Are you trying to edit sunset photos in Lightroom but you can’t get the desired result? I am here to help you!
I am an expert on creating dreamy sunset photos and after this tutorial you’ll be able to transform any sunset photo into a masterpiece!
When it comes to creating content my favourite part is making my vision come to life through Lightroom! In this tutorial I will take you through all of the steps on how to edit sunset photos in Lightroom!
Making your sunset photo stand and not losing any details or colours can be one of the hardest things to do when editing a photo in Lightroom. But with this step by step guide you’ll be able to make any sunset photo stunning!
For this tutorial I will show you how to edit on the desktop version of Lightroom but you can repeat the exact same process on the free Mobile version of Lightroom.
I edit all of my photos with my very own unique presets
In this article I will talk you through two completely different edits! One where we will exaggerate a sunset photo and one with a more neutral yet equally stunning edit!
How to edit sunset photos in Lightroom
Step 1 : Use the correct camera settings
The most important part when you want to create a stunning sunset photo are your camera settings. To not lose any details and colours in the sky I strongly advise you to take your photo in the RAW format.
This will guarantee that none of the information will be lost during the editing process.
Another big must is to take your photo in manual mode. While this may sometimes be scary it will allow you to underexpose your photo and have a more beautiful end result!
I always try to shoot a sunset at an aperture of 2.8 and try to keep my ISO as low as possible. Not every camera is the same or will allow you to do this, that’s why I have always been so happy about my choice of photography gear!
If you’re not using a camera but you’re taking photos with your mobile phone there is one very important step you have to do before pressing that button!
Make sure to tap the sky before taking your photo!
This will ensure that the lighting is set to the best modus possible for the sky. Otherwise chances are pretty high that your phone camera will light up the foreground and result in a blown out sky you won’t be able to edit afterwards.
All of the next steps can also be applied in the free Lightroom Mobile app! This means you’ll be able to edit sunset photos straight on your mobile phone!
Step 2: Import your photo into Lightroom and apply a preset or start from scratch
After you have imported your photo in Lightroom it’s time to see which preset will work best. For my own convenience I created separate presets that I specifically use when editing a sunrise or sunset photo.
For this particular photo I used my preset ‘Dreamy Sunset‘. It will light up the foreground of my photo which was underexposed. And because I took this photo in RAW I still have every single detail of the photo. Also, this preset already gives the photo that orange-pink glow that I personally love when editing a sunset or a sunrise.
Step 3: Adjusting the highlights
Once you have selected your favourite preset it’s time to adjust the highlights.
When I edit a sunset photo in Lightroom I always love to bring down the highlights as much as possible. You can easily do this by sliding the Highlights slider completely to the left. By doing so your sky will become a little darker and more colours will come through.
If you want a more neutral look for your sunset photo and you don’t want to use a preset you want to follow the following steps.
- Adjust the exposure – You’ll have to brighten up the photo to bing out more details.
- Adjust the highlights – Turn down the highlights as much as you like to bring out the natural colours from the sky
- Adjust the shadows – Turn up the shadows a little bit to bring the foreground more to life
- Adjust the vibrance – Turn up the vibrance a little bit to bring out colours, don’t touch saturation cause that will change every single colour on your photo!
Step 4: Apply a graduated filter to create a dramatic sunset edit in Lightroom
To make a sunset photo really stand out you will have to learn how to use the graduated filter. You can find it in Lightroom on the right below the histogram.
To select the filter you have to press the rectangle. After selecting you will go to your photo and start from the top of the sky. You click on the starting point and then drag the graduated filter down.
You can see your selection by clicking on “Show selected mask overlay” below your photo.
As you can see on the photo above, the selected part turns gradually red. This means that your adjustments will also be that way and look natural. If you make the sky darker the top part will be more affected than the bottom part which will make sure that your sky looks real.
Before making any adjustments I unselect the mask overlay tool so I can see all the tiny differences that I make.
After making the selection I like to play around with a couple of sliders:
- Exposure: I lower the exposure (slide to left) so the sky looks less blown out.
- Contrast: I add a little more contrast to the sky (slide to right)
- Highlights: Again I will lower the highlights just a little more (slide left)
- Temperature: I prefer my sunsets to look a little more orange so I put the temperature towards yellow
- Tint: For this photo I want a combination of orange and pink tones in the sky so I put the tint more towards pink.
Step 5: Use a Range Mask
This is by far my favourite tool when it comes to editing a sunset photo in Lightroom! After applying your graduated filter do not press Done. If you scroll down a little you will see an option to select Range Mask. Click on it and select Colour. This step is only possible if you are using the desktop version of Lightroom.
Why do you want to do this? After applying the graduated filter you can clearly see that not only did the sky get affected by your adjustments but for instance the mosque in the background also turned darker. By using the range mask we can easily adapt this!
After selecting colour a pen will appear (the colour range selector) on the left. Simply click on it and you will be able to select a certain area on your photo (more on that below).
After clicking on the colour range selector you go back to the photo with your cursor and now you will see this pen also appears here. All you have to do now is select a part of the sky.
To have the best outcome I make a rectangle that includes both the purple and orange tones. After you make your selection simply let go and the adjustment will be automatically made.
When you’re happy with the end result simply click done. If you’re not entirely pleased with the end result of your selection you can simply select a second or third part of the sky until you have your desired result!
I hope this sunset tutorial was helpful for you! If you have any questions simply drop them in the comment section below!
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Charlotte Lint is the founder of Charlies Wanderings.
Charlotte has traveled all over the world and is based in Belgium where she also owns her very own dental practice.
She is an expert on writing efficient travel guides and finding unique places to stay.
Every month she helps over 134.000 people discover the most beautiful places in the world through her detailed travel guides.