Image Processing: From Start to Finish

How in the heck did I go from this image on the left, to the image on the right…


Disclaimer: I am not obsessed with my looks, and I am the furthest from being a model. However, I am my only readily available model, and am willing to work for free ๐Ÿ™‚

This is a post inspired by one of my favorite bloggers on WordPress, Stacy over at Visual Venturing.

Stacy and I have been blogger buddies for quite a while, and we’ve watched each other improve our photography skills over that time… at least, I’ve seen Stacy drastically improve the quality of her photography. For nearly six months, sheย has been running a weekly feature on her blog called “After-Before Friday” where she she shares her post-processing techniques in a video, as well as the image processing of other fellow bloggers. I’ve wanted to participate for quite a while, and I felt that this was the perfect time to jump in.

As you can see from the image on the left, there’s only a hint of a subject in the image. The funny thing is that that same image looked a lot nicer on the back of my camera, which goes to show that you should never fully trust what you see on the tiny screen on your camera… which is actually a compressed jpeg version of your RAW file.

Being a RAW shooter, I thought I’d take on the challenge of trying to bring this image back to life, and through this post I’ll show you how I did it.

My original intent with this lighting setup was to create a dramatic low-key black and white image, but when I converted the image, something just didn’t feel right. So I started over.


Often when I’m not sure of the direction I’d like to take with an image, I’ll press the “Auto” button and let Lightroom begin my journey. What Auto does, is look at all the light and dark areas, and make it’s best guess on the exposure, and in this instance it added five stops of exposure, removed a lot of contrast, and adjusted the light and dark sliders. Unfortunately, this resulted in a well lit, unfocused, and dull image.

auto tone


If you’ve ever seen one of my images, you’ll know that I love adding clarity and contrast to my images. In an attempt to draw attention back to my face and my “intense stare” (insert laughs and insulting jokes here), I reduced exposure by two stops, increased clarity to 100%, and manually added contrast by drastically adjusting the highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks sliders. This instantly brings the focus back to my face.

clarity adjust


To black out the background and maintain the low-key effect I envisioned, I brought in a radial filter and two graduated filters so I could reduce the background exposure by nearly three stops and create a black backdrop to my scene.

radial filter


After a couple more highlight/shadow adjustments, an increase to vibrance, and a decrease in saturation, I completed my “movie poster” look by cropping the image to a 16×9 aspect ratio.


EYE ENHANCEMENTS (Adjustment Brush)

I next used the adjustment brush to make the eyes pop! Here, I basically boosted the exposure,ย highlights, and clarity slightly, so that they catch light was more visible and they eyes looked more alive.

eye adjust


Lastly, I made a few slight adjustments to the orange and red tones in my skin, made a slight increase to overall exposure, a reduction on the highlights slider, and the image was complete!

final retouch

Thank you so much for following along on this longer than normal blog post, but I had fun sharing how I worked on this image. I probably won’t do this every week, but I’ll definitely participate in Stacy’s forum again soon. In the meantime, click on over to Visual Venturing to see Stacy’s work… I know you’ll like what you see.

I’d love to hear what you thought of the post – what you liked, what you didn’t like, what you would have done differently. My favorite posts are the ones that generate great discussion in the comments, so please chime in.



  1. Great work Shane, you’ve created a cool, low key portrait. Interesting to see the clarity increased so much in a portrait, in this case it works really well. Thanks for taking us through your processing steps, really nicely explained. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. HI Katie, thanks for visiting once again ๐Ÿ™‚ I wouldn’t dream of adding clarity to a portrait of a lady, unless she has some alien-like perfect skin or the skin of a five year old. You can often get away with adding clarity on male figures, and aside from the permanent bags under my eyes, I don’t really have anything to mask by reducing clarity.

    1. Thanks, as you can see, My exposure was about as far off as humanly possible. That’s rarely the case, but I haven’t done much flash work with my Nikon and I find it quite different from my Sony. In either case, it’s pretty amazing how much play you have with a RAW file.

      1. Off camera. I use speedlight, one inside a softbox just outside the frame, and the other with a slight softening modifier positioned behind me and aimed at the background.

    1. Thanks Julie! So you use Lightroom then? Would you be interested if I did other Lightroom posts? I guess I haven’t done any because there are already a tonne out there and thought it might be redundant. Just curious.

  2. Wow, really cool photo editing “tutorial”! Love it!
    However, I have a small request…please bring back the happy Shane! I prefer your smile over this “serious” look. ๐Ÿ˜€

  3. Shane, now that your post has been “officially” posted on ABFriday, I wanted to publicly thank you for your HUGE shout out to the Forum in particular, and to my blog, in general. You have always been so generous and kind with your support, and as I mentioned to you, quite a few new bloggers once again have signed on as followers because of you. Thank you. Really. Truly. Deeply.

    Now, as for your selfie, I just love the creativity you bring to your “experiments,” and this one is no exception. At first I thought the before image was a mistake, as I couldn’t quite see your image. Joke’s on me! I have rarely used the auto feature in LR, but perhaps I’ll give that a try next time just to see where it may lead! The “recipe” you manually came up with was a perfect mix for a great after effect. I love the use of the radial filter, and thanks for the tip about brightening the whites of your eyes. I’ll have to remember that the next time I shoot a portrait closeup!

    Thanks so much for participating in ABFriday. I’m looking forward to having you back for Week 26 ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Hi Stacy,

      I’m so glad to be a part of the crew now. It’s great to have a place where we can share our knowledge and learn from each other. It helps make us all stronger as photographers.

      Now, the new followers are there because of your great content. I may have led a few people your way, but if they clicked the subscribe button it was only because they liked what they saw on your site.

      I’m looking forward to week 26, and I think I’ve found the image I’d like to share for that post. Can’t wait to edit the winning image from this week too.

      Happy Halloween!!

      1. Thanks for your kind words, Shane. If I knew how, I’d insert a blushing emoticon here…

        I just sent an email to the ABFriday crew about the coming weeks. Double check your dates so that we’re on the same page ๐Ÿ™‚

        Happy November!!

  4. hi, i have never thought of using the auto tune before, I always thought was like auto levels. It did give you a good place to start from. I like the aesthetic you have created and it is example of making the most out of lightroom.

    1. Hi Ben, I don’t use the Auto button all the time, but if I’m a bit stuck on how to start an image, I’ll give it a try and then work from there.

      Also, I have no idea how to use Photoshop, so I have probably learned everything there is to know about Lightroom. My next challenge will be to figure out Lightroom.

  5. Hi Shane, this is a great example of just how wonderful Lightroom is when shooting Raw! I will forever remember your tip about the eye on a portrait. thanks for sharing your post on the after-before friday.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by! I can’t take credit for the eye tip, because I think I might have gotten it from Scott Kelby or someone like that while watching one of them million YouTube videos I’ve seen.

  6. Hi, Shane, I’m a little late to the party here, but very nice job on this image and an entertaining essay as well. It’s great to see you in the ABFriday Forum and I hope you’ll continue to contribute to it.

    1. Hi Robin,

      Thanks so much for the warm welcome ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m really happy to be participating in Stacy’s weekly post. I’ve enjoyed following along these last few months, and really liked seeing what each contributor… including you… do with your processing.

      I’ll definitely continue to contribute as much as I can.

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