Picture this: you’re scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest, and come across a food photo that just looks incredible. It’s vibrant and bold, and just seems to pop off of the screen. Even though it’s a 2D image, it feels so three dimensional that you could just reach out and grab that food.
You think to yourself, “There’s no way food can look that good!”. And you’re right. The evidence is right here in these before and afters:
See, we food photographers are kind of like the catfishes of the food industry. We present an unbelievable image but it takes a deceiving amount of work.
One of our little tricks? Post-processing, which is just a fancy schmancy term for “editing”.
Why are we editing food photos?
Post-processing serves a lot of purposes, including:
- Correcting small imperfections
- Sharpening/clarifying a photo
- Breathing life into an image
- Creating a certain “mood” or “feel”
Every professional food photo you see, whether on Instagram, Pinterest, or in a magazine, has been edited to some extent. You’ll find that the overwhelming majority of us choose to use Lightroom Classic for our post-processing needs.
There are so many different editing styles that if I get into them now, this post would be about a million pages long. However, no matter what mood you’re going for, there are tools in Lightroom that you’ll always find useful.
Today, I’m going over four: the tone/point curve, global adjustments panel, HSL/color panel, and transform panel.
The tone curve & point curve
The tone/point curve, in my opinion, is one of the most impactful tools you can use in Lightroom. It looks like this:
Use them to create contrast. Btw, there is an actual contrast slider in Lightroom. However, with these curves, you will very rarely ever have to touch that.
The difference between these two curves is that with the point curve you can click on area of the graph to create dots (called “points”), which you can each adjust individually. You can create as many little dots as you’d like. You can’t do that with the tone curve, but it affects highlights, lights, darks, and shadows.
These curves are so powerful they could make your entire photo look completely insane if used incorrectly. A good rule of thumb in food photography is to create an S shape with these curves. This will create a nice and natural, yet impactful, contrast.
See the results in this pie photo.
What a beautiful difference it made, and we haven’t even touched the other panels yet!
the Global adjustments panel
For editing food photos, you just can’t ignore the global adjustments panel.
In case you’re wondering, it is called the global adjustments panel because when you make an adjustment using it, it affects the entire photo. As opposed to a local adjustment (we’ll talk those later), which affects only a certain part of the image. The panel looks like this:
It’s a lot to take in, so in order to avoid overwhelming you, I’ll tell you about the sliders I play with the most:
- Highlights – This edits the bright values in an image; you can either slide it down to the left to recover any detail lost in the bright parts of your photo, or slide it to the right to brighten the image without overexposing it.
- Shadows – Adjust the shadows in a photo by making them more or less intense
- Whites – Adjust only the white tones in your image, making them whiter or less white
- Blacks – Like the “whites” slider, but affects black tones
- Texture – Adjusts the high frequency parts of your photo; increases or decreases the visibility and contrast of details.
- Clarity – Adjusts mid tone contrast, making the smallest details either dramatically pop or disappear
You don’t really want to touch vibrance or saturation in the global adjustments panel. If you increase or decrease either of these, it will, again, affect the entire image, which tends to look bad.
Here are the changes I made to the global adjustments panel, and the results.
Honestly, there’s really no hard and fast rules of when to increase or decrease a slider when editing food photos in Lightroom. Since every photo is different, you’ll want to play around with increasing/decreasing the sliders and seeing what looks best in your image.
the hsl/color panel for editing food photos
Aaaand welcome to one of many Lightroom local adjustments! Local meaning that it will only affect a targeted part of the image, not the entire photo as a whole. In the HSL/color panel, you’ll make edits to individual colors in your image. You can make adjustments to three different aspects of a color:
- Hue – Affects the tonal range of a color; for example, you can make your reds more pinky/magenta or more orangey.
- Saturation – Affects the intensity of a color; you can make your color extremely intense/saturated or nearly gray.
- Luminance – This slider will brighten or darken a color
You’ve probably guessed by now that this where you’ll do your color edits. Use these sliders to make the colors in your image more accurate and true to life. See how the adjustments made have altered the pie photo.
The transform panel
Last but not least: the transform panel. I would say this one is the simplest of the four, and may not necessarily have to use it every time you edit.
I use the transform feature to correct any slight, awkward angle distortions or crookedness in an image. When I shot this pie, I wasn’t exactly straight over head, but a little slanted down. See below how I’ve used the panel to straighten and level the image.
Be sure to tick the “constrain crop” option box, otherwise you’ll be left with awkward white lines where you’ve adjusted the image.
More food photography tips
So concludes today’s information-packed post about Lightroom. I hope you learned at least one new thing that you can put to use in your next editing session!
See you next time where we’ll go over a few more advanced tools. In the meanwhile, check out some other food photography content: