Everyone loves a good sunset picture, but they don’t always turn out the way you want them to on . The colors can often look washed out and less vibrant than they do in real life, with the details getting lost in the shadows and highlights. Luckily, this can be fixed with a few easy tricks in post processing! Below is a guide on how to get the most out of your sunset shots in Adobe Lightroom.
First, open your photo in Lightroom and start by turning down the highlights and bumping up the shadows to bring more of the detail back into it. Be careful not to overdo it too much; you want to make sure you still have true black in the photo, and the whites shouldn’t look too gray. Then, hold down the “Alt” key and drag up the white toggle until you see green or blue marks coming onto the screen. These marks show where the highlights are clipping, or where there isn’t enough information and the detail is lost. Stop dragging right before the marks show up to ensure the photo has bright highlights that aren’t blown out.
Make the photo pop by turning up the contrast between +20 and +30, or wherever you think looks the best. Tweak it even a little more by turning up the blacks. This will bring even more depth into the shadows and will create a nice stark contrast between the sky and the land. Play around with the contrast even more by turning down the shadows and turning up the blacks to bring more detail into the darker areas, while still maintaining a strong contrast. It’s common to want to bump up the clarity, but it’s not always the best option when it comes to sunset shots. If the sun isn’t in the photo, and the image already has a softer look, try turning down the clarity between -20 and -30 to amplify the romantic quality. If the sun is a main part of the image, try turning the clarity up to make the rays from the sun even sharper.
Sunset photos usually have a warm color tone already, so it’s better when editing the temperature to keep things on the cooler side. Adjust the top slider to the left to bring strong blues into the image, and to avoid it looking too yellow. Drag the bottom slider to the right to bring the warm magenta tones back in, and to keep it from looking too blue. Amplify the colors even more by adjusting the vibrance and saturation. The vibrance is often more subtle, so bump that up more so than the saturation. Be careful not to overdo these settings for risk of making your sunset look fake.
Once your basic edits are done, scroll down to the tonal curve and bring up the highlights again. This will make the brightest sections of the photo pop even more, especially with the amplified colors. Play around with the other sliders in the tonal curve section until the exposure and contrast look the way you want them to. This is going to differ from image to image, so do some experimenting and have fun with it. Tweak the colors even more with the individual hue, saturation and luminance sliders. Use the pinpoint to the left of the sliders to select specific areas of the photo to edit. This way you can focus in on small sections of the photo, rather than turning up the saturation on the entire image.
Next, edit the color of the highlights even more under the split toning panel. Click on the small gray box in the top right of the panel and play around with the different color tones. Oranges, pinks and purples work well with the warm tones of sunsets. Turn up the saturation slider, but be careful not to overdo it. Do the same with the shadows by clicking on the other small gray box. Play with the cooler tones to increase the contrast between the colors and make the warmer tones pop even more.
Increase the sharpness under the Detail panel to make the photo even crisper. This will be especially helpful if you’re shooting with a kit lens that’s not known for being very sharp. Tweak the vignette under the Effects panel for a darker tone around the border of the image. This is effective with sunset images because it will bring the focus even more in toward the bright tones in the center. Continue tweaking the effects in each panel as you go along to create the perfect combination. Remember, there are no set rules when it comes to editing, so play around with it. The more you experiment, the sooner the editing process will be a fun and natural part of shooting!