IN COLLABORATION with my professional guest, Lauren Caris Short

While we all try to get our images right in the camera, the real magic happens during post-processing. There are so many editing styles that can be applied to food images from futuristic, through modern, retro and even vintage, and in this episode of the ‘Let’s Talk About…‘ blog post series we will talk about editing our food photos in Adobe Lightroom.

If you are interested in learning more about camera angles, manual settings on your camera, composition and food styling tricks and tips, you can visit all episodes of this post series by clicking here.

Are you ready to improve your post-processing skills? Let’s do this together!

Eryngo Cake Before / After - Photo by © Reka Csulak

How to start?

When it comes to post-processing our food photography, Lightroom became the origo of our workflows so in this part of the post we will look into the Develop module and its main features trough the steps of my workflow.

The first thing I do is to scroll down to the Lens Corrections panel and select the following checkboxes:

  • Remove Chromatic Aberration
  • Enable Profile Corrections

By making this choice, the program automatically identifies your lens model and adjust the image my eliminating the distortion, perspective correction, chromatic aberration and vignetting that comes with certain lenses (especially wide angle lenses), and this program does this lens-specific correction in a non-destructive way.

Right after this initial step I scroll up to the top of the sidebar and make any necessary white balance adjustment on the Basic panel.

If you want to make sure that you perfect your image's white balance, I recommend to use a 18% grey card as a reference point on your images:

  • take one image with the card and another without
  • use the White balance selector tool (eye-dropper icon) at the white balance settings of LR, click on your grey card
  • LR adjusts the white balance according to this accurate reference point
  • click to the image without the grey card and press "Previous" button to copy the corrected white balance settings to your image.

After this, I just move down and adjust the following sliders of this panel.

The Exposure slider affects the brightness of your image. When you are working with camera settings that gives you the perfect exposure, you normally don't have to touch this slider, but in case you shoot dark and moody scenes - that normally requires slightly underexposed images to preserve shadows- you might need to adjust the exposure of the entire image, but be careful, if you over-adjust the exposure +/- you can lose information by turning the pixels into pure white or black spots on the image.

Another great cure for under/overexposed areas of the image is to adjust the Highlights and Shadows sliders.

Your choices on the Contrast slider can turn your images alive and establish your signature style. Experiment with this slider until you find the matching setting for each scene and mood.

Another interesting tool is the Clarity slider, that increasing/decreasing the contrast between the midtones luminance only, which gives the illusion of the image became clearer. You can also notice, if you increase clarity on your image, that becomes lighter and at the same time the colour saturation reduces a bit, and when you decrease clarity, it adds a soft-focus effect to the image.

The Texture slider is a quite new feature in Lightroom, and originally it has been added to help smoothening areas of the images when decreasing its values, but it can be a superb tool for food photographers, as it is allowing us to adjust the contrast not as harsh as clarity does, and without affecting the brightness or saturation of the image.

The Saturation slider affects the intensity of all colours - it is easy to overdo the adjustment so be careful -, while the Vibrance slider only affects the saturation of the less saturated colours of the image.

The Dehaze slider is mostly practical in other genres, such as landscape photography.

To make local adjustments on your image, you can always use the Graduated and Radial Filters or the Adjustment Brush and modify the sliders to enhance a specific area of the image.

Easter Egg Pastries Before / After - Photo by © Reka Csulak

The Tone Curve panel is really something you will love to play with as the adjustments here have a big impact on your images.

Give yourself time, it is a tool that you might need time to master. If you just started using LR, I recommend to experiment with the Region sliders below the graph, as they will have the same effect as adjusting the curve but you will less likely mess up your editing with incorrect adjustments.

The Tone Curve is a graph that shows all tones in your image from shadows (starting point of the axis on the bottom left) to highlights (ending point of the axis on the top right) and of course, all the midtones in-between these two. You can discover a familiar shape if you compare it to the histogram of your image.

You can control the lightness and darkness of the tones of your image by dragging the curve itself: if you move the axis down, the tones get darker and as you move the axis up, the tones get brighter. Normally you will find your tone curve looking like a distorted S, which Lauren will also talk about in detail later in this blog post.

