April 28, 2018

Edit in twenty seconds

Take great looking images and spend less time on your computer with this handy 20-second edit

I’m lucky to have a job I love. As a photographer, you get to meet fun people, visit amazing places, and sometimes even get privileged access. However, there are downsides to being a full-time photographer and one of them is sitting in front of a computer editing. That’s why I have developed a workflow where my edit time is about 20 seconds a photograph.

The key to a quick edit workflow is to get your photograph as right as possible when you are taking it. The well-known phrase is that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I’m sure there have been quite a few bad photographs, that with hours of editing have been made to look good and usable but for me, I wouldn’t feel any sense of achievement if I had to rescue a bad photograph. Let’s start with the image straight out of the camera, shot in raw from a recent photo-call.


What’s the secret?

All my editing is done in Adobe Lightroom which you can get as part of the excellent photographer’s package for about £10 per month which also includes Photoshop and monthly updates that improve the speed and functionality.

There are some things that I want to apply to pretty much every photograph as they give my shots a punchy editorial feel. These are the setting I use but you can use your own preferences to create your own creative style.


The clarity tool is one of the best sliders in Lightroom’s Develop module. The purpose of the tool is to add mid-tone contrast in your edit. It’s particularly good if you have buildings made of stone as it gives depth to the walls. It also has the effect of lightning most of the image, so you’ll need to be aware of this in the rest of your edit.

There are times when you may not want to use clarity in your edit. Remember clarity adds contrast so if someone has wrinkles on their skin then it will increase the contrast and make the wrinkles look bigger than they are. Women particularly don’t like to be reminded of their wrinkles so pull back on the clarity tool if you’ve been snapping a woman.

I’ve found that a good starting point for the Clarity is a setting of +25. This gives a nice natural feel to the contrast.


One of the most over-used tools in the past was saturation. That tool boosted every colour and made them look more vibrant – but when used too much it gave unnatural results. Caucasian faces are actually red rather than white and saturation taken too far gave a red hue which looked particularly unflattering.

Vibrance is a more intelligent saturation that uses some clever maths to identify skin-tones and doesn’t affect them. It also looks at the colours which are already vibrant and has less impact on them than more dull colours. The boffins at Adobe have done a great job with this tool and it gives impact and punch to your photographs.

My starting point value for vibrance is a value of +35.

Lens Corrections

Every camera lens is convex and because of this, it distorts the image that lands on the sensor by different degrees. Lenses also create a vignette around the edges of the image, either making it darker or lighter than we see. Adobe has created a database of hundreds of different lenses with all these little foibles. There is an option in the Lens Corrections tab to Enable Profile Corrections – tick this box and if you have taken the photograph in raw then Lightroom will detect the lens and make these corrections automatically.

If you tend to use very small apertures or are shooting in high contrast scenes, then you may see something called chromatic aberration. This is where the lens has incorrectly refracted (or bent) the light and so certain colours arrive before or after where the focal plane is. This results in something called fringing where you might see a faint purple line around the edges of a subject. The boffins have done some work to automatically correct this and have cleverly labelled it Remove Chromatic Aberration so go ahead and tick this box too.

You can see on this shot it has changed the perspective ever so slightly. This was taken on a 70-200 lens, you will see much more effect on a wider lens.

Clicking those things takes longer than 20 seconds!

I don’t like to do any more work than I have to. You can save time by creating a preset in Lightroom. To do this take an image that hasn’t had any changes applied to it and dial in the settings above. In the Develop module go to the left-hand side of the screen and click on the + sign next to the word presets and click on Create New Preset.

The New Develop Preset screen pops up. You can give the preset any name you like in the Preset Name field and then simply tick next to Clarity, Vibrance (which is inside the Colour group) and Lens Corrections (which will switch on 4 options beneath it). Press Create and you now have a new preset in the User Presets group.

Go to any other photograph and then click on your new preset. All the edit actions will be done automatically for you! I am really keen on time-saving so I don’t want to click that preset for every picture I want to edit. If you bring up the import module by pressing Cmd (or Ctrl for windows), Shift and I you will see a drop-down box labelled Develop Settings. Your new preset will also be listed on there and so every photograph you import will then have the edit actions applied automatically so our 20 seconds hasn’t started ticking yet!

Auto edit – a good starter

With the image now having our ‘standard’ edit applied, we can now make some tweaks to make it look even better. Until recently, Lightroom’s auto-edit function was frankly rubbish – the edit was usually over-exposed and nothing like what you wanted. A benefit of the Creative Cloud subscription is that you receive monthly improvements. One that came out a few months ago was to the Auto button in the develop module. Simply click on the button and we instantly see an improvement. All the data contained in the raw file is used to find the best (and more importantly) closest settings to what I saw through the viewfinder.

The final edit – a few tweaks

The red, blue and white colours in this image really needed some punch so I cranked the vibrance and clarity up a little more. I like to give a full dynamic range to my photographs – I move the white slider until it touches the right edge of the histogram and the black so it touches the left side. I also thought that it would good to be a bit tighter, so a slight crop was applied and there we have a really great image edited in less than 20 seconds. You can see the before and after images below. A huge difference with just a few clicks.

One of the photographs from this photo-call was used the next day in a quality national newspaper. If you need proof that the 20-second edit can get great results, then there it is!

During the Edinburgh Photography Workshop Switch to Manual session we cover more quick editing techniques that can give your images punch.