You know that moment when you put on a jacket, put your hands in the pockets and discover $20 you didn’t realise you had? Those little surprises rock my world.
I had a moment just like that recently, although, on this occasion I didn’t find $20. Instead, I discovered a feature in Lightroom that I had no idea existed. Not as exciting as $20, right? Well, maybe not yet. But when you realise how this feature can really help you to analyse an image and develop a style, tone and colour palette for your own images you may be just as excited as I am.
So, what is it?
Recently I was helping a client create an image library they could use for their upcoming blog posts. Like a lot of bloggers, they use filters to process their images. It proves to be a quick and easy way to help businesses stay consistent with the look and feel of their brand. In this case they were using the popular VSCO filters – specifically the VSCO HB1 filter.
The trouble they faced was the way in which the VSCO app worked. Their workflow looked like this:
- upload hundreds of images over their (extremely slow) internet
- wait for it to Sync with the VSCO app
- apply the VSCO HB1 filter
- re-sync the processed images back to a DropBox folder.
This would have taken hours and hours.
To save time, I suggested that I simply recreate the VSCO HB1 filter in Lightroom, save it as a Preset and batch process the client’s entire image library. They told me to get to work.
I made myself a cucumber sandwich, grabbed two copies of the same image (one with the VSCO HB1 filter, to use as a reference and one without a filter) imported them into my Lightroom library and hit the ‘D’ key to shortcut my way into the Develop module.
Shift + R
In my attempt to resize my Lightroom window using the nifty keyboard shortcut ‘SHIFT + F’, my gigantic sausage fingers inadvertently hit ‘SHIFT + R’. Which, instead of satisfying my mild OCD by expanding the Lightroom window to tightly hug the borders of my laptop screen, it did something most unexpected…
It split the Develop module precisely in two equal halves. Which not only satisfied my mild OCD – albeit in an entirely and unexpected fashion – it prompted me to “Drag & drop a photo from the Filmstrip to set the Reference Photo”. As you can hopefully imagine, it was precisely this moment my jaw dropped as the realisation of what I’d just uncovered hit home. It all happened in slow motion – my cucumber sandwiches went soaring as I erupted to the sound of the Titanic chorus to celebrate this monumental find.
Reference View in Lightroom
Welcome my fellow, jacket-wearing-cucumber-sandwich-eating, photographers to the Reference View in Lightroom.
The Reference View in Lightroom allows you to select two images simultaneously in the Develop module. One image to use as your Reference Image and the other will be your Active image (the image you are editing).
Why is the Reference View helpful?
The Reference View in Lightroom can be used in so many scenarios. Especially if you are just starting out with editing in Lightroom.
- You can use the Reference View to examine one image whilst editing another in the same screen.
- Never again do you have to use the Command/Control + Tab keyboard shortcut to switch to another application to check your reference image, style guide or mood board.
- The Reference View in Lightroom can be used to ensure your images share a consistent look, feel and style when editing multiple photos from one collection.
- Using a Reference Image is a brilliant way to practice and develop your editing style. Load an image that you like into the Reference View and try to recreate its colour palette or tone on one of your own images. Editing an image directly next to your reference image gives you instant feedback and it’s a fantastic way to learn which settings you need adjust to achieve a particular look.
What can the Reference View do for you?
Yes, the Reference view in Lightroom is a simple tool. It’s not even a tool really. However, if you’re in the early stages of your editing journey, trying to establish and develop your own editing style, or perhaps, like me, you simply enjoy little surprises – you’ll probably find the Reference view to be worth a lot more than $20.
Take a look below to see precisely how I use the Reference view to recreate the VSCO HB1 filter and turn it into a Preset for a client.
Recreating the VSCO HB1 Filter in Lightroom Classic
Step 1: Set up Reference View in Lightroom
Open Lightroom Classic, navigate to your Develop module and press the keyboard shortcut ‘SHIFT+R’ to open up the Reference View.
Use the filmstrip at the bottom of your window to navigate to the image you would like to use as your reference image. Simply click and drag this image into the Reference Image window to set it as your Reference Image.
Now it’s time to load your Active Image (this is the image you want to edit). Use the same filmstrip at the bottom to select your Active Image. This will now appear in the Active Image window.
Step 2: Create Editing Notes
Spend a moment looking at the differences between your Reference and Active images.
What do you notice? What is it you want to try and recreate? Use a notepad or a simple text document to note down the key elements of the Reference Image that you want to practice, develop or recreate. Examples could be:
- Is there a particularly strong use of one particular colour?
- Is there a muted colour palette?
- What are the Highlights and Shadows doing? Can you see lots of detail in them or are they murky or blown out?
- Is the image warm or cool?
- Is the tone bright and light or dark and moody?
- Does it have lots of contrast or not much?
It’s a good idea to note down all observations that come to mind here. There are no right or wrong notes. This notepad will simply serve as a reference to you whilst editing your images.
Here are the notes I created for the example image.
Step 3: Basic Adjustments
The Basic panel allows you to make simple adjustments to the Exposure, Contrast, Highlights and Shadows.
When comparing your images (and reading the notes you created in step 2), you might notice minor adjustments that can be easily achieved using the Basic Panel. In the example, you can see that the Reference Image is slightly brighter and the colours are a lot less saturated. Therefore, to brighten up the Active Image and desaturate the colours, you can make small adjustments to the Exposure (+.10), Clarity (+6) and Saturation sliders (-22).
