The post How to Edit Hockey Photos in Lightroom Like a Pro appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Frank Myrland.

Enhance your hockey photos with Lightroom

Have you ever tried to photograph lightning? That’s what it often feels like when taking pictures at a hockey game. Every play is a blur. You can feel the game’s speed and intensity right up until the final whistle. Emotion and sweat mix on the faces of players who battle and fight for every inch, and the arena shakes with a thunderous ovation from the spectators.

In short, it’s a whole lot of fun to capture hockey with a camera. But after the crowds are gone and your ears have stopped ringing, it’s time to head home, load your images up on the computer, and do some editing.

Two hockey players battle for the puck

Regardless of what camera you use, all hockey images will benefit from some attention in Adobe Lightroom before you share them on social media or in a local publication. And despite the thrills of the sport, the arena is a tough place for a photographer. You have to deal with low or inconsistent light, high ISO settings and low shutter speeds, scuffed-up glass, and more. Learning the technique to get decent shots in the first place is half the battle – but that’s a story for another time. Today, it’s time to head into the editing room.

Below, I share my best tips for editing hockey photos using Lightroom. If you’re a hockey parent or a budding sports photographer, read on to discover how to make your photos of players on the ice stand out!

(Note: Even though this guide specifically addresses features in Adobe Lightroom, the same concepts can be used in any photo editing program with similar controls!)

1. Shoot in RAW

First off, if you’re serious about getting the best hockey pictures possible, then it’s a good idea to shoot in RAW. Sure, the files are a lot larger, but this is because more data is preserved for each shot. When you’re editing, you’ll be thankful for all the extra leeway you can get with a RAW file over a JPEG.

A hockey player sitting on the bench during a game

That’s not to say that you’re doomed if you shoot in JPEG. It just means you’ll need to be extra careful to get the settings right in the camera, since you won’t have nearly as much flexibility when editing later.

The choice is yours.

2. Cull aggressively

Culling is the process of reviewing your files from a photoshoot, then removing (and maybe also deleting) the photos that don’t make the cut.

Not every image is a keeper. This is especially true in sports photography, where you’ll frequently end up with images that are out of focus, poorly composed, or simply not very interesting. If your goal is to edit every single hockey photo you take, you’ll never make it past your first photoshoot!

Choose the best of the best to focus your time and energy on. Edit those, and put the rest aside.

3. Crop and straighten your shots

It’s rare to nail the best possible composition in-camera. Sure, it happens from time to time, but given the speed of the action and the unpredictability, it’s more likely that your pictures will benefit from a bit of cropping and straightening in Lightroom.

Consider what’s important in the frame. You want to have a nice balanced composition that fills the image. Think in terms of simplicity: if you crop out a stick or skate that appears in the corner of the image, it will help your final picture feel more clean and professional.

The unedited image of a hockey player on a breakaway - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
Here’s one of my hockey photos as it looked straight out of the camera. It’s already a fairly tight shot, but it would be even better with a crop.
A hockey player on a breakaway against a goaltender - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
That’s more like it! Now the action feels close and intense.

It might not be possible to do a tight crop of a shot and maintain the image quality, depending on how your camera handles high ISO settings. If you find that your images are always just a little too zoomed out, keep that in mind the next time you photograph a game, and make a significant effort to either use a longer focal length or get closer to the action.

Straightening out your images is a big help as well. As you track the play through the viewfinder, it’s easy to start tilting the camera. Now, I’ll admit: there are times when a crazy tilt gives a sense of action and energy to a picture.

More often than not, however, a crooked shot just looks like the players are about to tumble out of one side of the image.

An unbalanced image of a hockey goaltender - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
The players by the bench look like they’re ready to slide down to the bottom left side of the shot.
A hockey goaltender taking a break while the crowd cheers - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
This straightened version feels a little more stable.

Take the time to straighten your pictures. They’ll look much more professional and balanced as a result.

4. Apply white balance corrections

Cameras process color differently than our eyes do. Under tricky lighting conditions, cameras can render unpleasant color casts, resulting in photos that are unnaturally warm (yellow) or unnaturally cool (blue).

