As parents we don’t often have our choice of lighting, location or timing in taking pictures of our kids. They’re never still, run around you in circles, and sometimes that magical Kodak moment comes and you have but seconds to make it count before it’s gone.

If you are a professional photographer, used to fast moving, dynamic environments – in other words – it’s your job, then being quick on your feet to make those appropriate camera setting changes works. But even then – often – lighting becomes a serious challenge even for the pros.

Here’s a classic example.

Capturing shaded portraits is a tricky scenario even for the best cameras.

Capturing shaded portraits is a tricky scenario even for the best cameras.

This is a very tricky shot. If Alyssa was out of the shade, this would be an easy shot. But because she’s in the shade it’s just about impossible. If your camera correctly exposes for the shade, everything else in the sunlight will be overexposed, loose details and just white-out. But if the camera correctly exposes for the sunlight areas, the shaded areas will be under-exposed and you loose details and experience a black-out.

So what do modern digital cameras do? They attempt to capture as much of the full range of tones as possible – not too much light – not too much dark – get as much of the mid-range in as possible. Which in this case, my Fujifilm X-T1 does an excellent job of. But of course, while it does capture detail, the picture as a portrait, is sub-optimal.

Enter post-processing.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Post-processing saves the day!

Post-processing saves the day!

Here’s a quick summary of changes I did.

Changed settings are in green highlight boxes.

Changed settings are in green highlight boxes.

  1. I changed the “temp” or temperature of the white balance to make the picture warmer. It was clear blue sky, bright sunny afternoon so the color temperature should reflect that.
  2. Now comes the tricky part. I pushed up the exposure by 0.70 stop. This brightens up the picture so now you’ll be able to see much better details in Alyssa.
  3. I then increased contrast to bring in more ‘pop‘.
  4. Now because I pushed up the exposure and everything is brightened up, I want to decrease only the areas that are washed out. So I go to ‘highlights‘ and I decrease all highlighted areas by 21 points.
  5. I want to bring in even more details in the shaded areas so I lightened up ‘shadows‘ by 52 points.
  6. Next I want all the mid-tone areas (skin) to have even more contrast to give it even more ‘pop’ so I increased clarity by another 15 points.
  7. Lastly I want make the colors in the picture more saturated – but I only want areas that do not have enough saturation to have more saturation. This is where ‘vibrance‘ comes in. This is important because if you ‘turbocharge’ the entire picture in color saturation you get a very un-natural look.

That’s it. If you’re new to photo processing, your head is probably spinning at this point. Say what?!? But if you know what you’re doing, it takes you less than a minute to do it. Notice it’s not 50 settings you have to change. In this particular example, it’s only 7 settings.

Most of these settings are self-explanatory. All you need to do is just spend time with them and get enough experience to understand how they work.

Not only that, all setting changes can be saved as ‘presets‘ in Adobe Lightroom. So you can apply a group of changes in one go to an entire album without going through each one. This is usually what I do when I import all my photos from my camera. I have a preset that I just click and it will apply to everything. Then I individually walk through each picture to fine-tune if necessary.

In my upcoming posts, I will touch more on each individual setting in greater detail. For now, know that with just a little bit of knowledge of a handful of settings, you can make a difficult picture into an AWESOME picture. Why? Because we now live in the digital world. The power of darkroom superheroes is now available to you via Adobe Photoshop Lightroom at $9.99/month (under their “Creative Cloud” plan). Or you can buy the whole package for $135.85. And yes, I don’t get a cent from Adobe and I’m not in any way affiliated with them.

Either way, to get good at this, you have to practice. The learning curve is steep but it will be SHORT. Your return-on-investment in picking up this skill is unmatched. In no time you’ll have amazing shots that you will treasure for a lifetime. Do it.