How to Use Lightroom: Lens Profiles
Optimize photos through lightroom lens profiles
One advantage of using Lightroom as your post-processing tool is that it contains a huge database of camera and lens specific information. No matter how advanced and precise the gear we use is, it is a fact of life that our lens will introduce us to some level of irregularities. These imperfections typically appear in photos in two ways. First, the lens introduces barrel distortion which is mostly outwards curvature easily spotted near the smaller. Second, lens construction inherently lets less light near the photos corners, something that ends up in vignetting, or edge light fall-off that is darker than the rest of the photo. We tend to experience more problems when using lower quality lens’ (especially a kit lens), the nearer we are at the edges of the lens’ zoom range, and the higher the smaller aperture number we use (typically above f16).
Lightroom comes as a savior to eradicate those issues with a single very simple solution called lens profile compensation. Assuming you are starting with imported photos in the Library module, click on a photo you wish to correct and press D to go to the Develop module (or click Develop on the top right menu). On the right side of the Develop module click on the “Lens Corrections” panel. This is what you will see:
If the “Manual” tab is selected, just click on “Profile”. To show you how easy this is and what a beneficial effect it has in your photos, here is an example of a photo I took in the woods:
Although it is not obvious till you see the result after the correction, I will point your attention towards the trees on the right that have an outwards curvature again towards the right. This is the barrel distortion introduced by my lens. Also, you can notice that the corners are slightly darker than the rest of the photo, even at the top where this should not happen because there is plenty of light. So let’s go ahead with the correction. The first thing is to tick the “Enable Profile Corrections” box. Then click on the “Make” scroll list and chose your camera’s brand. Usually, Lightroom picks up everything automatically based on the photo’s EXIF data. If it doesn’t, do not give up and proceed to the lens model list:
You will immediately see a change in your photo. Distortion will be corrected and light distribution will turn natural just as it was when you shot the actual scene! Here is my corrected photo:
Notice the straight trunks on the right and how the curvature issue has been fixed. Also check out the corners, how much lighter they are and how well they blend light-wise in the scene. Of course Lightroom is not perfect and the correction might not always work so ideally. This is why at the bottom of the “Lens Corrections” panel you will find manual adjustments for both distortion and vignetting:
Playing around with these two sliders will get you where you want as far as natural looks are concerned. You can also give your photo interesting effects, however I strongly suggest sticking to natural results as Lightroom has very easy and powerful methods to adjust both distortion and vignetting through other more intuitive methods. One thing that lens profiles cannot fix is sharpening issues at your photo’s edges. Soft edges and corners are yet another problem that can be introduced by the less capable lens (especially at wide angles and wide apertures) that I am afraid is best fixed by moving to better (and unfortunately more expensive) lens models.
Lens corrections are so easy that they become yet another mechanical procedure after importing photos in Lightroom. There is a nifty way to speed things up and batch correct all your photos in a single folder (provided they were shot by the same camera-lens combination) in just one simple sweep. Go to your folder in the Library module and press Ctrl-A (or Cmd-A for a Mac) to select everything. Now press D to move to the Develop module. At the bottom of the right panel there are two buttons. The left button is labeled “Sync…” and has a small toggle switch on its left end. Click the toggle switch so that the button is now labeled “Auto Sync” as shown below:
Now every action you take for the selected photos will be applied to all of them! Go to the Lens Corrections panel and do the correction as described earlier. If the folder contains many large photos, Lightroom will show a status bar at the top left indicating the processing as it takes place.
If the Lens Corrections panel offers no lens options for your photos, there are two things that might be happening. First, you might not have the latest lens database because you use an older Lightroom version or you have not updated to its latest version. Using the subscription CC version of Lightroom will ensure that you have all the latest lens profiles within a few weeks of market release, very handy if you tend to use lots of different pieces of new gear. Second, Lightroom will not cover compact and non-interchangeable lens cameras as its corrections are lens and not camera based. It does however now cover profiles of popular smartphones (iPhones, Nexus, HTC, etc. ) and drones (DJI, Yuneec). This is a cool feature, especially now that smartphones can shoot good quality RAW files.
Integrating lens profile corrections in your workflow is a clever and painless move that can be almost completely automated. You will not end up with drastic changes; however, you can always be sure that you correct sometimes imperceptible imperfections that would otherwise greatly complicate your upcoming post-processing steps.