Since it’s hard to appreciate an image that looks too blue or too yellow, correcting the white balance is an important part of your final edit. If you shoot in RAW, you can adjust the white balance without difficulty. If you shoot in JPEG, you can still make minor adjustments, but don’t count on being able to apply radical white balance corrections.

An example of the white balance settings in Lightroom
The white balance sliders in Lightroom.

If you have a shot that needs to be fixed, Lightroom’s eyedropper tool can be useful for getting you fairly close to the mark. Select the dropper, then click on something in the shot that should be a neutral white or gray, such as the boards or the ice. From there, go ahead and make tweaks with the Temp slider. Pay close attention to skin tones and always remember that the ice should be white.

A hockey image with a poor white balance setting - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
The Auto White Balance setting missed badly on the original shot, resulting in a very warm photo.
Hockey players fighting for the puck - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
After some white balancing, the image displays the colors more accurately.

Finding the right white balance can be tricky, especially since different display screens can have subtle differences. But with a bit of practice, correcting the white balance in your shots will become a piece of cake.

5. Apply contrast adjustments

Your approach to editing is going to be very different depending on whether or not you have to shoot through the glass. In the NHL, photographers either shot through a small hole in the corners or from higher angles where they can see above the glass. But you may not have that luxury.

Shooting through thick glass usually robs a picture of a lot of its contrast. But contrast plays an important role in giving an image depth and making it “pop.” So you’ll need to add that back in the final edit.

Lightroom offers a couple of sliders that can manage this:

  • Contrast: This slider will make dark midtones darker and light mid-ones lighter. When used in moderation, it can make a picture appear richer, but be careful not to overdo it and create surreal tones.
  • Blacks: This slider influences the darkest tones of the image. This can be useful for fixing hockey pants, sticks, and skates so that they are black rather than a faded dark gray.
  • Shadows: This slider affects the mid-to-dark tones of the image. Typically, this slider plays a big role in determining the brightness of the crowd and the players’ faces.
  • Dehaze: The Dehaze slider tries to interpret how light has been lost and scattered in the image. It works well with foggy images and is actually a good fit when shooting through hockey glass, as well.
A low contrast image of two hockey players, taken through the glass - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
This shot was taken through the glass. The colors are weak and the contrast is very poor. Overall, the image looks dull.
Two hockey players fighting for the puck in the corner of a rink - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
After applying contrast and vibrance, the picture comes back to life! This edit required the following settings: Contrast +45, Shadows +42, Blacks -19, Dehaze +25.

If you’re lucky enough to get the chance to shoot without a pane of glass between you and the players, these contrast sliders will still be an important part of your final edit.

There is no “right” amount of contrast to use; just adjust the sliders to taste and make sure the final image is full and rich.

A hockey player on the bench during a game - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
With no glass between the player and the camera, this shot is clear. It still benefits from some contrast to bring out color and drama, though!
Lightroom settings for a hockey image - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
Adjustments used for the image above.

6. Keep your Whites white

The ice at a hockey rink is white. That means that it should be white in your final image as well. This can be a tricky process, especially since cameras don’t “see” the same way that your eyes do.

If you overexpose an image, the ice might turn into a uniform blob of white. If you underexpose, the ice becomes a murky gray. It’s a delicate balancing act.

An underexposed hockey image where the ice has turned a shade of gray - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
A perfectly timed snap – but the underexposed ice looks terrible!

Once again, shooting in RAW gives you a bit of leeway. With RAW, you can get good results by correcting the exposure by a few stops. With JPEG, a missed exposure could mean that the picture needs to go into the trash.

When editing, you’ll want to pay attention to your histogram and clipping warnings. If the ice is overexposed, it will show as a line right up against the right side of your histogram. Your final image should have bright ice but without clipping, represented in the histogram like this:

The histogram of a hockey picture - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom

The histogram displayed above is typical for a well-exposed hockey photo. The mountain far to the right represents the white of the ice. If it was all the way to the right, we’d start losing detail in the highlights.

A hockey player jumping into the air in celebration after scoring the winning goal - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
After some tweaks to the exposure, the celebration can begin!

In Lightroom, you can adjust the overall exposure with the Exposure slider, or you can target the ice surface more precisely by adjusting the Highlights or Whites sliders.