If you ever wanted to achieve that vintage matte black look on your photos, which also called as lifting/crushing the blacks of your image, you just take the left ending point of the axis which represents the pure blacks in your image, and drag it up a little. You can also try and drag down the top right point of the axis, that represents the pure whites of your image. Check the example below:

Lifting the blacks by the Tone Curve - Photo by © Reka Csulak

Since food photography tends to involve more colour adjustments than other photography genres, the HSL/Color panel is something that does some magic to our images too.

I normally like to use the All view in HSL tab during editing as it shows everything I might need. You can chose to see the HSL elements separate by selecting one from the view options, and if you choose Color tab, you can see the HSL sliders for each colours separate.

The abbreviation stands for Hue, Saturation, and Luminance, and you can see all the colour sliders for these three.

  • With the Hue sliders, you can adjust how warm (slide left) or cool (slide right) you want each colour to be on the image.
  • Saturation makes a colour pop, or achieves a more monochromatic look by removing it from the image by desaturating it.
  • Luminance affects the brightness of a specific colour.

When you cannot decide on an image which exact colour do you need to adjust, just simply click on those bullet point looking icons on the left of the sidebar (check the picture below, it is active next to the Hue sliders and inactive next to the Saturation sliders): they are allowing you to make targeted adjustments. After clicking on the bullet point icon, your cursor will turn into a target cross, and you can drag it to a certain area of the image -for example the peel of an apple-. Click again and drag it up/down: this will adjust all the colours hue, staturation or luminance that builds that pixel you selected, -for example the red peel of an apple usually has red, orange, yellow hues at the same time that you can adjust at the same time-.

HSL panel and targeted adjustment tool - Photo by © Reka Csulak

I personally don't use the Color Grading panel very often, but you can adjust or add colours to specific areas or tones of your image, which helps you to create a specific look or mood.

The Detail panel contains important sliders such as Sharpening, that Lauren will talk about in detail later in this blog post.

As a perfectionist, my personal favourite is the Transform panel, that helps you correct distorted lines, and make all lines parallel that needs to be parallel. You can use the Guided setting where you can draw the reference lines to the image or any of the other, automatic settings that appear as buttons on top. The sliders below allow you to correct specific issues on the images, for example if your camera has not been parallel to the scene, Horizontal, Vertical and Rotate sliders can save the day.

At the Effects panel you can find the Post-Crop Vignetting option that can be an artistic choice for example on dar and moody images. Grain is something we do not really want in this photography genre, so this slider is not too interesting.

And finally, Calibration panel can help you to fine-tune the colour of your photos and fix undesirable colour casts.

Kladdkaka Before / After - Photo by © Reka Csulak

Exercise: Post-processing in Ligthroom from start to finish

  1. After reading this blog post, open Lightroom and open a catalog with some older images.
  2. Create a virtual copy of an image that you already edited in the past (right click + Create Virtual Copy)
  3. Press the Reset button, which will clear all adjustments.
  4. Start editing your image from scratch and apply all what you learnt from Lauren and I.

If you feel like it, feel free to share

  • the old and new edits
  • or the raw and edited version of your image

on Instagram as a post or in your stories and tag me @rekacsulak and Lauren @lauren.c.short so we can see the work of all of you, talented creators!

Birthday cake Before / After - Photo by © Reka Csulak

I invited a professional photographer friend to process this topic by digging deeper into the technical features and hidden potential of the most popular editing software amongst food photographers. Welcome Lauren Caris Short on board!

Who are you and what is your photography specialty?

My name is Lauren Short. I am a British food photographer living in Zurich, Switzerland.

I run the online membership Food Photography Academy, as well as my blog and YouTube channel.

I started writing my food blog in 2014, and unexpectedly fell in love with food photography. Now I love sharing everything I know with other food photographers, and I’m so excited to be here today to talk to you about Lightroom!

Portrait © Lauren Caris Short

Do you have a step-by-step workflow you follow when editing a photo in Lightroom?

Yes, one of the things I love most about Lightroom is that it’s an all in one system. Not only can I process my images, but I can also catalogue and organise them, so that’s a huge part of my workflow too.

