Adobe Lightroom: You Can Put Lipstick on a Pig!

As you already know, we don’t do reviews of products we haven’t really enjoyed and would continue to use and enjoy in the future. When we were contacted to give Adobe Lightroom a whirl we were excited to use a product we never considered purchasing but had heard was an excellent tool. Once our excitement subsided, the reality hit that we may have been chosen to test it out because our food pictures were not really up to snuff and, in a nice way, we were being told, “Maybe Lightroom can help?”. Yes, our photography skills have come very far from the early days of such beautiful and well-lit/well-plated pictures such as this, this (the chip in the plate really brings out the vibrancy of this dish) and this beauty but we still have a long way to go. Let’s be honest – we used to suck majorly when it came to photography. Once we discovered that instead of using our $8 IKEA lamp to illuminate our photos we could, or should , use something called a Photographer’s Light Kit things began to improve a bit. Along with lighting, we began paying attention to plating and using light colored plates to make the food pop. Yet, even with these things, we still aren’t up to the photo-quality level as many other food blogs. I’m totally not crying into my bowl of Ecuadorian Ceviche (shameless plug) but I have always wondered, what the hizzel are they doing that we’re not?

And then we discovered the answer (at least part of the answer) – LIGHTROOM!

It may be widely known in the food blog “world” that Adobe Lightroom and/or Photoshop is a must-have in order to produce the most professional looking pictures. If it is, we have obviously been living in a cave. Ok, we have. It’s called a dimly lit apartment in Brooklyn. It’s like a cave but much, much more expensive. The main difference between Photoshop and Lightroom is, to me, Lightroom is more suited to the photo (or food) blogger. Someone who doesn’t need to create or distort images (like making Cindy Crawford’s mole disappear) but one who wants to make an image better (like that dreamy Tuscan tree picture above).

Today’s post is not about giving you a tutorial on how to use Lightroom. Why? Because I am still learning how to use it. Although it’s not difficult to learn, I still only have above basic knowledge. Even with this basic knowledge, look what I’ve been able to do! Not saying these pics will make it into a food magazine (or even those super-picky food picture sites we’re all desperately trying to get on) but I think they look better than they did before!.

Many of us have been using Flickr’s photo-help application Picnik which, sadly, is “closing” April 19, 2012. Lightroom is far better than anything available on the web for free (or even something that is cheap) – this is the perfect time to invest in Adobe Lightroom.

EXHIBIT A: The ugly colors of this Tuna Tonnato – a dish that is actually delicious but its “sauce” already may turn people off. To help convince people to eat this dish, we definitely needed to make this picture better and take it out of having a 1970’s “beige” kodak moment (not that there’s anything wrong with that – in fact, Lightroom has a way to make any picture look 1970’s with the click of a mouse!)

Tonno Tonnato (Tuna with Tuna Sauce)

tuna tonnato AFTER.jpg

As you can see, not only did we lighten and sharpen the image, we were also able to specifically bring out some of the more important colors – namely, the green of the dandelions. One thing I really like about Lightroom is the ability to increase or decrease a specific colors. It’s amazing how you can make certain things pop that just didn’t pop when taking the picture.

EXHIBIT B: An old food pic we once believed was AWESOME – it wasn’t, but the dish was (but it was our first real strong attempt at plating). Fried (yes, fried) Lamb Chops with Balsamic Reduction.

Fried Lamb Chops with Reduced Balsamic and Rosemary Sauce and Grilled Polenta w/ Broccoli di Rape

Fried Lambchops.jpg

We did kind of “over sharpen” the Lightroom picture. It gives it a bit of a “painting-like” quality. I kinda like it, although the lemon has a sort of anemic quality now. You may not. And that is ok. I also was able to lighten in without compromising the clarity and, again, attempt to make some of the other colors pop a bit more.

EXHIBIT C: This well-thought out plating of an excellent Canary-Islands dish, Papas Arrugadas with two dipping sauces, needed help. We meant well with those clear bowls.

Papas Arrugadas with Mojo Rojo and Mojo Picon ORIG


So, back to those clear bowls used to hold those fabulous sauces. Did you notice the shadow the bowls created on the plate? The clear bowls were the main culprit there (plus our crappy lighting job). Lightroom fixed it with a cool feature called the Adjustment Brush. Using this allowed me to paint over the problem area and then lighten it to match the plate color. Very, very cool.

EXHIBIT D: An ok picture of that all-useful egg (creates food porn in an instant!) on top of a mortadella Spuma-shmeared baguette. Ahhh, memories. That dish really kicked some ass – gotta make this oldie but goodie again.

spuma egg ORIG


This picture was an attempt to do something different. Although removing part of the white dish is not perfect, it does give you an idea of what Lightroom can do. If I spent a bit of additional time, it could have looked much better, but, I do think the dish pops out more for erasing part of that white plate. You may also notice that I removed that red dot of hot sauce at the bottom right of the plate. Using the Spot Remover tool on Lightroom, it was super easy.

