One of the most challenging goals we as bloggers, creatives, photographers, and creators ever seek out to accomplish: mastering the art of the bright and airy photos.
No matter how easy or effortless any airy and bright photo ever looks, I can promise you: it wasn’t. So much goes into achieving that creamy, light, pastel, beautifully bright photo you’re dreaming of. Today I am so excited to reveal my own step-by-step process for achieving bright and airy photos that, after several years of trial and error, finally gave me the results I was looking for.
But first things first, let’s get you my FREE BRIGHT AND AIRY PASTEL PRESETS, as these are an essential part to my process! Sign up below, download your presets, and then let’s continue on with my guide:
Now that you have your presets ready (and if you haven’t downloaded presets before, this guide has a great tutorial on how to get them into your mobile app), it’s time to talk about all of the other steps that go into creating a bright and airy photo. Because I have to be honest with you: rarely is a bright and airy photo and one-click-and-done situation, no matter what preset you use.
If you’ve ever downloaded presets and felt disappointed with the results, this guide is for you! Because, I feel you. I’ve downloaded so many presets and have felt let down by the results time and time again. But oftentimes, the problem isn’t the presets; it’s forgoing all of the other steps that are so important for achieving a beautifully bright photo. There is so much more than goes into bright and airy photos, and today’s post is all about those other important steps that come before applying the preset and then after applying the preset.
Creating a Bright and Airy Photo: Before the Preset
Always capture your shots in natural light.
First and foremost, you will never be able to get a beautiful, bright and airy photo if you take your shot at night or with poor lighting. Lighting is so important, and no amount of editing can fix that.
When I’m shooting outdoors (which is almost always!) I love to seek overcast, cloudy or shadowed spots where there is no direct sun. The direct sun will cause harsh shadows that can be a pain while editing, and it takes away that creamy look you are often going for with a bright and airy image. That said, during golden hour (when the sun is rising or setting, and isn’t directly above) you can get some bright sun-flare shots, but normally I stick with overcast settings so I can get that really beautiful, high-quality, smooth shot.
When I’m shooting indoors, I get as close as possible to a window so I can really maximize natural lighting, but sometimes that can be tricky, which leads me to my next point…
If you can’t shoot in natural light, fake it.
I live in a small, studio apartment with less-than-ideal lighting, so believe me when I say: I totally understand bright, natural lighting isn’t always an option. Sometimes, you just have to fake it ’till you make it! I use this ring light and these umbrella lights to help create artificial lighting that can still give you bright and airy photos.
Invest in a nice camera and lens.
All of that said, one of the best decisions I have made for my blog is investing in a nice camera and lens. Nicer cameras typically allow for more lights to enter, resulting in brighter, better quality photos, even if the lighting is a bit darker than you would ideally like. I bought a Canon 6D with a Sigma 35 mm F/1.4 lens, and it has been a game-changer for me in capturing bright and airy photos.
That said, you can definitely get beautiful shots on your iPhone or a less expensive camera, so do not feel like this is an essential step, but it certainly does help. Save up, and make the jump when it’s right for you. I saved up for years before I bought this camera!
Think About the Colors in Your Setting
To create a cohesive aesthetic, it’s important to consider your setting before you shoot. For example, I would never shoot in front of a red or orange building, because my pastel photo aesthetic is grounded in pink, green and blue. I’ve learned the hard way: even if a spot is beautiful and cool, it will become an editing nightmare if you aren’t considering the colors around you. It might be beautiful, but if it isn’t your aesthetic, it won’t look cohesive. I search for neutral backdrops and this helps to naturally keep my aesthetic at the forefront before I even begin editing.
That said, I warn you against becoming feed-obsessed.
I choose my three main colors because I felt like they were the most prominent colors of my life: I can incorporate water, nature, and my favorite fashion colors, plus all the neutrals my heart could desire, without feeling like I turned into a crazy, feed-obsessed person. I want to be able to be out and about and snap a quick shot, without feeling like every photo on my feed needs to come from a styled photoshoot. Having my aesthetic grounded in neutral and pastel colors allows me to do just that. Almost anywhere you go, you can find light neutrals or pastels, especially outdoors! Just keep an eye out. For example, I will choose the spot that has some whites and greens, rather than the red brick wall, or the cool, black building.
Think about your life and how you can reflect it in your aesthetic. Select your base colors, and think about those before snapping a shot, and trust me, your aesthetic will come alive before your eyes.
Creating a Bright and Airy Photo: After the Preset
Apply a preset to help create a cohesive feed.
There are a million bright and airy presets out there, and like I said, I’ve tested out a lot of them. But the problem is, every photo is different. And especially when your goal is to create a photo that is a bright as can be without getting washed out, your editing settings are going to change a LOT based on the lighting in the photo.
After getting your shot using my essential tricks above, apply one of the three free bright and airy pastel presets that you received after signing up above. These three presets are created with three levels of brightness in mind. Toggle between the three to find which one best fits your image, and then, it’s time to move on to the customized editing.
Make your customized corrections to get your bright and airy photos.