When editing an image, I generally work from top to bottom in the develop module, then go back and make tweaks, so I’ll start with the basic panel, and work my way down. Typically, the adjustments I make to my image are in the basic panel, the tone curve, HSL panel, detail panel and lens corrections. Sometimes I’ll dip into color grading, but it depends on the image and what I’m trying to achieve.

As my own adjustments got more and more consistent, I created some of my own presets that I can apply and tweak slightly. I always recommend people really learn the software inside out first, and find their own editing style before creating presets.

Many beginners are having a hard time understanding the tone-curve. What practical tips would you give them to understand and start utilizing its potential?

The tone curve starts off with a line going straight across from absolute black on the left to absolute white on the right.

Tone Curve panel © Lauren Caris Short

You can see your histogram behind the line, which shows you where the tones in your image are currently falling. Where the histogram is taller, it means there are more tones falling in that area, so in this image, most of the tones fall on the right, meaning it’s a light and bright image.

To make adjustments to our image using the tone curve, we need to add some points to the curve. Let’s start by adding 3 points, one on the left, one in the middle, and one on the right.

Tone Curve with points © Lauren Caris Short

The point on the left is going to make adjustments to the dark tones in our image, the middle point will adjust the mid tones, and the right point will adjust the light tones. To make adjustments we’re going to move the points up and down. Up will increase the tones at that point, down will decrease them. A typical tone curve adjustment is an S curve, which creates more contrast in our image by increasing highlights (the point on the right), and darkening shadows (the point on the left). In this case I’m not moving the middle point at all, it’s there to anchor the adjustments. It looks something like this:

S-Curve adjustment © Lauren Caris Short

Here is the effect that has on this image:

Without tone curve - Photo by © Lauren Caris Short

With tone curve - Photo by © Lauren Caris Short

You can see that the image on the right just “pops” more - this is due to the added contrast. Of course there are many different ways to adjust the tone curve, but a basic S curve adjustment is a great place to start if you’re new to using the tone curve.

Do you ever use color grading when editing your images?

I do sometimes, mostly I use the Hue, Saturation and Luminance (HSL) panel to adjust the colors in my images.

The color grading panel will add colour into the shadows, mid tones or highlights of your image. It can be really useful when you’re trying to create a look like a vintage style in your image, which you can do by adding a bit of green/orange to the shadows. It’s definitely a feature I use sparingly, if I’m using it I only want a hint of colour in those areas to avoid it looking like a weird color cast has been applied, but it’s definitely something really fun to play around with!

Have you discovered any hidden features in Lightroom that not many photographers know and use?

Holding down the alt/option key whilst adjusting sliders toggles on a mask in Lightroom, so you can see with much more precision what you’re doing. This is particularly useful for the shadows/highlights and whites/blacks adjustments, as you’ll see straight away any clipped areas you have in your images.

It’s also really useful for sharpening. When you’re sharpening an image, you want to make sure you’re adjusting all four of the sliders, not just the amount of sharpening. Masking the sharpening allows you to only apply sharpening to the edges of objects, which creates a more crisp look, without making every pixel in the frame look sharpened. Hold down the alt/option key whilst adjusting the “masking” slider in the detail panel and keep sliding to the right until you have a white outline of the objects in your image you want sharpened. The sharpening will then only be applied to the white areas.

Detail Panel Adjustment © Lauren Caris Short

What other softwares or apps do you use during post-processing? Which features of those are helping your workflow in addition to Lightroom?

I often use Photoshop for more precise retouching work. I love that there’s a direct link between Lightroom and Photoshop, so I’ll do the bulk of my color editing in Lightroom, then right click on the image in the timeline of the develop module and select “Edit in → Photoshop”.

This then opens up the image as a TIF file in Photoshop, so I can go ahead and do all the retouching I need, save and close it and then a new copy of my image with my Photoshop retouches is available in Lightroom.

Then I can do my usual exporting workflow from Lightroom and keep all my images catalogued in one place.

Make sure you check the website, courses, and other beautiful images of Lauren, by visiting her