EXHIBIT E: My sweet old Grandma Anna’s Escarole Soup that just looked a bit more like “WTF is that?”.

Italian Wedding Soup (Escarole Soup) before

Escarole Soup AFTER

Lightroom allowed me to make this picture represent the dish for what it actually looked like!

EXHIBIT F: Travel pictures need some help too! This is one of my favorites that we took during our summer trip to the Cotswolds, UK.

Lavendar Fields, England


I couldn’t believe how easy it was to transform this dull picture into a vibrant one! In fact, what Lightroom seemed to do for me was bring the picture closer to what I actually viewed with my own eyes! I remember being so disappointed I couldn’t figure out the right setting on our camera while at this beautiful spot in the Cotswolds, England. But with Lightroom, who cares. It actually looks better than what I saw in person!

So, you may be wondering what the hell was the point of those beautifully washed out, almost turn-of-the-century photograph-looking picture of the Tuscan trees at the the top of the post. Well, the coolest, absolutely coolest Lightroom feature I found were these things called “Presets”. With the click of the mouse you can turn any photo into 52 different preset color settings (or black and white). Some are very cool, like the one I used in the once vibrant Tuscan tree picture (Aged Photo preset) or that 1970’s photo preset (Bleach Bypass for more of a 70’s feel or Yesteryear fore more of a 60’s feel). I really hope you consider purchasing Lightroom whether you have a food blog or don’t – the possibilities are endless.

14 thoughts on “Adobe Lightroom: You Can Put Lipstick on a Pig!

  1. You have me interested. I have the big old photoshop that I’ve used for years. When I was getting the new version I thought about lightroom but was told that photoshop was bigger and better and to stick with it… now I wonder… love the preset function! I go through all kinds of hoops to get there.

    Thanks for the cool examples.

  2. This is a nice comment I received via email from a family member:

    Loved this, the pictures look great — well, “great-er” cause I thought they looked pretty good to begin with!

    This blog also brought me to this old 2008 post (You Don’t Have To Be Italian or at a Wedding To Enjoy This: Italian Wedding Soup (or Escarole Soup) that I had never seen before. Such wonderful memories of your grandmother! It specifically made me remember the time that we stayed in Avalon with Aunt Anna & Claire & Frank Sr (none of the Seps were there). Frank was only there part of the time (yeah, I know, it was not such a bright idea to have 3 little kids with me AND the elder family members!!). Your grandmother literally yelled at the girls for trying to clear and wash dishes. And it was a very warm summer but your grandmother had those gloves on!
    Anyway, thanks for the memories! That was a beautiful post and a very nice tribute to her.


  3. Great improvement–although I don’t find the ‘old’ pics that bad, either—I really enjoyed going through your Photography section a while ago–there are some top notch pics in there.

  4. p.s. sorry–but I really prefer the ‘Before’ on the lamb chops–esp. the lemon, but the crust looks really crisp and good!

    1. Deb – I agree w/ you – the before is a bit better, but I kinda like the painted lamb chop thing too. maybe not as tasty looking!

  5. I want more! A couple of months ago, I switched over to Lightroom but went by the seat of my pants…with little to no instruction. That turned into a lot of frustration. I love the editing capabilities but have had difficulties grasping the organization aspect. I just signed up for an online course on and the fog is beginning to lift…slowly. There’s much to learn, but I’m excited to take my photos to the next level. I hope you continue to share your experience.

    1. Hey, Joan! I TOTALLY agree with the organization aspect – I’m still trying to understand many things as well – I highly recommend their forums on adobe as well as the tutorials. It’s definitely a help! I hope you teach me a few things after your online course! thanks for your comment.

  6. J&A–just discovered some pretty excellent (in my opinion) writing on Food plus good stories/essays—you must read millions, but try just one and maybe you’ll like it too….

  7. A cave but more expensive??? Hahaha, you made me laugh here!!!! 😀
    Thanks for the photography tips. I used to use photoshop and/or picasa and now that I have a Mac (Yes, I know I’m so fortunate :D) I use the Iphoto.
    But I’m also lucky to have natural light (my kitchen is near the cave’s entrance) and THAT IS WHAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE :D.

    1. Hi, Jill! I know, it takes some time to learn and the key is to start trying to plate better, but Lightroom REALLY helps the pictures. Let me know if you play around w/ it! Also, check back here soon b/c we may be offering a free copy to be won by a reader!

  8. Cool post. I had no idea that this type of software existed for “enhancing” photos to this degree. I thought I was pretty hip for knowing how to eliminate red-eyes and wrinkles using my iPhoto! Can’t wait to see what you going to do down the road! Happy snapping!

  9. @Jensenly: nice to hear from you again, Jen! We actually just received a review copy of a food photography book that, fingers-crossed, may help us take better shots initially, that require less editing in Lightroom.

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