Photographing a wedding feels like a marathon event. But that stamina-driven creative process doesn’t stop with the last dance.
Once you’ve covered the getting ready, the ceremony, the formal portraits and the reception, you’re left looking at a folder of digital photos that probably numbers well into three digits and maybe even four.
Wedding photo editing puts the final polish on those images, often working as the final step to take those shots from good to great.
Lightroom is one of the most popular photo editing tools for wedding photographers. Because Lightroom does the work of both organizing and editing in one, the software speeds up the editing process.
This is a must when you are looking at a few hundred images. But Lightroom won’t speed up the editing process if you don’t understand all the tools. Here are ten Lightroom tips for wedding photo editing.
Note: These tips work for both Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC — but the controls may be located in different spots for the more mobile-friendly Lightroom CC.
Use Flags and Stars for Easy Culling
The first step to editing wedding photos is determining which photos to edit. One of Lightroom’s biggest advantages is that the program can both organize and edit photos, so there are several tools that help determine which photos make the cut.
Inside the Library, use the import on the bottom left and select the folder destination on the hard drive on the right. Check the “Add to Collection” option and create a new Collection for the wedding.
After importing the photos and adding them to a collection, cull the photos to find the keepers. There are two main tools Lightroom has for the culling process — flags and stars. I use the flags for simplicity.
When I see a photo I want to edit, I tap P on the keyboard to add a flag, or tap the little flag in the upper left corner of the thumbnail photo in the library module or on the filmstrip in the develop module. (Need an easy way to remember the keyboard shortcut? It’s P for Pick).
Another option is to rate each photo. Tapping 1-5 on the keyboard will give the highlighted photo that many stars. You can then go back and edit the photos with four and five stars, keeping the three stars as an option to add if the final number of photos is a bit low.
Use Customised Presets to Speed Up the Editing Process
Some photographers swear by presets for fast editing, while others say that if you use presets, your photos will look like everyone else’s. So what’s the right answer?
Lightroom presets are great for speed, but they’re also easy to customize. Tweaking a preset or creating your own will help mix speed with a characteristic look that’s more your style.
For example, I have some film-inspired presets that I love, but some of them have odd skin tones with too much orange or artificially increase the contrast.
Once I tweak the preset to what’s more my style, I can edit it so those same changes will also be applied the next time I use the preset.
Editing an existing preset is easy — just apply the preset to a photo, make the adjustments you’d like, then right click on the preset and choose “update with current settings.” We have a great article on installing presets you can check here.
You can also make your own presets — and if you’ve been manually adjusting all this time, you already have the material to do so. With the edited photo selected, click the plus icon at the top of the presets menu and click the option to create a new preset.
In the pop-up window, name the preset and put a check next to any edits that are in the selected photo that you’d like to include in the preset. Now, when you want to apply a similar edit, you can apply the preset to speed up the process.
Presets are great starting points, but most of the time, a photo isn’t done after that preset. The remaining controls can help fix errors with the photo or fine-tune the color adjustments that the preset provided for that particular photo.
Edit in Stages
Like shooting a wedding, most wedding photographers have a specific workflow for the post processing too. I divide my editing into stages.
First, I upload and cull. Next, I apply a preset and make colour and exposure edits. I then go back through and apply any local adjustments, healing brush fixes or crops.
I’ll save the few photos that I actually need to open up in Photoshop for last. Focusing on a set of tools at a time seems to make the process move faster. Editing in stages, I may also notice something that I didn’t catch the first time and correct it.
Perfect the Exposure
One of the first edits, after applying any presets, is to adjust the exposure. First, make any changes to the overall exposure. Then, use the highlights and whites slider to adjust the lightest areas of the image. Use the shadows and blacks to adjust the darkest areas of the image.
Use the curves based exposure adjustment tools like the shadows and highlights before using the contrast slider. (The actual tone curve is also available for photographers familiar with working with curves).
Creating brighter highlights and darker shadows creates more contrast without the exaggerated look the contrast slider tends to produce. For a matte look, do the opposite and lighten the darks and darken the lights.
The presence controls are less frequently used, but I will use the clarity slider to add detail to a ring shot. The dehaze tool is also helpful for fog and haze.
Colour Correct With White Balance and HSL Tools
Lightroom Classic’s color controls sit in two main panels. White balance is located at the top. Use the dropper tool to select something white in the image, like the groom’s shirt or the bride’s dress, then fine-tune using the temperature and tint sliders.
While this main panel also includes vibrance and saturation, these sliders are easy to overdo. Avoid them, or at the very least, make the HSL edits first to see if those adjustments are still necessary.
The HSL, or hue, saturation, luminance panel, allows for fine-tuning the image’s colours individually. Luminance is how light or dark a color is. Saturation is how bright or dull a colour is, and hue changes the shade of that colour.
Lightroom gives each colour a slider inside the HSL panel, allowing you to adjust each colour without affecting the others. These colour tools are helpful for creating a specific look. Adjusting the greens and blues, for example, can create the look of a specific film.
Along with creating a specific look, the HSL panel can also be used for some corrections. Pulling up the orange luminance slider will brighten up skin tones, while pulling the red luminance slider will make red skin less obvious.
