Autumn colour: A Lightroom workflow (part 2 of 2)

we are hoping for something between an American gothic and Victorian English feel. To help do this, I changed the lighting

The first part of this article can be found here (opens in a new window/tab).

In this article, we will see how we can create the  first image  below from the second image below (taken with a Nokia N95 series cell phone’s 5MP camera).

Autumn Colour
Autumn Colour
Unedited source (Nokia N95 camera phone)
Unedited source (Nokia N95 camera phone)

As we saw in the first part, there are several things wrong with the initial image (blown out skin and sky, colour cast causing colour to look washed out, no real framing, etc).

In the first part, we also defined an intent and backstory for our final image. In this concluding part, I will go through what I did in Lightroom to complete the piece.


Reducing the image to tones
Reducing the image to tones

The first thing I did was reduce the image to tones by selecting the ‘B&W Creative – High contrast’ preset. This removes all colour and adds contrast. The main thing this preset does is to reduce saturation to -100 (no colour).

Temporarily reducing saturation to -100  is always a good thing to do when cropping and reframing an  image, because it allows you to see the underlying subject(s) and lighting of your image clearly.


By selecting the Crop tool (yellow arrow), I was able to straighten and better frame my image. There were two driving factors here; I wanted to form some horizontal/vertical straight lines (you can see which ones I chose via the green lines).

I also wanted to create a horizontal rule of thirds (red lines) via the crop.

Finally, I removed some of the image from the top and bottom during the crop. Both these areas contain nothing of significance, and would detract from the scan direction I want the viewer to take (left to right) by adding a conflicting and less desirable up-down scan.

Ambience and shadow

As discussed in part one, we are hoping for something between an  American gothic and Victorian English feel. To help do this, I changed the lighting.

First Graduated filter (before: left, after:right)
First Graduated filter (before: left, after:right)

To change global lighting or add shadows, I use the Graduated Filter tool. Although a real graduated filter is generally used to darken or tint the sky, I almost never use the digital version in Lightroom in this way; it has much more potential when used for creating ambient and light/shadow/chiaroscuro effects on the main subject.

The first step was to set the ambient light; although the image was taken in mid day sun, I wanted to emulate a crisp early morning. To do this, I added a graduation that darkened the top left corner at the same time as adding contrast, falling off towards the middle. Why would this suggest a crisp early morning? As the gradient follows the perspective lines of the fence, we see a gradual whitening and loss of contrast as we move along the fence and to the distance. One cause of this would be a very light early morning mist.

Our gradient also has a happy side effect of fixing the blown skin tones on the face. Bonus! (If this had not fixed the blown out skin tones, we could have fixed it separately via the adjustment brush later).

Second Graduated filter
Second Graduated filter

A second gradient darkens the foreground. I have chosen the Exposure and brightness so that the colour of the shadow is the same tone as the figure.

You can no longer see her feet as they merge into the shadow (yellow arrow). Although technically unrealistic, this gives the figure a different sense; she is now part of the shadow rather than being merely in shadow.

Image completed for light/shadow and tone

Here’s the image so far.

Image completed for light/shadow and tone
Image completed for light/shadow and tone

As you can see, we have fixed almost all the problems in the original image already! We have imposed good framing and have the beginnings of a style in our image.

Setting an image to B&W and then using the gradient tool to add shadows and lighting is something I do often in Lightroom. By changing the tones and lighting/shadow of your image via gradients whilst viewing the image in black and white (tones), you can drastically alter the feel of your image with ease.

As an aside, I noticed that many of the search results for the first part of this article were along the lines of ‘how to get a gothic style in Lightroom’. Well, you know half of the equation now; use the gradient tool to create lighting in that style.


We now move to adding the colour back to the image. We could just set the saturation back to normal (0%) but there is a better two step way that gives us more control;

'Neutral colour image', ready for recolouring
'Neutral colour image', ready for recolouring

Step 1: First, raise the saturation by a tiny amount so that you now have a little colour. Then, raise the vibrance by a lot. In the image below I raised the saturation from -100% (no colour) to -88%, then raised the vibrance by 33%. This has the effect of making all the colours low and equal; the low saturation gives you almost no colour, and a high vibrance normalises your colours (makes them all the same intensity).

As the entire colour intensities are low and equal, you get a faded colour image, as seen above. I call this the ‘neutral colour image’.

From here, you can colour the image as you wish simply by boosting/cutting the colour saturations. You can also fine tune the light/shadow per colour range by altering the colour luminances. Finally, you can re-colour (swap colours) via the hue sliders.

Step 2: make the colour balance fit your intent by varying the colour sliders.

Re-colouring the neutral colour image
Re-colouring the neutral colour image

I boosted the oranges and yellows (to give me the autumnal leaves) and decreased Aqua (Lightroom’s name for cyan or blue-green) to remove the bluish colour cast in the original image.

More importantly, you can probably see here that I could have boosted/cut other colours, and this would have given me a totally different image.

Finalising the edit

There’s some minor issues remaining. Some of the leaves right at the bottom of the image are too bright and detract from our main subject.

Also, you can tell that the figure is wearing trousers because you see a small gap between the legs. I would prefer the figure to be more ambiguous, and by removing the gap we are more likely to believe she is wearing clothes from a much earlier age.

Spot removal
Spot removal
By removing some of the dots above, we end up with the final image;Autumn Colour;
Autumn Colour
Autumn Colour
Click here to show a larger version (1200×840, opens in a new window/tab).


This article suggests a quick and consistent way to fix images where a significant amount of change is required (i.e. significant crop is required to strengthen composition, and drastic changes in tone and colour balance are required to set a style);

  1. Reduce the image to black and white by reducing saturation to -100%.
  2. Crop and rotate to set the direction you wish the image to be scanned by the user’s eye, and to set the direction of the dominant line(s).
  3. Add or change global lighting and shadow via the graduated filter tool (you can also use the fill light slider, but don’t change it by more than 3-5, because it has a big effect).
  4. Normalise the image colour by increasing saturation by 5-15% and increasing vibrancy by 30-50%. This gives you a faded, neutrally coloured image.
  5. By using the colour sliders, re-colour the image in line with the tonal changes made in 2.
  6. Make local changes (spot removal, local adjustments via the adjustment brush) to finalise the image.

The previous article in this two part set discussed ways of deciding exactly what post processing needs to be performed on the image, and how to decide what style changes will be imposed on the image.


  1. The source image is a JPEG. This limits my ability to expose-up in my edits, and is one reason why I chose my edits such that they tended to darken (under-expose) the image. This has the side effect of hiding the noise that woudl otherwise exist (cell phone cameras are much more noisy than a typical DSLR even aside from the fact that they export to JPEG only).
  2. During my crop, I used horizontal/vertical dominant lines. Other images may have other dominant line directions; imposing a slant to the horizontal or vertical is often more desirable because it creates a less stable (and therefore more dynamic) framing. A curving dominant line direction can also be desirable.
  3. As an aside, the image in this post shows the view from the other side of the ridge at the far right of ‘Autumn Colour’. The two images were taken less than five minutes walk from each other, albeit at different times of the year.

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