Today, I’m sharing three simple tips to achieving a light and airy style in your next photo edit. You know those soft, light-filled photos you see on my portfolio? That’s light and airy, and these 3 light and airy editing tips can help you achieve that look using just Lightroom! The tutorial comes with one little caveat, though: it helps to shoot in a specific way first. For example, if you have a heavily contrasted image with lots of shadows and your subjects are all wearing black, well, it’s going to be difficult to just edit it and make it feel light and airy. The light, location, wardrobe choices…it all has to reflect that light, airy style. If you’ve got a photo that has inherently light tones, without a ton of shadows though: you’re ready for these three light and airy editing tips!
Why light and airy photography?
I didn’t set out to become a “light and airy photographer.” I’m still not always sure it’s exactly what I’d call myself, but if I had to categorize myself into a popular photography style, that would be it. Even though we’re in Oregon now, I’ll always be a Californian at heart. I love sunshine, light filtering through leafy oak trees, and warm sunset glows. As you look through my portfolio, you’ll probably get a sense of warm summer evenings and the airiness of wide open spaces. My editing style reflects that natural, outdoor heart in my photos and so: light and airy photos it is!
Goals of a light and airy edit:
- soft: as in a gentle fade from light to dark, without heavy contrast
- warm: like a pleasant summer day, light an airy images are warm without being overly orange. I veer just on the warm side of neutral.
- light-filled: there isn’t much true black in the images, and shadows are light. There’s no feeling of heaviness or moodiness.
My straight out of camera RAW image for this tutorial:
This was from a late-summer family session last year in a meadow near my home in Oregon. The session was later published in The Kindred Path, a journal of motherhood photographers. Many of their published photographers shoot in a light and airy style if you’re looking to discover more favorite photographers! Now on to the tips:
Light and airy editing tip #1:
Flatten out your image by bringing the dark tones up and the highlights down.
Keep the black slider high, and the shadows slider just a little lower. Keep an eye on your highlights and pull the highlights slider down as needed to retain detail in any white/bright areas of your image, particularly skin and clothing
After doing any basic adjustments to your white balance and exposure, you’ll basically “flatten out” the image’s contrast by pulling the highlights down, stopping just before skin looks grey. Bring the black slider up to just about pull any true black out of the photo. Bring the shadow slider up as well to lighten any heavier shadows. If needed, bump the white slider down just a touch to keep from blowing highlights.
Light and airy editing tip #2:
Add contrast and depth to your image in the tonal curve.
Scroll down, and bring back depth to your photo by pulling down on the shadow slider in the tonal curve. If it feels like the skin needs a little glow, bump up the light slider in the tonal curve. I often bring the highlights slider down a touch here to avoid overexposing skin. If the image still seems too dark or heavy at this point, I’ll bring up the dark slider. If it feels a bit washed out, I’ll move the dark slider down towards the shadow.
Light and airy editing tip #3:
Use the HSL sliders to manage warm tones, then add warmth to the skin with Color Grading if needed.
Warmth is good. It’s a goal. But I try to avoid really yellow greens or overwhelming oranges. To do this without cooling down the overall white balance, I make very minor adjustments in the HSL slider. I’ll primarily adjust the yellow sliders, but often the greens and oranges as well. I bring the hue up (making my yellows more green, or in the green slider it will make the greens more blue), the saturation down, and the luminance up (brightening only the yellows in the grass).
After I’ve done this, I may go back and adjust the overall white balance. If the overall white balance seems okay, but the skin is feeling too cool, I’ll just add a little warmth to the highlights by using the Color Grading window like this:
And that’s really it! There’s a little more tweaking here and there that I might do to get the color and tone juuuuuust right (I did warm the overall white balance up some more here), depending on the individual image. This particular photo was taken in the morning, with a ton of available light behind me, so there weren’t too many issues to deal with. Here’s what my final image looked like today:
Were these light and airy editing tips helpful?
You can find more photography resources and photography business tools here, collected from over a decade of my experience as a photographer. I’m so excited to grow this resource library for you, so please let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to see there!