How I Edited It: “The Old and New” ~ UAE

The Old and New in Dubai ~ UAE

Since my Lightroom tutorial is one of the most popular posts on my website, I’ve decided to continue and offer some free  “behind the scene glimpse” of my editing process by creating a new section called “How I Edited It”. Hope it will be useful in understanding how you can improve your shots and that there’s nothing bad in post-processing your images since the creative process does not end when the shutter is pressed on your camera (you know what I feel about Purists).

The shot above was taken in Dubai, in the UAE. I was trying to find a good angle to superimpose the old-style traditional buildings in the foreground (which are not old at all) and the self-proclaimed 7-star Burj-Al-Arab hotel in the background.

Since I was with my wife and parents, I didn’t have the leisure to walk around and find the best angle, so I just snapped a few shots from where we were. I wasn’t sure about the final crop which is why I decided to go a little wider and include more of the scene. Here’s the original shot, straight out of the camera (RAW format).

How I Edited it - Original

The shot was taken late afternoon. The sky was a little hazy and the lightwasn’t to harsh on the shot. The foreground was a little underexposed but the main subjects (the buildings) were correctly exposed.

Back home, the first step was importing, cataloging and keywording the shots. Later, after trying a few crops, I decided to remove the foreground and the water from the picture as it didn’t really add much. The final crop was tighter and included only the hotel, the market and some palm trees to give it an exotic feel.

How I Edited It - Crop

I can already hear one of the questions: But what about the rule of thirds? Why is the hotel in the middle of the shot?
Well, the rule of thirds is not really a rule, but more of a guideline, or a suggestion to improve composition. I felt that the hotel being in the middle gave more balance to the whole image so I decided to keep it that way.

Once the cropping was done, it was time to start working on making the photo pop. This is the jpeg conversion of the original RAW file, without any retouching, so it lacks contrast and saturation (another reason why it’s important to process photos, RAW files are ugly files).

My first step was to adjust the Clarity slider. The reason I started with this slider before adjusting the exposure is that clarity adds a little bit of contrast and highlights already, as well as washing out the colors a little bit, so I’d rather start with that and then adjust the exposure/contrast/saturation instead of going back and forth.
I don’t increase the clarity slider by much, since it gives the photo a very grungy look. I usually go between 10 and 30, which is enough in most cases. Here I brought the clarity up to 30.

How I Edited It - Clarity

As you can see, the image looks a little bit “sharper”, with more details in the branches and the buildings. The colors are a little bit washed out too, so I played around with Vibrancy to add back some of the colors. I prefer using Vibrancy instead of Saturation as the latter saturates every color and the buildings start looking a little too orange. I also never increase Vibrancy too much, I went with +21 in here.

How I Edited It - Vibrancy

The photo looks a bit better now but still lacks punch.

Of course, every photographer has his own style. I like to add contrast to my photos so I decided to adjust the curves to my liking to add some contrast on the foreground branches. Most of the time, I avoid using the Contrast slider and prefer playing around with the Curves as it gives much more control. I like to achieve the “S-shaped” curve by decreasing the dark tones and increasing the highlights.

How I Edited It - Curves

Of course, the changes are subtle but you can notice more contrast, especially in the foreground. This is the style that I like, my photos tend to be a little underexposed.

Next I wanted to improve the sky a little bit, so here’s a Lightroom secret that I use all the time: If you want to have more interesting skies with a beautiful dark blue color, don’t use Saturation or Vibrance. Instead, go to the HSL sliders and decrease the Blue Luminance. This will darken skies a little bit. I went for -44 and here’s the result.

The sky looks better and is darker. There might be some noise introduced when you bring down the Luminance slider too much, but since it’s a featureless sky anyway, it’s easy to just remove the noise and not lose details (there aren’t any).

The image is now “normalized”, which means I adjusted the colors, the contrast and the exposure. Next step is to apply the extra “creative layer” to make it look like the way I envisioned it.

This is the fun part, since you get to create the photo you want.

The original shot was taken around sunset, but the sky was hazy and the colors were bland. I really wanted to capture some beautiful and warm sunset colors. So my solution was to add some of the colors during editing to achieve that look.

In order to do that, I used the Split Toning section. I know that Split Toning is for Black and White photos but we just need to think outside the box and try different things.

The way I envision sunsets is a beautiful sky that slowly turns to a purple-ish hue fore going dark. Since it’s also around the Golden Hour, all the colors become a little warmer. So first I adjusted the Highlights color and added a slight purple color. This changed the colors of the sky and the brighter areas. Next I applied a slight orange hue to the Shadows to warm up the darker areas. You really don’t need to go overboard with the sliders. I chose a saturation of +5 for the Highlights and +4 for the Shadows. Here’s what the photo looks like now.

How I Edited It - Split Toning

Quite a dramatic change. Now THIS is what I had in mind when I was thinking about sunset colors.

One last thing I always add in all of my shots is a bit of Vignetting to force the viewer to focus on what I want him to see. I adjusted the Post-Cropping Vignette amount to -10 and here’s the final result.

How I Edited It - Vignetting

Since the edges of the frame are darker, the brain forces the viewer to focus in the center of the shot.

Of course, before exporting, I applied some noise reduction and then sharpened the image. I also added some additional keywords, a title and a caption and voila! Ready to be exported on my HDD and on my cloud storage.

Some people would tell me that the original image doesn’t look like the final one, because I manipulated the colors. To them I reply: “So What? Picasso’s portraits don’t look like the original person at all either”.

Photography is not about copying the world. It’s about the vision of the person behind the viewfinder, combined with his aesthetic sense. Vision and aesthetics result in the interpretation of the scene through the photographer’s mind. So don’t be afraid to edit your photos and apply your aesthetic sense. (Of course, this doesn’t really apply in photojournalism).

Here’s a before/After of the shot.

[beforeafter]How I Edited It - CropHow I Edited It - Vignetting[/beforeafter]


Hope you enjoyed this new tutorial and let me know if you have any suggestions. You can also check out the How I Edited series and other tutorials for more. Don’t hesitate to Share/Pin if you like it!

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Cool articlee.. i do pretty the same thing until the normalise step . I just work on jpeg rather then raw because i didnt see any benefit on it. For sure i will try the other step you speak about. Thanks

Daniel Nahabedian

Thanks Gautier,
There is actually a HUGE advantage when working with RAW files compared to jpeg. Jpeg files are “finalized” files where all the unnecessary information has been discarded. RAW files contain a ton of information that can still be processed. For example, try recovering details in a burned out area. It won’t work well with jpegs but can do wonders with a RAW file. Of course, the disadvantage is that RAW files are huge, but I highly recommend it :)


I can’t believe how much more contrast there is in the edited version.


I love the use of Split Toning.


What do you use for noise reduction?

Daniel Nahabedian

Hey Michael,
I use either Lightroom’s noise reduction (when there’s not too much noise) or I use Dfine 2 from Nik Software when the image is really heavy on noise. It does a good job in keeping some of the texture.


[…] adjust the Vibrance slider (+50) and the Contrast (+20) to really make the colors stand out. In my previous tutorial, I already explained why I prefer the Vibrance slider instead of Saturation slider. Also, I usually […]