How to retouch a nice sunset with Lightroom

In this article we talk about how to retouch a nice sunset with Lightroom.

Hello my friends! Do you like to photograph sunsets? If so you are at the right place because I am going to show some really cool tips and tricks to make your sunset photos to the next level. I am going to show the different steps I go through so you can really see my workflow.

As usual, if you want the RAW files for this tutorial and all my other free presets and goodies; just subscribe to my newsletter here. You can also follow along on my video tutorial for this lesson here.

A lot of you guys send me photos of sunset and sometimes I find that some people have a hard time to find the correct white balance so it is harder for them to recreate the emotion they want to communicate through their photos. For sunset photos or photos in general one thing that is very key, is to have the right composition.

So I was walking on this beach in Florida and I had my Sony A7r with me, there was a nice sunset so I decided to take some shots. I set my camera at 1/80th of a second, at f/7.1 and ISO 100. It was getting darker because the sun was setting:

I was in manual and it is pretty easy to shoot a sunset with no tripod because you still have light.

So then I decided to move around the beach to find a composition that I liked and so I saw people taking photos of the sunset or playing in the water and I liked the silhouette effect so I tried to take a photo of that:

I took a couple photos of them. That is another one, with four guys looking at the sunset, and this is RAW, totally unretouched:

That is a photographer taking a photo:

Then I was getting close to the Pier and so I wanted to get a nice composition of it and I also wanted to do a long exposure, but this composition didn’t work well because the sunset was on the left and the Pier was just very dark.

So I moved under the Pier and tried to do a long exposure, I was at 5 seconds, f/22 ISO 50 so a pretty long exposure:

I came back to the same side to try a long exposure photo with the Pier on the right, my settings were; 0,8 seconds, f/22 and ISO 50 which was the lowest I could go. So it is very dark but I wanted to have this long exposure effect:

I also tried a much longer exposure, like 6 seconds exposure:

Then I finally moved to the other side of the Pier so you have the sunset behind the house on the Pier, which is much nicer:

Once I found something I like, I tried different composition to see what looks better; you can just play around with your subject when you find the right spot.

I tried with more sand and reflection in the foreground:


Then I tried with more sky because the sky was really nice and it kept changing while I was shooting:

I decided to choose this one, because I shot different angle with the exact same exposure I can start to retouch one photo and then apply the retouch to the others. Usually I would have done some HDR with it but since I have the Sony A7r I can shoot a little bit underexposed and I have all the data needed to get the best out of the RAW file, this camera has such an amazing dynamic range!

Let’s start the retouch!

First I start with the basic so;

Step 1. Basic retouch. I bring the highlights to -100 and the shadows to +100 as usual. (You can get a more complete statement on why I do this in almost all my photographs by reading this how to article here.) Then I adjust the Whites and the Blacks. Next I will increase my whites to +43 and my black to -37. (You can get a more complete statement on why I do this in almost all my photographs by reading this how to article here.)

Step 2. White Balance. I want to talk a bit more about white balance because it has been an issue for some people. I usually set the White balance on Shade and add some magenta:

But it is not the best because now everything is warm and the whole photo has only one color. So on this photo I am going to set the white balance on Daylight and add some blue (Temp 5178) and a little bit of magenta (Tint +12) so now I get a contrast between the blue and the warm, which is way more interesting:

On thing you can do when you have a RAW file is to go to Camera calibration and try the different option that you have, on this one I am going to try camera landscape, sometimes it does miracles, I like what it did but there is still too much magenta:


So I am going to back down the magenta (Tint +9), and I boost the exposure (+0,35) to make the overall photo a bit brighter.

Step 3. Clarity adjustment. On this photo I want to give a bit of a fuzzy, dreamy look so I am going to go minus clarity -38:

Step 4. Remove spots. When you shoot with a very closed aperture like I did, I was at f/22 you get the sensor dust that creates spots on your photo so a quick and easy way to get rid of them, is to take the Spot removal tool and to select them to erase them:

Step 5. Create Brushes. I want to make the reflection in the foreground more present so I create a new brush and boost the exposure to 0,88, I make sure that the flow and density are around 85 and I just start to brush over the water:

I create a new brush each time I brush over a new part of the photo so I can control the intensity of it.

You know what, now that I look at the photo I think it is too saturated so I am going to go back to the camera calibration section and put it back in Adobe Standards. Then I am just going to boost the Vibrance (+54) so we have more orange:

Step 6. Cropping. To make the photo more panoramic and dynamic I am going to crop the photo but first I am going to use the angle tool to make sure that my horizontal line is straight and then I crop it:


It was such a nice sunset, there are a lot of amazing sunsets in Florida but somehow when I was there, there was none until this day! So I am just going to boost the Saturation (+3) a little bit to make it more pop.

Step 7. Vignetting. To center the attention more on the pier I am going to go to the effect section and lower the post-crop vignetting slider -11 to give this nice look to the photo:

Step 8. Basic sharpening. This camera is so amazing that there is barely any noise but just to make sure I am going to bring the noise reduction to 10 and the sharpening to 90:

Step 9. Lens correction. Now I am going to remove chromatic aberration in case there is any.

So here is the before photo:

And this is the after photo:

I posted this photo on 500PX and it was liked a lot so I thought that it would be a good idea to do an article about it.

I hope that you guys liked it, that it helps you on composition and the white balance, which can be tricky sometimes.

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