Many stock images have a clean look that make us recognize them as such: apart from a slightly cliched motive, I would list:

  • slightly oversaturated colors
  • lots of light - depth is mostly conveyed by a small depth of field and not by change in light
  • soft shadows

Some examples:

I believe these looks come from heavy post processing. I'd be curious about how to create the look in Lightroom, but also what to look for while taking the photos.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think your list goes in the right direction. Plenty of lighting and reflection screens and wide aperture (DoF) creates whose effects "in camera". I think they are emphasized in post, not created there. Also note the relative limited amount of different colors. Lots of white and blue tones that are easy to the eye. \$\endgroup\$
    – agtoever
    Nov 7, 2015 at 14:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't say these come from "heavy" post-processing. Not much post stands out other than a contrast curve, and maybe bit of a warm pink tint in the latter two examples. The contrast is rather punchy. But much of what makes up this "look" needs to come from lighting rather than in post. Even though the lighting in the first image "looks" natural I'd say these all have a fairly complex flash setup. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2015 at 23:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ The same photographer has more such images. Because I doubt that each of them has an extensive lightning setup, I was assuming that a lot is done in post processing. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 9, 2015 at 7:44

2 Answers 2


In my opinion we have 2 steps here.

The second step: Post processing

I'm starting with the second one. The post processing. It is not that heavy at all.

I am not using lightroom on this example but it is the same for diferent aplications. Play with the levels.

1) I aumented the gamma (which is a very specific kind of curve) to arround 2-2.3. (probably in my example it is a little overdone)

Adjust the black level accordingly.

2) Crop the white point. This will pop an extra brightness but also will saturate your photo.

3) You can saturate a bit more your photo. (I did not saturate them in this cases, because I am showing the diference on the histogram when alpplying the steps 1 and 2)

And the first step

Take a good picture from start!

In this example the first photo has a nice diffused light, and in the second one you can see that they used a hard flash that projects some bad shadows. The bright look can be achived, but a pleasent diffused light makes all the diference.

Some tips on taking the pictures

  • Take advantage of the existing ambient light when possible. Big windows specially.

  • Bounce your flashes on the white celling, or walls. Note that I mentioned flashes. For a studio photo (or on location one) you normally need several fhashes depending on the kind of photo you need, close ups or wide shoots.

  • Iluminate your subjects, but also your backgrounds. Depending on the situation this can be difficult, because sometimes on a wide background you can see hotspots everywere. This is why you need to take advantage of ambient light as much as you can.

  • Use a wide aperture lens. This photos normally have a shallow DOF, because the nice bokeh, but also because... they are using some nice ambient light. If you are using flashes this helps because you can place your flashes further away, and make a more uniform light.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. I believe @agtoever's observation in the comment below the question is correct. The examples I provided have a cool tint of blue and green that adds to the clean look. I also believe that other prominent colours were selectively saturated to avoid saturating skin tones. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2015 at 9:43
  • Good light. Rafael's answer covers this very well. With regard to photos taken in less than ideal light you will find your options in processing much more limited. As the old saying goes, "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still just a pig."

  • Correct exposure. With negative film we exposed for the shadows to get enough density. With digital we expose for the highlights. This allows us to capture as many details as possible in both the highlights and shadows without blowing out the highlights and losing both detail and color. It should go without saying that saving your files in raw format expands the dynamic range that you can record from a scene. Sometimes you will need this expanded DR, but if your scene is properly lit then you've already eliminated the extremely dark and bright areas and the overall scene is more evenly lit. Still save your files in raw format. A potential licensee may love the composition but need different colors to match or complement their company's logo. This is much easier to work with using a raw file than a jpeg.

  • Correct Focus. No one buys a blurry picture. When possible don't depend solely on the camera's auto focus. Use Live view or focus peaking if your camera includes these features to focus manually when possible. With portraits the subject's eye nearest the camera should normally be the most in focus thing in the entire frame.

  • Stable Platform You may think it is a big hassle, but for the absolute best results there is no substitute for putting the camera on a stable tripod or other mounting platform. Even with shutter speeds in the 1/100-1/1000 second it can make a difference. If your shutter speeds are in the 1/80 second to 1 second range (not very likely for portraits, but not totally out of the question either), then use mirror lockup and a cable release to eliminate internal camera vibrations. It really does make a difference!


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