How to Improve Your Hiking Photos Using Lightroom
Note - This guide was done a few years ago and I've learned a lot since then. I'll get around to updating this page with some more tips and how-to's sometime in 2022. Stay tuned.
By no means am I a professional photographer (although I wouldn't mind packing up the day job and working towards being one) but after a couple of years out on the trails taking photos with my DSLRs, I feel confident enough to pass on some tips to ensure that your point and click hiking photos go from good to great. This will beneficial to those wishing to give their photos a true representation of what it was like out there but have never really had a go with post processing software before.
As good as cameras are these days and especially in the "auto" modes, the results are usually overly bright, lacking colour or "pop" and not what you saw when you pressed the capture button. With a bit of post processing tweaking you can turn your photos into something that resembles what you originally saw or a reinterpretation of a favourite place. The below tutorial will also assist with problems that arise when you are shooting into the sun.
So let's get into it and give your photos a bit more life.
Always shoot in RAW format or equivalent - .RAW files are as the camera sensor sees things and can be likened to unprocessed film. Being many times the size of JPEG files (each file can be upward of 30-40mb each), this allows more information to be captured and this will be very useful in post processing. Sure you may not be able to get as many photos on a memory card but they are dirt cheap these days so it shouldn't be a worry.
My post processing software of choice is Adobe Lightroom and the tips below will purely be using this program. Depending on your perspective, the new subscription option is a great way to get some photo editing software for the price of a couple of cups of coffee per month. Check out the packages available over on their website.
Let's start with a typical hiking scene, trekking through the forest on a sunny day. When you are on the trail, things look great, green canopy, blue skies and a lush, sunlit forest floor. Then you look at the shot and it looks like the photo starting on the left.
Use the slider to switch between Before & After
Don't panic, Lightroom is here to help and with a few minor adjustments you can achieve something you can be proud of.
Once you have loaded your RAW file into Lightroom, head over to the Develop tab and you will be presented with a whole list of adjustments in the right hand column. I will only be focusing on a few options to start with but feel free to read up on the others and play around until you get the shot as you like it.
The first field I play around on is the Tone option. This is where you will notice the most difference in your photos.
Highlights - I have decreased this as far as it will go because the sunlight shining through the trees is extremely bright. By decreasing the highlights you reduce the glare and light associated with shooting into the sun.
Shadows - A slight increase here to illuminate the forest floor and surrounding trees.
Whites - I have reduced the Whites a little bit to further reduce the glare in the canopy.
Blacks - The Blacks have also been reduced and this increases the contrast between the tree trunks and adds depth to the photo.
Next up is Presence and this is where you add the x-factor to your photos.
Clarity - Increasing the Clarity will bring much needed life to the photo and add detail to the forest.
Vibrance - Increasing the Vibrance will boost less saturated pixels in greater proportion to the overly saturated pixels.
Saturation - A slight increase to boost the colours. This has a large effect in bringing out the green of the forest.
White Balance is easily the best way to ruin a photo but the hardest to get right, which is why I leave it to last. If you are just starting out then you can use the presets as they are usually right on the mark. For hiking you generally want to use Daylight or Shade.
Temp - Temperature refers to the warmth showing in the white balance and is measured in Kelvin (K). Click here for an in depth explanation but as a general guide the higher the value, the warmer the colour.
Tint - Tint is self-explanitory and makes the forest come alive with an adjustment towards the greener side of the scale.
The finishing touch is an adjustment to the Post-Crop Vignetting and the effect of this is to darken up the edges of the photo. Moving the slider to the left will darken the edges of the photo and to the right will add a white halo around the edge.
Adding in this option will also draw attention to the centre and add extra pop to the photo. Have a play around to see if its your style, if it isn't then no need to worry about adding it in. Some photographers hate it but I think it can be useful for hiking photos when the edges are filled with a mix of bright sky and forest canopy.
With a minimal amount of effort you can transform your hiking photos from a bit "meh" to magical. In no time at all and a bit of experimenting there is no reason why you can't the best out of your hiking photos. The only problem you will encounter is deciding whether to spend time with your loved ones or stay home editing old memories. Adobe have a 30 day free trial so you can have a play before deciding if Lightroom is the editing tool for you.
I hope you got some handy tips out of this post and having dived head first into the Lightroom pool, I can recommend getting in there and just experimenting with different options, along with a healthy dose of googling tips and tricks from those that are more qualified. Just remember that most of the editing proess is to get the photos how you want them to look so don't be too restricted by conventions and have some fun.
If you have any questions about editing hiking photos then please feel free to comment below.