How to Edit Food and Drink Photos Shot with Hard Light

As photographers, we generally aim to shoot perfectly to where our photos require minimal to no editing. But for some of us, the editing process can be just as creative of a process as the photography side. I am going to share exactly how I edited this hard light image to create something a little more dramatic than I can achieve in-camera.

I may not try and get the perfect photo at the time of capture, but I do like to make sure the exposure is right in-camera, as not having to worry about fixing exposure in the editing process makes it a lot more fun.

The first thing I do in Lightroom for every image is in the lens correction column: I tick the distortion box which will correct any distortion the lens you used created. It is a very clever tool that knows what lens you used and roughly how it has distorted the image.

If you look at the straight-out-of-camera image, I shot this old fashioned on a light blue background, but I really wanted the final image to have a more green or turquoise color. So in the HSL panel, I took the aqua and blue and brought the hue to the left to give it a lovely green tone. I think this helps really make this drink feel summery and makes the whisky pop. As I only used the color sliders of the aqua and blue, only the background was affected by this change. I also increased the luminance a little with these two to lighten it up, adding to the summery light and airy feel to the image.

Now I have the background at the color I was looking for, I next go up to the basic panel. My first step here is to lower the drag the highlight slider to the left, darkening them, and take the shadow slider to the right, lightening them.

This makes the image look a little undersaturated but I will fix that in the next step where I do the opposite with the whites and blacks. I lighten the whites and darken the blacks which add that contrast back but with more of a punch. I don’t use the exposure or contrast panel to do this as it affects the image as a whole instead of the specific tones in the image. Also in the basics panel, I increase the clarity slider just slightly, to add some detail to the image.

The next step in my usual editing process is to sharpen the image. I first add a sharpen mask by selecting the option key and increasing the sharpen mask so the sharpening will only affect the drink and glass, and not the bottle of whisky. Now that the mask is on, I can increase the sharpening amount as much as needed. Not too much, but enough to make the image crisper.

For my next step, I go back down to the HSL panel and make some small tweaks to the orange color, increase the saturation a little and decrease the luminance to make that old fashioned and whisky look a bit more of a deeper orange. I didn’t do this when I changed the background as I knew the other edits will have changed the color and tone slightly.

I find the orange swirl in the drink was looking a little dull and dark at this point, so using the brush tool I draw over the swirl so it is only affecting the area I want it to affect. With the mask on, I increase the exposure, the shadows and increase the saturation.

My final area to edit in Lightroom is the tone curve panel, I brighten the highlights and darken the shadows adding a last boost of contrast. This makes an S shape with the curve.

That is everything in Lightroom, but just to finish this image up I open the image in Photoshop and using the patch tool, I clean up the background and any marks on the glass because no matter how careful I am, there are always marks!

And that’s it! Below you can see the image I started with on the left and the finished edit on the right:

For more videos all about food and drink photography, check out my YouTube channel.

About the author: Amie Prescott is a professional photographer, and food photography combines two of her favorite things: food and photography. Prescott put a good spin on lockdown by using the bad situation to create YouTube videos in an effort to help people looking to learn food photography.