The HSL is also essential for getting great black and whites. After converting the image to black and white (use the Treatment option at the very top of the Develop panels), the HSL becomes the B&W panel and will control what shade of gray each colour converts to.
If you have a photo where two different colours actually look similar in black and white, you can adjust one of those colours to get more contrast in the black and white version.
One more HSL trick — if you’re not sure exactly where a specific colour falls in that HSL panel or black and white conversion, click on the small circle icon in the corner of the HSL panel.
With the target tool selected, when you hover the cursor over a specific colour, the slider for that colour lights up. Clicking with the tool and dragging up or down will adjust the actual slider value for whichever panel you have open.
This applies to the luminance, saturation or the black and white panel.
Don’t Forget to Sharpen and Reduce Noise
Unlike a JPEG, the camera doesn’t automatically apply any sharpening algorithms to a RAW photo. Under the detail panel, use the sharpening slider to bring out the details. Zoom in before you make this adjustment, and be careful not to overdo it.
Underneath the sharpening slider, noise reduction tools will keep grain from high ISOs in check. The luminance and color sliders will reduce noise, while the detail, contrast and smoothness control how that noise reduction is applied.
The Crop Tool Is for More Than Just Crops
A crop tool is a simple crop tool, right? Not exactly. Along with cropping the photo, Lightroom’s crop photo will also straighten crooked lines and adjust the aspect ratio to go from a printable 8×10 to a 1:1 Instagram.
Tilt the corners of the crop box to straighten, drag the angle slider or tap the auto to help straighten the shot. Or, use the drop-down box to select a new aspect ratio if the couple has ordered a print of that particular shot.
Use the Gradient Tool to Fix Mixed White Balances
Lightroom includes a number of local editing tools that don’t require going into Photoshop for more detailed work. The gradient tool is one of them.
The gradient tool can help darken a sky like a digital graduated neutral density filter. Just draw the gradient line down to the horizon.
To keep that gradient only on the sky, choose the colour range mask from the drop-down. Then use the dropper tool to select the colors in the sky. (Use shift if there’s more than one colour).
Once applied, the gradient tool allows you to adjust the exposure and colours of just that area without affecting the others.
Adjusting the sky is a popular way to use the gradient tool. Mixed white balances is another. I recently shot a wedding that had large windows at the back of the ceremony.
While gorgeous and bright, my wide angle shots had one white balance where overhead lights lit the front of the church and another at the back of the church.
Using the gradient tool to cover one side of that skewed balance with a fade in between, I could correct the imbalance in just a few minutes.
Use the Healing Brush for Minor Imperfections
Photoshop may be more detailed. But Lightroom has a healing brush tool that still works for a lot of retouching scenarios. It’s the one that looks like a circle with an arrow on the right in the toolbox underneath the histogram.
The healing tool works well for minor acne and even getting a street sign out of the background. This tool has both clone and healing modes. While large retouching projects still require Photoshop, I tackle a majority of retouches with Lightroom alone.
The Brush Tool Is Helpful for Retouching Too
The brush tool brings Lightroom’s powerful non-destructive edits to just one part of the image. It’s commonly used for dodging and burning. Wedding photographers can also use the brush for retouching without Photoshop.
Lightroom has a built-in brush preset to whiten teeth and soften skin. You can find them in the effects menu in the drop down. You can use a single slider to control the intensity, or tap the arrow for more fine-tuning on each setting.
For even faster retouching, check the auto mask tool. Lightroom will then try to automatically detect the edges. This means that the teeth whitening tool, for example, is only brushed over actual teeth.
The Auto mask doesn’t work every time. I turn it off for tasks where the area I want to edit contains multiple colours, like darkening a stained glass window. But for a majority of edits, the auto mask makes the brush tool even faster.
Like the full presets, making a new brush preset is also easy. Use the sliders on a custom brush to choose the settings. In the effects drop-down, choose the option “save current settings as a new preset.”
For example, I like the Lightroom default teeth whitening. But it’s usually way too white and looks a bit unnatural. So I pulled the slider down and saved the adjustment as a new preset.
If you are adjusting a brush every time you use it, that’s a good sign you could save some time by creating a custom preset.
Don’t Forget Lightroom’s Export Tools
Lightroom’s tools don’t stop with the edits either. Wedding photographers can use the program to create a slideshow video of the day. They can even add a watermark when exporting for the web.
The slideshow is a panel all its own (that’s not yet available in CC but is a Classic only feature). And inside the edit panel, if you scroll down to the watermark, you can choose “edit watermarks” to upload an image to deter image theft.
Adobe Lightroom is a popular tool for wedding photo editing. Whether you choose to use the Lightroom Classic CC with the most tools or Lightroom CC with cloud backups. We have a guide for simple Lightroom backup and troubleshooting you can check.
Because of Lightroom’s built-in organization tools, presets and shortcuts like auto masking and range masks, the software helps make all those edits move quickly. With a few wedding photo editing tips, Lightroom can make quick work of all those photos to edit.
Now you have the tips for perfect wedding photo editing, make sure you have your workflow covered with a checklist and don’t forget to read our guide on setting your wedding photography prices.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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