The Photographer’s Tools (Getting More Out Of Lightroom Classic)

by Andrew S. Gibson

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In my Mastering Lightroom Classic ebooks I explore the idea that photographers need to learn how to make images that fit their creative vision using the tools in Lightroom Classic.

But which comes first – the photographer’s vision or the tools you use? For me, the two go hand in hand.

Expand your vision, and you will be forced to go looking for tools that help you fulfill it.

But expand your toolkit, and your vision will expand as your mind thinks of ways to creatively use your new tools.

Part of the process of writing books about Lightroom Classic is buying plugins and Develop Presets to experiment with.

As I learned how to use these new tools, my vision has expanded. My understanding of how those tools work has deepened, and the creative part of my mind is seeing more ways to use them.

The more good quality tools you have, and the deeper your understanding of those tools, the better your photos will be.

This is true both when you take the photo (better cameras and better lenses usually equal better photos in the hands of a capable photographer) and when you develop your photos in Lightroom Classic.

This is even more true in black and white where you have a lot more potential to get creative with your images.

Choose your photos carefully

But don’t take this approach with all your photos. This type of creativity is best applied sparingly. Some photographers use plugins and presets to try and make a bad photo look half-decent (here in England that’s called “dressing a turd”). But that’s not what the aim of this exercise is about.

Some photos are also best suited to a natural look. That’s where it looks like you could have taken it the photo with a film camera, and you haven’t done much in terms of developing other than adjust the exposure and contrast and make some subtle local adjustments.

For the best results identify the images in your portfolio that work well with creative developing techniques. This is something you’ll get better at with practice, so don’t be afraid to jump in and start experimenting. You’ll make mistakes and over-process some photos. But work through that and you’ll start to see ways you can use the tools to make better images.

Practical examples

Let’s look at some practical examples of how this works, starting with a photo I made in Anmer Fort in Rajasthan, India. It’s a simple composition, and this is one way you could develop it.

Travel photo India

As I look at it I think the contrast between light and shadow is something that’s potentially interesting to play with. Moving the Exposure, Highlights and Shadows sliders left created this version of the photo.

Photographer's tools Lightroom Classic

Anybody who knows me well is probably at this point asking what this photo would look like in black and white. Here’s the answer (still in Lightroom Classic).

Photographer's tools Lightroom Classic

Now it’s time to experiment with plugins. I made this version of the photo in Exposure X. The tonality is much more subtle.

Photographer's tools Exposure X

You get even more room to be creative when you’re developing portraits.

It helps if you decide what approach you’d like to take before you start. For example, there’s a big difference between dark and moody and light and airy. But it’s not essential to make an early decision on the approach. You might get new ideas and decide to go in a different direction as you experiment with the tools you have.

Let’s use this portrait of Ashley as an example. This is how it looks after being developed in Lightroom Classic.

Photographer's tools Lightroom Classic

It’s quite dark and moody, but I wanted to see how far I could push this idea. I started experimenting with some VSCO presets that I bought a few years ago (they’re no longer available to buy) and this is what I came up with.

Photographer's tools Lightroom Classic

Quite different, isn’t it? The portrait has a mysterious, cinematic feel. The color treatment is unique to the preset used and I don’t think I could have created this effect myself in Lightroom Classic.

Dark and moody…perfect for black and white! Here’s what I made in Lightroom Classic.

Photographer's tools Lightroom Classic

Next I wanted to experiment with the portrait in Exposure X. I made a copy of the second color version (the one made with the VSCO preset) and opened it in Exposure X. If you’ve used this plugin you’ll know that it has lots of gorgeous color presets. There were so many options that it was difficult to select just one, but I finally settled on this.

Photographer's tools Exposure X

Then I got super funky and started experimenting with adding a border and scratches. These effects aren’t for everybody, but they’re great fun to play around with.

Photographer's tools Exposure X

I also created a new black and white interpretation in Exposure X. This is what I came up with.

Photographer's tools Exposure X

I used one of Exposure X’s built-in presets and added a some texture in the form of faint scratches. This is something else I couldn’t have done in Lightroom Classic.

Final words

I hope these photos show you the value of learning to use new tools in post-processing. Eventually, you may even find yourself visualizing how you are going to process the photos when you take them. This is a sign your photography skills are improving.

If you like this idea I suggest you take action and download the trial version of a plugin that you haven’t used before to see if it is a useful tool for you.

You may also like to buy some Develop Presets, or download some free ones, to see if they are useful as well.

Personally I prefer plugins as they’re more versatile, but Develop Presets let you keep the whole process in Lightroom Classic. There’s a list of recommended plugins below.

Recommended Lightroom Classic plugins

Click the links to go to the plugin websites.

Exposure X (my favorite)

DxO FilmPack (another favorite of mine)

The Nik Collection (a bit dated now, but still good)

ON1 Photo Raw (lots of creative options)

Topaz B&W Effects 2 (no longer available, but a great option if you already own it)

Luminar (lots of creative options, but lots of uncertainty around ongoing support and compatibility between its different versions)

Further reading

Read these articles to learn more about some of the plugins listed above.

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