How to know when a photograph is finished and the all-you-can-eat protocol

Above: I photographed Frank Romano in Scoglitti, Sicily last month. A behind the scenes, lighting and post production tutorial will be available to my Gold Members this month.
Above: I photographed Frank Romano in Scoglitti, Sicily last month. A behind the scenes, lighting and post production tutorial will be available to my Gold Members this month.

 

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” – Leonardo da Vinci

 

I can still remember exactly where I was when I first experienced the amazing raw file processing software called Lightroom. Like most groovy new trends, I wasn’t an early adopter. I’d heard many of my colleagues rave about Lightroom like it was the greatest thing since Nutella on bread, but I still had some reservations… I didn’t have time to learn a whole new system. Lightroom looked complicated and Photoshop did everything I needed just fine.

Then I tried it and life as I knew it changed forever *cue epic movie soundtrack*.

That was a defining moment in my life that will be played in my highlights reel, in between first kiss and first jar of Nutella. I was hooked within minutes of using it. Using Lightroom felt like home. Lightroom understood me. Lightroom had me at “hello.”

The thing that made Lightroom so revolutionary was the ability to individually adjust midtones, shadows and highlights, and make local adjustments in seconds (that would have taken ages using Photoshop). This is by far Lightroom’s greatest asset, but the ease and speed that photos can be manipulated and the variety of ways they can be changed is also Lightroom’s greatest liability.

The first few times I used Lightroom, I felt like I was visiting my first all-you-can-eat buffet. There were so many good things on offer that I just went for it. I gorged on all of the breads, cheeses and pastas (contrast and exposure), ignored the salads (white balance – who eats salad at a buffet?) before overdosing on the cheesecakes (vignettes) and finally overindulging at the chocolate fountain (clarity).

The problem with all-you-can-eat is not knowing when to stop. The chocolate fountain is incredible, but how many times do you fill your bowl before you make yourself sick?

So after a few disastrous late night binge editing sessions, I decided it was time to implement the “all-you-can-eat protocol” when I edited my images in Lightroom.

1. Go easy on the bread and pastas – these are cheap fillers.

The exposure and contrast sliders adjust highlights, midtones and shadows all at once. Go easy on these sliders. I avoid them altogether.

2. Eat your salad first.

White balance is often ignored by newbie Lightroom users. But this is a really important step, as it lays the groundwork for all future adjustments.

3. Go easy on the cheesecake.

The right amount of vignette can make or break an image. I’ve overdone it on the vignette many times. Now I try to use them conservatively.

4. Step away from the chocolate fountain.

The clarity slider is so addictive. Like chocolate, it’s almost impossible to use it conservatively. If a little bit of clarity looks good, then cranking it up all the way should look even better right?

Watch for the halo effect too much clarity will give your images and loss of detail in midtones.

5. Sleep it off.

Finally the best way for me to tell if an image is finished or not, is to not look at the image for 24 hours once I’ve finished editing. I know my eyes and mind acclimate to the image I am working on and after a while, I fail to notice how much I have changed it. The results are cumulative. The shock of the new disappears.

If I still like the way it looks after 24 hours, then I know it’s finished.

How do you know when your photos are finished? I’d love to hear your tips.

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