How to use Lightroom to make the most of dull days

Sunny days, the golden hour, high contrast light - for most landscape enthusiasts, these are the conditions we crave.  However the weather is not always kind and we often have to take what we can get - or sit at home for most of the winter letting the camera gather dust.

What I'd like to show you, is how with a little Adobe Lightroom know how, we can take a flat and disappointing image and salvage something worth keeping.

We start with this image which I took at the gallops in Newmarket. In the words of Joey from Friends, "Could it BE any more boring?"

Click to enlarge

The first order of business is to give the contrast a bit of a lift.  However we need to be choosy about how we do this.  Increasing the Contrast slider boosts Highlights and Whites and darkens Shadows and Blacks.  The sky is already overexposed, so it doesn't need any more of a boost, which is what the Contrast slider will do.

Lightroom Tutorial Basic Panel 1
  • The main exposure lift comes from increasing the Shadows slider. 
     
  • Reducing the Blacks level brings back the punch and depth to the colours.
     
  • I boosted Clarity only a little - this is a very powerful slider and can add a lot of drama to an image but is very easily overdone.
     
  • There is an amount of trial and error in the process to see what looks best.  As you can see, I did arrive on a small boost of the Contrast slider.

Click to enlarge

That's a pleasing start but the sky is still very washed out.  This is where it really pays to shoot in RAW instead of JPEG.  Although the sky looks washed out, the RAW file contains a great deal of detail about that region - let's see if we can reveal it....

There are a number of tools we could use to for this, including Brushes but my preference here is the Graduated Filter tool.  Click and drag from above the image across the area where it should take effect.

As you can see below, I have the Show Selected Mask Overlay turned on, hence the red area.
Turn it off again and begin making adjustments. 

Click to enlarge

Lightroom Tutorial Basic Panel 2

Pretty much anything we can adjust globally (ie. the whole image) can be applied to our masked area.

In this instance I'm going with a simple exposure reduction of 1.5 stops.  This will recover colour and detail in the sky area.

We could stop there and call it a day but let's have some fun.  Let's add a graduated blue tint to the sky as well.  The sky actually was blue(ish) that morning but the camera couldn't capture it.

Click to enlarge

Okay, we're getting there now but there's still too much foreground grass for my liking.  While we're cropping, let's lose the building on the right and change the aspect ratio as well.  I'm quite a fan of the 16:9 option - it has something of an epic widescreen feel to it.

Click to enlarge

To finish off I added a very light Vignette and a touch of Sharpening.  (If you shoot JPEG then sharpening should not be needed but with RAW in certainly is.)

I do hope you've enjoyed this short tutorial and that's it's given you food for thought.  If so, I'd encourage you to share it on any platform you like.  Many thanks until next time. 

The finished product. Click to enlarge.