Sports Shooting #7 – My workflow and lightroom

It’s time to start diving a bit deeper.

To continue along with the theme, we’re going to take a few more things away from the camera. We’re going to shoot RAW…

Raw means that rather than letting the camera put JPEG images on our memory card, we’re going to have it put the data directly from the sensor (or, at least, more directly) on the memory card, and then we’ll control how it gets converted to JPEG. We’ll also have the opportunity to do some basic adjustments to make things look nicer.

I won’t spend a lot of time explaining the advantages of shooting raw – read the link if you want more details.

Camera manufacturers provide tools with their cameras that can be used to convert the raw to jpeg. I haven’t used the Nikon software, but I can say that the Canon software leaves a fair bit to be desired.

Enter Lightroom.

Lightroom gives you organization, keywording, raw conversion, and a bunch of other stuff. At $299 (or perhaps $250 on sale), it’s not cheap, and that kept me from using it for a while. I recommend downloading the trial and giving it a try.

My workflow

  1. Shoot the game. I’ll generally end up with around 600 shots from a game of lacrosse.
  2. Import them all into lightroom. I can – and sometimes do – apply a preset with some commonly-used settings during the import.
  3. Walk through all the images, and mark all the ones I want to delete by hitting “x”. I’ll get rid of the out-of-focus ones, and in sequences I’ll decide which shot of a series I’ll keep. That normally takes me down to somewhere in the range of 100 images. I delete these off the disk.
  4. Apply the per-pictures adjustments (more about that below).
  5. Export them through a plug-in that talks directly to smugmug.

The real power is in step #4, which I think is best illustrated through a sample.

Initial picture

It has potential. First step will be a crop:

After crop

That’s better. Note that the verticals are leaning to the right a bit. We’ll rotate the picture a bit counter-clockwise, to get:

After rotate

The next thing to address is the white balance, which controls how the colors render. If you have something that’s true white (such as the shin guards or uniform numbers), you can use the lightroom eyedropper to set the white balance automatically. I’ve found that people often look better if you shift the color rendition a bit away from blue towards yellow. That’s what I’ve done here.

Typically, I’ll set white balance on one of the first photos and then apply it to all the other photos at once.

White balance set

Much nicer. Now I want to deal with the light levels in the image. In most cases, the overall exposure is pretty good, though if it’s snowy I might need to push the exposure up. There are three areas I do want to deal with.

The first is highlight clipping. If you’re shooting in bright light, you are likely to be clipping off some detail in the highlights. You can view this in lightroom and by using the recovery setting, you can dim the highlights just a bit.

The second is what lightroom calls “fill light”. Basically, using fill light lets you bring up the middle brightness areas. It’s very useful if the face of a player is in shadow or inside a helmet.

The third one is black level. This lets you pull the lower part of the image towards black.

In this image, the highlights are fine and I don’t need to use the fill light. If you look at the blacks, you’ll see that they aren’t quite as dark as they could be.

Adjust black level

This gives the image quite a bit more snap.


Clarity is a setting in lightroom that increases local contrast. Bumping it up here gives us a bit more crispness to the image.


Vibrance increases the saturation of colors that aren’t already saturated. The effect here is to make the grass (well, fieldturf…) a bit greener, and the jersey a bit bluer.


When you shoot in raw, the image doesn’t have any sharpening applied to it, so the images will look pretty soft. Sports photos require a lot of sharpness, so I’ll turn it up relatively high, to 87 in this case. If you look at the full-size image, you’ll see that it’s much sharper, but the faces look blotchy because they are over-sharpened.


I turned up the masking control, which limits the sharpening to the areas that need it.

This image was shot in pretty good light using ISO 640, so there isn’t much noise in it. If there was noise, I’d apply some noise reduction and try to balance it against the sharpness of the sharpness loss that it causes.

If you go to the smugmug gallery, you can more easily do A<->B comparisons.

So, what do you think ?