I’m all for a one-and-done preset, but like I said, it’s nearly impossible to find a preset that accomplishes that feat when your end goal is a bright and airy photo. That’s because the challenge you are facing is getting as bright as possible without washing out the subject, and this will change pretty drastically depending on the photo.
For a bright, cohesive feed, color correction is also ESSENTIAL, and again, this will change pretty drastically photo-by-photo. So, here are my steps to creating a cohesive feed of bright shots by customizing the preset to each individual shot.
Step one: Adjust your crop and straighten.
A beautifully edited photo will never be wow-worthy without an appropriate crop. It’s easiest to do this first, so you don’t waste time editing parts of a photo that will eventually be cropped out anyways.
Step two: Adjust the light.
Click the “light” button in Lightroom and play around with the toggles from the top down. Since you already applied a preset, these won’t be drastic changes, but slight tweaks can make all of the difference.
Step three: Adjust the color
My favorite part: playing with the color. THIS is the most essential step for creating that cohesive style, even when some photos were taken in warm, indoor lighting, and others are more cool toned from outdoor shots.
First, make adjustments with your white balance. Truthfully, playing with the color of the image is definitely a practice-makes-perfect moment. It’s sometimes hard to notice an image is a bit too warm until you lay it besides another image. So, I like to bounce between my feed and Lightrooom when editing the color to ensure I am making the right adjustments for the overall temperature of the image.
It also helps to pinpoint the white spots of your image and keep a close eye on them as you play with the white balance adjustments. They will show you that your image is getting too cool far before your shade of pink will.
Next, onto my favorite part of the editing process, because it makes such a dramatic difference: the color mix! Click the “Mix” button in Lightroom, and get ready to make your photo pop!
You’ll notice a few key things about my preset color settings:
- The yellow is GONE! That’s what creates this beautiful, bright white that really pops. However, the key is to prevent it from going blue. To balance the lack of yellow, sometimes you have to take out a little bit of blue too, depending on the image, which is why you’ll see the blue knocked down a tad. This will help keep bright spots a pure white, rather than tinted yellow or blue.
- The orange is a but de-saturated and I take down the luminance, just a bit. If you have people in most of your shots, this will help keep the skin from getting washed out.
- I have green, blue and pink in almost every one of my images, but I edit the colors differently depending on how the light hits it. I’ll show you more examples below, but having a few key colors incorporated throughout your feed will help to tie things together cohesively.
Once you pull your photo up, take a look at how the colors work with each other. Play around with the colors to see what works for your own photo.
I like to have a pretty pastel aesthetic, so any color that is too vibrant, I knock down a bit, and often up the luminance.
Also, for any color that is really prominent throughout the image, I like to increase its luminance, as well. For example, if you are sitting on the grass, I’d increase the luminance a tad for green, and this will help brighten up your overall image, without overexposing your subject.
Step four: Brighten up any darker spaces with the brush tool.
Once you get as bright as can be without overexposing the shot, take a look and see if there are any spots of the photo that still stand out to you as too dark. If there are, I like to take the brush tool, and add a touch more exposure. You have to be careful, because there is nothing worse than when you can tell someone just traced around the subject and added some brightness. Follow the natural light of the photo to make sure the brush step is done naturally.
Step five: Export your photo and use any additional apps needed for a few extra tweaks.
Lastly, there are a few other apps I love to use if I need to make any additional tweaks to get the perfect bright and airy photos.
If there is a spot that still looks a bit too dark, and the brush tool didn’t quite do it, Snapseed has a great tool! I love to use these “selective” option, to increase exposure, and decrease contrast, to add some soft, bright light. This tool is amazing because it is incredibly smart at reading the selected area you are trying to edit with a click of a button, and won’t overexpose nearby areas. (Hard to explain, but you’ll see what I mean! Give it a shot.)
If you’re looking to get rid of an outlet or a cord hanging in the background, Snapseed’s “healing” tool is great, and I think works much better than Lightroom’s healing option.
If you’re looking to make an sort of Photoshot-eque change, Face Tune is such a powerful too. Please refrain from using it to slim your waist – it’s not needed! But do use it to adjust or shift parts of your image that might need a tweak – it’s such a powerful tool! It’s also great for smoothing your skin if your edits give your photo a bit of extra grain, or adding extra detail if your exposure tool out some of those touches. Face Tune can really enhance the beauty of your shot that is already there.
And there you have it! That’s my step-by-step method for photographing and editing bright and airy photos that create a cohesive aesthetic. But, I know sometimes the most helpful thing can be examples, so below I’m excited to share some before and after editing examples and how I achieved them.
- Preset: Medium Light
- Desaturate blue
- Desaturate green; add lumination
- Saturate orange; add lumination
- Preset: Bright Light
- Desaturate red; add orange hue
- Reduce green luminance and saturation
- Preset: Bright Light
- Preset: Low Light
- Preset: Medium Light
- Increase orange saturation; decrease luminance
- Preset: Low Light
- Reduce black
- Shift color temperature cooler
- Add orange luminance
- Add green luminance
- Reduce teal saturation
- Reduce purple saturation
- Preset: Bright Light
- Reduce exposure
- Add green luminance; reduce saturation