If you want to use the latter approach, start by adjusting the Whites slider, as this controls the brightest point of the image. Once this is set, you can also adjust the Highlights slider, which affects a range of the brightest tones.

The goal should be to bring out a bit of the texture in the ice made from snow and grooves carved into the surface.

7. Add some local adjustments

Now let’s dig into some of the incredible local adjustment tools in Adobe Lightroom. (Note that local adjustments, unlike global adjustments, are targeted to a specific part of the image, such as the edges, the center, the players’ masks, etc.)

This is the point where your friends will wonder what kind of wizardry you’ve conjured up to make your pictures look so good.

Lightroom’s local adjustment tools are all located in the Masking panel, and they can be used to apply many of Lightroom’s editing sliders to specific portions of your shot.

The Brush tool, for instance, gives you precise control over selected areas of a picture. In other words, you can simply use your cursor to “brush” edits into specific portions of the shot. This is perfect for when you’ve got your whole image to a good point, but there are a few more details that you want to adjust.

In the example below, I can use a Brush to brighten up one of the players, who was a bit too dark in the finished image:

A hockey image with a adjustment brush applied to it - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
The player in black was just a little too dark, even after all my adjustments. Never fear – now’s the time to use a Brush!
Setting for an adjustment brush used on a hockey picture

Above are the settings I applied using my Brush. I’m raising the shadows to make the player brighter, but I’m also adding contrast so that the adjustment doesn’t look unnatural. Here’s the result:

The final hockey image, after an adjustment brush was applied - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
The final image looks much more balanced!

If you’re a hockey photographer in the big leagues, chances are you’ll be shooting at arenas with top-of-the-line lighting. But most of us aren’t there yet. You’re probably more familiar with an old rink that has flickering lights, sections of the ice that are darker, or even the dreaded mixture of color temperatures. Find yourself in this situation and it’s going to take some fancy local editing to save your image.

Linear Gradients, formerly known as Graduated Filters, are fantastic for tackling uneven light or color shifts, as they can be applied to large swathes of the image in a gradual fashion.

The image below stood out for its strong composition and a good view of the players’ faces, but it doesn’t get much worse than the uneven light:

An ice hockey image that is nearly ruined by poor lighting and color casts - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
Ugh! This picture is the perfect example of terrible hockey rink lighting. Is it even possible to save it?
Using a graduated filter to fix the color cast on a hockey picture - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
Fortunately, this shot was taken in RAW. So after applying some exposure and contrast adjustments, we can now use a Linear Gradient to try to fix this mess.

As you can see in the second image displayed above, I’ve applied a Linear Gradient to the bottom portion of the shot. Here are the exact settings that I used to give the bottom of the frame a bump in exposure as well as some heavy white balance corrections:

Settings on the graduated filter of a hockey image

And here’s the final image:

The edited image of hockey players celebrating after a goal - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
Voila – the picture is saved!

Lastly, Lightroom also offers a Radial Gradient, formerly known as the Radial Filter, which can be used to create effects similar to a vignette. This is a useful tool for subtly drawing attention to a certain player.

8. Adjust the colors

Hockey sweaters are typically bright and vibrant with color. However, high ISOs, poor lighting, and dirty glass can often cause those colors to appear faded and drab in your shots.

Fortunately, Lightroom offers Vibrance and Saturation sliders, which can both play an important role in bringing the colors in your images back to life! If you notice that the colors seem underwhelming and not true to life, go ahead and give both those sliders a boost.

Hockey players wearing bright red hockey jerseys - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom

For more precise control over colors, you can also turn to the HSL sliders (located in the Lightroom Color Mixer panel). HSL stands for Hue, Saturation, and Luminance, and these sliders allow you to modify individual colors in your images.

Is the home team wearing yellow? You can make their shirt colors pop by adding a saturation boost via the Yellow Saturation slider. Just be careful not to ruin the balance in the rest of the image!

A hockey player deeking around a defender - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
The settings of an HSL slider in Lightroom for a hockey image
For the image above, I gave the Yellow slider a saturation boost!

If you’re looking for a more advanced application of the HSL sliders, try using them to eliminate unwanted colors from your image.

