There have been lots of ads around the internet for Lightroom at reduced prices. Hmmm. Lightroom has been out more than 18 months. Hmmm. Does this mean that a new one is coming out soon? I don't know. But, in case you still don't own it, this is a good time to buy it at reduced prices. We've written about working in Lightroom before, but I thought this would be a good time to review how much you can do to improve a photograph. This is done completely in LR.
The first several steps are part of my usual workflow. When you develop a consistent pattern, you'll get more consistent results and learn how different tools will impact your final image. I shoot in RAW, but a consistent workflow will help you get better results from your JPGs, too.
This is part of a bracketed set (for an HDR) that I shot last year. I picked the underexposed image to demonstrate that even a less than perfect initial image can be dramatically changed. My first step is to apply the lens correction and move the camera calibration to landscape. This actually makes the image a little darker, but gives me stronger greens and blues.
Next, I move to the top of the Develop panel to address the basic adjustments. Bumping up the exposure by half a stop and adding some fill light, brings back some of the sunlight. If you were shooting a JPG, this is probably a pretty good representation of what you'd have if you had the camera set in Program mode.
The image still looks a little flat, so I would apply the Punch preset. Presets have a bad reputation because so many people just hit the preset and move on. Presets are a good beginning point; they affect the image in a consistent manner, but you may still need to make some further adjustment. Don't be afraid to do this. The Punch preset affects the clarity, vibrance, and saturation of your image. Adjust the sliders further to your taste. I see this as a big improvement to this image.
I've been on a panorama kick, lately. I really like the look of the extra-wide images from combining several images into one. This is a single image, but I can still get that look by cropping the image. Make sure you unlock the crop aspect or you won't be able to crop it this way.
Moving down to the hue, saturation, luminance sliders, I'll slightly darken the sky and add some saturation to make it the way I like it. I bumped up the luminance on the green.
Next, I apply some sharpening to the image. Sharpening should be applied cautiously, so you don't overdo it. Use the masking to sharpen only the edges of features within the photo. Holding the Alt button, while using the masking slider will show you exactly what you are sharpening.
Finally, I review the image for any other changes I might want to make. In this one, I just touched the brightness a little. This is, certainly, not the only way to work on your images; it is the just workflow I've gotten accustomed to. In real time, these adjustments would take me about three minutes or less. If you are consistent and develop a personal workflow, you'll enjoy the process and be happier with your results. Then you can get back to the fun of shooting something new.