Are you Adjusting Your Editing Properly? (hard vs. soft light)

I never thought that this was an editing secret, until I started telling my mentees about it and was always met with a look of shock; so, if you are someone who doesn’t know that there are editing hacks that you can use when editing an image shot in harsh lighting vs. one shot in softer light, then this is for you.

Let’s first all agree that varying lighting conditions is going to give us a variety of looks in our images, okay? Of course, the way that we use the light when photographing, or simply the positioning of the sun in the sky, is going to give our images different looks and/or emote different vibes in the finished product; but, have you noticed that when shooting in either harsh or soft light, we are met with consistent qualities, which once we are able to identify, we are able to harness into tools to consistently adjust for those qualities when we’re editing.


Why don’t we start by breaking down the qualities of both soft and hard light:

Soft light:

  • More even image tone

  • Less contrast

  • Softer edges around our subject

  • More subtle colours

  • Creamier skin detail/colouring

Hard light:

  • Harsh shadows

  • More contrast

  • Harder edges around our subject

  • More vibrant or saturated colours

  • Greater appearance in skin detail

Knowing what we know now with some of the characteristics when shooting in soft vs. hard light, how can we begin to adjust for these characteristics while editing?

Back it up first for one second, because editing in hard light actually starts before you’re at the editing process. When it comes to shooting in hard light, you want to make sure that you’re exposing for the brightest part of your image. Your camera can most often pull details back from the shadows better than it can from a blown out highlight (if you’ve blown out parts of your image, that’s actually blown out pixels with no image detail, which makes them unrecoverable in post-processing, even if you’re shooting in RAW), so keep that in mind when shooting in full sunlight or other harsh/hard lighting situations. I always like to underexpose my images slightly when shooting regularly, but especially so when shooting in hard light.

Now with keeping the qualities of hard light in the back of our mind, how are we going to adjust for these qualities in Lightroom? I like to go about my editing process as usual for every image, before coming back to it and adjusting based on any drastic lighting changes; so that’s what I would first advise you to do in order to give you a base to work from that’s consistent to your other work.

Then from there let’s adjust accordingly.

  • You can compensate for the harsh shadows by adjusting your shadows slider, or alternatively by using the Curve panel and adjusting your image/tone curve

  • Bring down the contrast in your image, again by the contrast slider, or with your image curve

  • Desaturate your vibrance and saturation slider, or adjust more individual image tones and saturation in your HSL slider

  • Decrease image clarity either overall, or by selectively decreasing clarity on your subjects’ faces or skin by using a local adjustment brush