The image below is a bit too colorful. All the spectators in the back, plus the yellow on the goaltender’s glove, don’t really suit the color palette:

A hockey goalie waiting for the face-off - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
This is an intense shot, but the mishmash of color in this image is a bit distracting.

Fortunately, we can go in and start reducing the saturation of those colors that don’t fit in the image, giving a more professional and cohesive final shot. Here is the edited version:

The final edited image of a hockey goalie waiting for the puck to drop - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
It’s a subtle effect, but now the colors are a bit more controlled, which improves the overall quality of the image.

And here are the exact adjustments that I made:

The adjustments made to the HSL sliders for a hockey image
These settings reduced the saturation on several channels. Note that we aren’t affecting either team’s colors.

The HSL sliders are also an invaluable tool for controlling unwanted color casts in your final image. If you can’t quite seem to find the right white balance and there’s an overly blue or yellow tone lingering in your image, you can always reduce the saturation for that specific color. (This might be necessary when shooting in arenas that have uneven lighting or that use a variety of types of light, as discussed elsewhere in this article!)

9. Add some grit

Hockey isn’t a soft game. Play can get rough and gritty in a hurry – so you might want to add a bit of that gritty flavor in your edit. For this, you can turn to the Clarity slider.

The Clarity slider controls edge contrast. And adding a pinch of Clarity can really help bring out textures and lend a gritty feel to the image. Let me show you what I mean:

A hockey player on the bench, with a pinch of clarity applied - Tips for Editing Hockey Photos in Lightroom
A +10 Clarity boost keeps this picture grounded in reality.
A hockey player on the bench, with clarity heavily applied
Sliding the Clarity up to +85 creates a distinct and gritty style.

Be aware of how stylized you want your image. If you’re trying to edit the image to reflect reality, the Clarity slider should be used in moderation (like with the first edit above). But if you’re looking to let loose and create a bold, loud image, consider using the Clarity slider more heavily (like in the second edit above).

10. Reduce noise and apply sharpening

We’re getting close to the finished product, but we’re not quite there yet; the combination of fast-paced action and high ISO settings means that you’ll need to think about noise reduction and sharpening. Lightroom offers a few powerful tools to do this, all of which are located in the Detail panel.

First, while modern cameras have vastly improved how much grain is produced at high ISOs, you’ll still likely want to add some noise reduction. In Lightroom, you can now just hit the Denoise button, which will use AI to analyze your file and remove noise while preserving details. Alternatively, you can use the Manual Noise Reduction sliders for finer control.

One tip: Don’t panic about the amount of grain while viewing the image at 400% zoom. Some grain is okay – in fact, it will be barely noticeable at all when viewing the picture under normal circumstances.

Also, remember that noise reduction should be beneficial to the image. Too much noise reduction will cause an unnatural smoothing effect, so if you notice that details start to lose definition, then you’ve overdone it.

Sharpening can also be added according to taste. Just remember that oversharpening can make the image look metallic and fake, so try to find the right balance.

Examples of sharpening and noise reduction in a hockey image
This is a tight crop of the finished image. Sharpening is set to +40 and Noise Reduction is +15. There’s still some grain, but it isn’t overly distracting.
Examples of sharpening and noise reduction in a hockey image
Now we move both sharpening and noise reduction sliders to +100. The grain is gone, but all details and texture have been smoothed out of existence.
A hockey goalie exits the bench and goes out onto the ice at the start of the game
The finished image, with +40 Sharpening and +15 Noise Reduction.

Export and share your edited hockey photos!

At this point, your hockey photos should be looking great – free of color casts, compositionally strong, tonally stunning, and featuring beautiful colors.

Now it’s time to hit the Export button and share your shots with the world!

A hockey team celebrates winning the trophy

Maybe you’ve grabbed some awesome shots for a friend or family member, or maybe you’ve set a goal to become a professional photographer for the NHL. Either way, you’re sure to have learned a few more tricks, and you’ll be able to apply that newfound knowledge to the photoshoot you capture and edit!

Good luck!

Now over to you:

How do you plan to edit your hockey photos? Do you have any tips that we missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

The post How to Edit Hockey Photos in Lightroom Like a Pro appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Frank Myrland.

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