Some photos come out of the camera technically fine but still might seem a bit blah. Maybe they aren’t quite as sharp as you’d like or there’s not enough “pop” in their presentation; they’re bland rather than bold. Well, the good news is there are lots of fixes for these issues. Here are three of my favorite Lightroom techniques to make your photos pop.
The Dehaze Slider
The Dehaze slider is found in the Basic palette of the Develop module and is a great way to make your photos pop. It adds punch by eliminating the flat, hazy look that comes from shooting through a lot of atmosphere. That could be smoke or fog or general haze in the air, but it also comes from extreme distance. Look at any landscape image of a mountain range on a clear day. The farthest peaks will lack the contrast, punch and detail of those closest to the camera. That’s haze, and that’s exactly what the dehaze slider was built to remedy. It’s easy to use by simply sliding left or right to add or subtract contrast, the appearance of sharpness and increased color saturation. Lest you think it’s only for landscapes or situations in which it’s actual haze that’s causing the lack of contrast and sharpness, think again. Diligent application of the dehaze slider can put punch in practically any picture, from landscapes to portraits to street photography. If it feels blah, try adding punch with the dehaze slider.
The Clarity Slider
Photographers have been using Lightroom’s Clarity slider to add punch ever since the application debuted. They might think of it as a way to add sharpness, but really it works by adding contrast at edges within the scene. Any edge—meaning a transition between highlight and shadow—can be made to look sharper by increasing the highlight-to-shadow contrast along that edge. The higher the contrast, the sharper the edge—and consequently the picture overall—will appear. That’s how the clarity slider works. Be careful, though, because it’s easy to overdo it and create unnatural halo effects. A little bit of added clarity goes a long way. Look for the Clarity slider in the Basic section of the Develop module—right below the aforementioned Dehaze slider.
The Contrast Slider
Here’s the secret you may have noticed with both of the above adjustments: they’re fundamentally controls of contrast. The contrast in an image—the difference between bright highlights and dark shadows—is at the foundation of images that inherently have drama and punch. If an image is full of middle tones with few strong highlights and shadows, it may be perfectly accurately exposed and still appear flat and lacking pop. If an image is incorrectly lit or exposed, however, the lack of contrast can appear especially problematic. In both cases, increasing contrast—even just a bit—can turn an image from bland to bold. And not only do the above tools add contrast, but there are also several other tools in Lightroom that improve contrast too.
First, of course, is the Contrast slider found just below the exposure control in the Basic section of the Develop module. But other sliders found nearby also add to contrast and in a more specific way. If the issue is found in muddy highlights, try pulling up the Highlights and Whites sliders. If the issue is shadows that just aren’t black enough, pull the Shadows and Blacks sliders left in order to bring them down. The Tone Curve is also a great way to add contrast and therefore make your photos pop by clicking and dragging to set points on the tone curve. Grab the shoulder of the curve (up near the top right of the line) to adjust highlights, and grab the toe of the curve (near the bottom left of the curve) to adjust shadows. You can also add additional points on the curve for more specific tone control and even use the Target tool to grab any tone in the image proper and drag it up or down to make it lighter or darker, a change which will also be reflected on the tone curve.