copy any of the brush or mask work, vignetting, cropping, or spot removal (unless the two frames are identical, there's NO point). So what say we copy and paste these settings onto another keeper from this same session?
Shizam. So the first frame will take the longest to edit, but all subsequent frames from the same session can be finished in a fraction of the time.
This is my workflow for all indoor character meets. I don't spend nearly as much time with color correction in other locations, but showing you the Grotto should give you an idea of how far you can stretch your photos in Lightroom.