Hello everyone! I’m Allegra Messina, a natural light portrait photographer in Los Angeles and Seattle. I place a lot of emphasis on capturing genuine emotion–whether that’s smiling or extremely moody. This Lightroom editing walkthrough will show you how to turn an underexposed night shot into something more bright and fun. See more of my photos and edits on my Instagram.
At the end of this article, you can also download this preset for free for your own use, and can find my other presets for sale. Hope this helps you when time isn’t on your side (or, in my case, L.A. traffic isn’t)!
To start, here’s the final before and after–it’s not only drastically brighter, but a lot cooler in the highlights and seems to have more detail.
I started with my basics panel to edit this image, since exposure was a huge issue. Keep in mind that adding exposure does tend to add noise, which looks a little grainy, but that’s sometimes unavoidable.
By just upping the exposure (+3.24 in this case) and playing with white balance, you already have a much better image–see below! I went a lot cooler and more green-tinted to counter balance the warmth of the before photo. The problem is, now this picture has no pizzazz. At all. (Before, the lack of pizzazz was hidden in underexposure. Much like her face was hidden.)
From here, I do some other edits in the basics panel. I like to add contrast and don’t tend to do the trendy “muted black” look, so for this image I did:
- Contrast +24 (more dynamic)
- Highlights -100 (adds more detail to sky)
- Shadows +52 (boosts detail in hair and under legs)
- Whites +53 (since highlights are so far down, this pops the highlights of her face back)
- Blacks -9 (pulls down darkest points)
- Clarity +5 (just gives a little extra grit)
For vibrance and saturation, here’s a general trick: pull vibrance down and leave saturation or bring it slightly up. I’m not entirely sure why, but it makes skin look a lot better and gives a slightly faded look without being too “grey” looking. I did vibrance -10 for this image.
This already looks a lot better, but still doesn’t have that “cool girl on cool roof” look we’re going for. It looks like a photo people have seen before. So, I next go down to the split toning section: this is the BEST section for adding any mood to photos! In this image, I set highlights to blue (216) and did saturation 27, then set shadows to 65 and saturation 14.
Now the image looks pretty blue-green, but bear with me! Scroll down to sharpening and go all the way to 150, then do a vignette at -7. Then keep scrolling down to “Camera Calibration.”
The magic happens in this “Camera Calibration” section. I use this section mainly because it helps to normalize skin tones after going a little crazy with split toning. So, here I did Shadows +9, Red Primary -8, Green Primary +18, and Blue Primary +3. You can also play with saturation (and desaturation), since that’ll add a lot of flair. I personally didn’t because we lowered vibrance in the beginning.
The next steps are a little more subtle. Go to the “HSL / Color / B & White” tab and click “Color.” From here, I played around a lot with red / orange / yellow and blue, which is mainly what’s present in this image. See below for the settings here–there were a lot!
Here are the exact settings for reference: Red (Hue: -3, Saturation: 0, Luminance: 0), Orange (Hue: -7, Saturation: +7, Luminance: -14), Yellow (Hue: -36, Saturation: +44, Luminance: 0), Green (Hue: 0, Saturation: 0, Luminance: 0), Aqua (Hue: 0, Saturation: 0, Luminance: 0), Blue: (Hue: +2, Saturation: -36, Luminance: +31).
And there you have it – the final image! I really hope this helps give you some little Lightroom tricks that I use and if not, hey, you get a free preset anyways!
Click the button below to download the free Lightroom Preset!
Also, be sure to check out my Lightroom Presets on the marketplace for more natural light Lightroom Presets to help improve your photos! :)