Processing Photos in Lightroom: A Sunrise

by James Duncan Davidson

The other morning I was up unusually early, thanks to a hungry cat, and was able to photograph a great sunrise over Portland. It's not often that I'm up for sunrise, but whenever I am, I always sort of wish I were a morning person. But, I digress. The shot turned out to be a good one and as I processed it in Lightroom, I found myself again enjoying the fact that a RAW workflow opens up all sorts of creative opportunities to refine an image even after the shutter has been released. To show this in action, I've put together a quick video showing the processing I did to my sunrise shot.


Kim G
2007-08-21 16:45:17
Nice idea. I had some friends asking about LR recently. I'll point them here.
Bob Lee
2007-08-21 17:30:53
Nice post.
Colonel Blip
2007-08-21 17:46:55
I do like this technique. Quick and easy to follow w/o reading a bunch of verbiage.
2007-08-21 18:26:44
As a photoshop moron, this was awesomely informative
2007-08-21 22:54:37
I'll be asking much... the original file and xmp (if not an award winning shot), whould that be possible?
2007-08-22 01:54:25
I am a big fan of Lightroom and for me it is very interesting to see what steps you have chosen to take, as this is a subjective process. I would be interested to see more in the future.
2007-08-22 05:22:57
Hi James,

I liked the visual technique though I would have enjoyed reading your reasons for performing each step in the process as well. I have to admit you lost me after step 1. I liked the increase in contrast though I wondered why you chose to take away the warmth of the sunrise by changing the WB.

James Duncan Davidson
2007-08-22 08:21:49
Indeed, the part that is missing from this presentation technique (so far) is the narrative of why each subjective step was taken. The big change--the white balance--was to pull the blues back into the sky and bend it back to how I remembered the scene looking. Maybe it goes a touch too far and I'll probably try something along the likes of 4500 with a put of blue push. The next time I pull something together like this, as it seems to be something that works nicely, I'll look into how to better expose the narrative of the steps.

At for the original RAW file, sorry, but I'm not going to release it at this point.

2007-08-22 10:50:45
Instead of cooling the picture I would have tried HSL and increased the blue luminance. I like to use Luminance instead of Saturation because the increase in color isn't as strong and adds contrast. The clouds at higher elevation might stand out more.
James Duncan Davidson
2007-08-22 14:24:56
Thanks Tim! I'll give that a shot and see what it looks like.
Simon Pride
2007-08-23 19:02:46
Tough choice: lose the lovely golds for the blues. I'm totally with you in choosing to recreate how it looked to you and it seems the blues were what hooked you. But I love the golds in the untreated original. I think I'd have fiddled with the HSL sliders to put the blue back without losing the golds.
James Duncan Davidson
2007-08-23 21:49:06
Simon: Based on talking about this image so much, I've actually gone in and pulled the color temperature up a bit to warm the sky back up. If you punch through to the Flickr page, it's been updated there:
2007-08-23 23:25:38
This is excellent! I've been wondering what kind and how much image manipulation is involved in some of the glorious photos I see on Flickr, and this is an eloquent demonstration of the process. I'm curious as to your opinion: how much tweaking is too much (or unprofessional)? Thanks!
2007-08-24 13:35:13
What's really useful here .. is how it shows the values used are subjective -- i.e. it's really up to you to decide the different adjustments and how much (other than the white balance which is usually auto). There are no hard rules or processes to reaching a photo you like; it really is just a matter of adjusting parameters in Lightroom and getting to a point where you're happy with the image.
David Battino
2007-08-27 16:02:05
Regarding the slideshow, I noticed that you can step between images by clicking the << and >> buttons at the right of the QuickTime controller bar. That’s easier than rooting around with the slider.

And using QuickTime Pro, I was also able to add captions in a text track. Here’s a quick tutorial.

Bakari C
2007-08-27 22:03:59
Great idea. This would be useful for clients, providing them an idea of the work involved in post-processing photos and what type of decisions are made. I did something similar using Keynote, but I like this QT method as a movie.
john manoogian III
2007-09-05 23:34:25
yes, this is useful and interesting to see how other people work and think.
Stew Stryker
2007-09-12 08:38:55
Terrifically useful! Thanks so much.

I normally hesitate to use Vibrance in most of my shots but really liked the effect here (so long as it's controlled). I've also never used Vignette before in LR because my lenses don't have a big problem with it, but will consider it in the future.