The end goal here is to save our final editing adjustments as a Preset, which we can then apply to multiple images so they all have a similar look, feel and tone. Given that no two photos are absolutely identical, it’s a good idea to keep any adjustments in the basic panel relatively light and turn your focus to the Tone Curve panel to try and achieve as much of the effect as you possibly can. This is because heavy changes to the sliders in the Basic Panel could potentially create an inconsistent result when applying your final Preset to multiple images.
Step 3: Tone Curve
The Tone Curve is perhaps the most powerful tool in the Lightroom Develop module. By using the Tone Curve for the bulk of your editing, you can create very consistent tones and styles for your photographs.
The Tone Curve is essentially a glorified and interactive histogram. Inside the Tone Curve’s square graph, you’ll notice your histogram sitting in the background. In the foreground, you’ll have a diagonal line running from the bottom left to the top right. And exactly like your histogram, the left side of the Tone Curve represents your shadow data. The middle represents your mid-tone data. The right side represents your highlights.
The Tone Curve allows you to create control points along the diagonal line. You can then adjust these control points up or down to alter the value of the corresponding data in the background.
Your Tone Curve works in 4 channels – RGB, Red, Green and Blue. In this article, you’ll see how to adjust each of the Red, Green and Blue channels independently to recreate a similar look to the VSCO HB1 Filter.
The popular VSCO HB1 filter has a noticeable style and tone. When applied to the Reference Image, it has:
- slightly ‘crushed’ the shadows and created a strong cool blue undertone;
- increased the brightness of the mid-tones;
- created a subtle warm undertone in the highlights; and
- given the overall contrast a boost – but not overly so.
To recreate this look you can use the Red, Green and Blue channels of the Tone Curve.
Starting off with the Blue Channel to recreate the cool blue undertone and crushed shadows, apply several control points to your curve to form an ‘S’ shape. This ‘S’ shape will help to boost contrast and inject more blue tones into the image.
Here you can see the control points increasing the amount of blue in the shadows, midtones and highlights.
Right now, the overall image is far too blue. To correct this, you can create a similar curve in both the Red and Green Channels. Be careful not to ‘over-correct’ the colour in a way that removes the blue undertone. A good way to achieve this is to create a slightly less exaggerated ‘S’ curve in your Red and Green channels.
Step 4: Targeted HSL Adjustments
With the adjustments to the Tone Curve in place, your Active Image should now start to resemble your Reference Image. In some cases, you may find that you need to adjust the specific Hue, Saturation or Luminance of one or more colours.
Right now, the skin tones in the VSCO HB1 Reference Image are slightly more golden and the Blues are less saturated. To adjust the Active Images colours to align with the VSCO HB1 filter, you can use the HSL panel.
Having the reference image side by side with your active image makes this next step very easy. Simply work your way through the Hue, Saturation and Luminosity sliders, and adjust them to match those of your Reference Image as closely as you can. With your Reference Image directly next to your Active Image you get instant feedback as to what sliders you need to adjust.
To make this step even easier, you can use the Targeted Adjustment Tool (TAT). Simply select the Hue, Saturation or Luminance TAT, click and drag (up or down) on an area of your Active Image to adjust the corresponding colors. Keep an eye on your Reference Image to ensure you match the colours as closely as you can.
Step 5: Split Tone
The VSCO HB1 filter applies a subtle warm highlights/cool shadows colour grade to images.
An easy way for you to achieve this popular colour combination in Lightroom is to use the split toning panel. Simply click on the highlights colour picker to select a warm colour tone for your highlights and adjust the saturation accordingly.
Repeat this process for the shadows, picking a cooler colour to balance out the highlights.
Step 6: Detail
To finish, it is always a good idea to zoom in to 100% on your reference Image to take note of any sharpening, noise or grain characteristics that the filter may have applied. If you look closely, you can see the VSCO HB1 filter has applied a strong global sharpening effect to the image. To recreate this effect, you can simply use the Detail panel to increase the sharpening of your Active Image to match.
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When you are happy with your active image, it’s a good idea to create a Preset of your work. This way, you can apply this same look or style to multiple images.
To create a new Preset, use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Alt + N (PC) or Command + Option + N (Mac) to bring up the new Preset options window. Here you can select all of the settings you want to include in your Preset.
Click ‘Create’ to save the Preset. It will now be available in your Preset folders to use again.
Batch Processed with the recreated VSCO HB1 Preset
So, there you have it. The Reference View in Lightroom is a fantastic addition to incorporate into your editing workflow. If you would love to know how to recreate a particular style in your photos, I encourage you to use a Reference Image to guide you whilst editing. It’s a great way to get instant feedback on your adjustments. This way, you can learn what you need to edit to achieve a particular look.
If you are reading this thinking “Seriously? You didn’t know about this? I’ve been using it since 2015” then my message to you is this: why didn’t you tell me sooner!?
It’s important to keep an open mind and be receptive to learning new things from others. I certainly don’t claim to be a ‘know it all’. I welcome any and all hints, tips and tricks that may make life and specifically photography that little bit easier. So, I ask you to share your insights, and this article. Perhaps you have a quick tip or a useful keyboard shortcut you always use. Share one tip in the comments below.