10 Lightroom Editing Tips to Transform Your Winter Photos

by David Sornberger 9 months ago in editing

Ideas to Quickly Create Ethereal Winter Images

10 Lightroom Editing Tips to Transform Your Winter Photos

Winter has definitely arrived for those of us who live in the northern hemisphere. For many, this is an excellent time to spend more time editing their photos. Others enjoy taking on the challenge of taking their cameras out into the winter wonderland to capture the snowy scene into a fantastic photograph. I love getting outside and taking photos of a magical scene just has just been draped in a blanket of snow. And there are no mosquitoes here in Ontario!

Capturing a swirling winter scene poses unique challenges such as making white balance more of a priority, changing your composition and considering light and colour differently. Snow can transform the most boring scene into a winter wonderland, and the light and fluffy can set the stage for some brilliant photo opportunities. Nature's lighting is unique in the winter as the early morning sun as a vibrant glow that reflects off the snow in a way that looks like a dream.

Editing these images in Lightroom can be very useful. In this post, I'm going to highlight the ideas and workflow that have worked for me. Don't get discouraged if your edits don't work the first time correctly. It's well worth the challenge because winter offers a unique aesthetic that doesn't exist in the other season. The frosty atmosphere produces cool blues, creams and elements of rich reds and greens.

1. Change Your Background

This first tip actually has nothing to do with the photo, but with the Lightroom canvas, you're working on. My recommendation for all winter photos is to change the background in Lightroom to white at the beginning of your workflow. You can do this by right-clicking the background and changing the colour to white. This will establish a useful reference point for absolute white, will help you with the rest of your edits, and you will improve the aesthetic of your image overall.

2. Go Easy on Saturation and Vibrance

Be careful about overusing the saturation and vibrance sliders. Over-saturation is often distracting and gives the image a "fake" and over-processed aesthetic. If you want to boost the colour in your photo, the vibrance slider might be a better option as it increases the intensity of muted colours and doesn't increase all of the colours in the global image.

In some scenarios, though, it could be helpful to increase the intensity of a particular colour slightly. If you have a snowy scene with a singular colourful subject, it could be advantageous to increase the saturation to bring your subject into greater focus.

3. Vibrance and Saturation

The Vibrance and Saturation sliders in Lightroom are often overused by photographers. This often ruins the photo. More colour doesn't necessarily equate to a better picture. A neutral tone often looks better in winter photos. When vibrance is used in moderation, you can make your image pop. When increasing saturation, proceed with caution.

4. Adjusting White Balance

The reflectivity of snow wreaks havoc with your camera's meter and getting the correct exposure is a difficult task as the resulting photo is often underexposed. As a result, snow looks blue under a clear blue sky, and it can look grey under cloudy skies.

The white balance is reasonably easy to correct. Increase the exposure slightly when you are taking the photo. It's crucial to find the sweet spot, which is the balance between making the snow too bright and without losing the details in the texture of the snow. Remember, expose for the snow and don't get distracted by other objects in the frame. If you lose some detail in the sky, you can get it back with a graduated filter or in Lightroom.

The tint and temperature sliders in Lightroom will allow you to get the exact shade of white you're looking for. For wintry scenes, you'll want to err on the side of cooler blue tones instead of warmer yellow tones.

5. Use the Graduated Filter Tool

As is often the case with landscape photos, you may have to edit the sky separately from the foreground using the Graduated Filter. This is powerful to reduce the exposure of the brightest part of your photo (either sky or snowy foreground). You can access the Graduated Filter tool by clicking the icon underneath the histogram, or you can press 'M' on your keyboard.

6. Clarity

If you look closely at many photos, you'll notice that the area where the dark and light meets is a little blurry. This compromises the overall quality of the image. As a result, the overall quality of the image is compromised. Lightroom has a tool that solves this specific issue. The clarity slider increases the contrast where dark and bright edges meet and adds apparent sharpness to the image. If you add too much clarity, your image may look artificial. Many seasoned professionals warn that +62 is the maximum that you can go to in Lightroom to preserve its natural hue.

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7. Choose Your White and Black Point

Selecting a white and black point is often overlooked in the editing workflow. Still, it's a valuable process to make your photo stand out. The white and black points of a picture are vital to the hardening or softening of an image. This is particularly important for winter scenes and can give your photography a much-deserved boost. To get started, increase the white point until it simply looks like too much and then do the same for the black point. This will result in a softening of the image and make it look slightly ethereal.

8. Fine Adjustments to Contrast

If you're trying to create a softer feeling image, use the contrast slider to remove global contrast. Next, add contrast back in using the tone curve. This will produce a smoother image than one that looks like it has too much contrast.

9. Get Creative With Colours

As most winter photos are primarily white, work creatively with any colours that might exist in your photo. Green and blue tones and red will bring out the best in winter photography. If your scene lacks colour, you can use Lightroom to get creative with colours. For example, you could add a subtle green or blue tone to the shadows using split toning.

10. Walk Away

Don't get frustrated with editing your winter photos. I find that it's better to sometimes to step away from your computer, give your eyes a rest, and reflect on your edits. Walking away sounds easy, but it's actually one of the most challenging things to do in your workflow. Your eyes need to reset and then come back to editing with a fresh perspective. This is especially true with winter photos.

Winter is one of the most unique opportunities for photographers. Just when you think you've mastered specific techniques landscape photography, the world of photography changes when trying to capture winter scenes. The additional effort is well worth it and produces images that many people wouldn't dare to achieve in the frosty weather.


David Sornberger is a self-taught Canadian photographer whose work is layered by surf, landscape, city and travel subjects. Learn more at his website where you can find links to his YouTube channel, weekly podcasts, blog and lots of free 'stuff'.

David Sornberger
David Sornberger
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David Sornberger

David Sornberger is a self-taught Canadian photographer whose work is layered by surf, landscape, city and travel subjects | www.davidsornberger.com

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