Saving a Dull Club Photo

// January 31st, 2010 // Photography

Often when taking a club photo you’ll just miss that cool background strobe, and end up with an underwhelming dark portrait that isn’t really usable. That’s fine if you have plenty of good ones in the bag, but sometimes you need a little help. That’s where Lightroom comes to the rescue!

Here’s an example of a picture straight out of the camera, that had potential but came out dull (click to enlarge):

A dull club photo, straight from the camera. (click to enlarge)

Basic Brightness

If you are following the recommendations from my earlier post on club photography, you’ll be shooting in RAW. That’s essential to the recovery process!
Rule #1 of club photos is that you want colour and vibrancy, and no black space. To achieve this we can start with four basic tricks:

  1. Bump up the ‘Exposure’ by a stop or so – keep an eye on the histogram, moving it as far right as you can without clipping the hilights (as this is a RAW photo, you should easily have an extra stop to spare without losing quality);
  2. Reduce the ‘Blacks’ setting, which brings out more detail in the dark areas;
  3. Increase the ‘Fill Light’ – this adds brightness to the dark areas, without compromising the well lit faces;
  4. Crop the image to remove as much of the black border as possible – you might even consider turning a landscape orientation photograph into portrait, or vice versa.

You should now have something a little more like this (click to enlarge):

Same photo, after brightening, showing crop marks (click to enlarge)

Bringing out the Background

That’s better, but there’s still a lot of dead black space. We can use one last trick to pull out more colour – use a Graduated Filter to increase the exposure on the black background another stop:

Using a graduation filter to improve the background (click to enlarge)

Note that whilst there is noise in the background, it’s relatively unimportant as the faces are the focus of the photo, and are still well balanced. The background is simply providing blurred colour to lift the picture.

The Salvaged Image

After only a minute or two of processing, we now have our salvaged photo – a significant improvement, without any visible loss in quality thanks to the wonders of the RAW format:

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