Firstly, the photo was taken in my very small, as in very small "studio, office and official cats playground". My access to light is limited due to the angle of the house and being currently in the middle of Summer I get light in the mid afternoon. I try not to use artificial light with natural light because of colour balance but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try.
I'll also add in a badly lit photo just for the fun of it. If you believe in taking a shortcut with photos by thinking you can save it in software then straight out you should rather be in retouching than photography. The reason I'm going to share a badly lit photo and rescue it in software is because there are times when you are faced with terrible lighting. Whether or not you choose to go for a higher ISO or an underexposed photo you will have the problem of noise in both cases.
There is plenty of noise reduction software available like Topaz Labs Denoise but some people may not have the money for that extra software. The Luminance slider in Lightroom does a pretty good job of reducing noise but the more you reduce the more you lose detail.
Anywho, the first photo that was properly exposed according to camera was taken on a tripod to allow for longer exposure due to low light even though I had a fairly wide aperture.
I used a diffuser in front of the window because the light was too hard and I couldn't move the objects further away from the window. The diffuser also spreads the light out a bit wider. The window was at a 90° angle to the camera on my left side with the light coming in behind the camera. A curtain cut off light closer to the table (not intentional). The diffuser was at a 45° angle to the camera behind the camera.
Do excuse my lack of creative drawing skills but this gives you an idea.
Camera: Samsung NX300
Lens: Samsung 30mm
Shutter speed: 1/5
Software: Lightroom 4
Straight out of camera (SOOC)
Technically speaking Lightroom is designed to help your workflow by having you start with the top and work your way down. But in some cases you want to start at another point. Keep an eye on your Histogram. The arrows (when clicked) on either side show when Highlights have been blown or detail has been lost in the Shadows.
The colours of the arrows:
Red, green and blue means those colours are clipped.
White is all of the channel whereas Black is none of the channels (black is what you are aiming for).
Cyan is clipping of green and blue channels where Yellow is red and green channels and Magenta is red and blue channels.
Exposure: -0.71 (the photo was too bright, I wanted a slightly darker look and would add in a "glow" later on)
Contrast: 0 (I prefer to work with Clarity more than Contrast, it's just a personal pref thing)
Highlights: -40 (I usually decrease Highlights if some are blown in the shot)
Whites: 0 (wasn't really needed here and I would be adding a glow to the ball and wanted to keep the surrounding background dark)
Blacks: +24 (to help with clipping shadows a bit)
Vibrance: +12 (this is a better option than using Saturation but be careful of how much you use).
Generally starting off with the above mentioned settings is creating a base for the photo in the same way you prep a canvas. Now I will make specific adjustments.
Next I played with the tone Curve which let me target highlight and shadows areas. Just remember to keep checking your Histogram but here you want a gentle S curve.
As long as you don't lose too much info on your Histogram i.e. blown highlights or lost shadow detail then you are still good. You can get away with some some small lost details.
You can work directly on the curve line, just click to place a point and then move it or click on the small box bottom right and tweak the adjustments from there. Go easy here as the S curve is pretty sensitive.
Under HSL I adjusted the Luminance of the Red and Orange. I like the red colour and didn't want to change the Hue or Saturation.
I added a bit of Split Toning because the image is too warm. I could change the Temp and Tint but Split Toning gives more control as it targets the Highlights and the Shadows which you can change to whatever colour you want.
Not being a huge fan of Sharpening I left this alone as my image didn't need it. However, if you want to get a better idea of the Sharpening feature this will be a good article to read: SLR Lounge
Even with the adjustments the noise level in my photo didn't increase by much but I still upped the Luminance slider to 15 and left the Detail slider at 50. Contrast was upped to 18.
Lens Correction, Effects and Camera Calibration were left alone. I could have added a Vignette but I wanted to control that by rather using the Gradient Tool instead.
Using the Gradient Tool I pulled down a gradient from the top right and top left corners as well as one from the top down. You can see by the 3 three white round circles at the top. I varied the exposures but made all 3 negative e.g. -4.00, -1.56 etc to create a darker background and to remove that edge line you see between the background the "floor".
The 4th darkened gradient on the right hand side is just because I felt like it and the 5th gradient on the bottom left is of positive exposure i.e. lighter as that's the direction my light was coming from.
I then used the Brush Tool, set the size to just a bit bigger than my ball as the Feather was set to 100 so it would feather out nicely. Exposure was 1.24 and Contrast 13. Here you can change the tint or the temp but I left as is. I then clicked once in the middle of the ball. If it was too bright I pulled the Exposure slider down and vice versa.
You can change the adjustment gradient and brushes at any time.
Now if you look at the Histogram you can see clipping on both white and black. Clicking the arrow on the white shows very little detail is lost, only in small areas so that doesn't worry me. On the black clipping arrow a big blue patch shows up on the background.
Don't let this freak you out, it's not a permanent fixture i.e. it won't show up on your finished product it's just there to show you where detail is lost. Since I don't mind losing detail in the background as it's dark I'm also not worried about this. If I were to play with the Blacks and Shadows slider to remove the clipping then the background will no longer be dark.
A problem I may face is that the background might not be completely dark and patches from the original background might show through as splotches. This will also depend at what quality I save the file. For a problem like that I use the Clone tool in PSE to clone out areas that may show through as patches.
I added as a final touch a small glow at the top of the ball with the Brush Tool with an Exposure of 0.32 and Contrast 0.
I could spend time with the Clone and Healing tool removing finer blemishes but that would take time.
I wanted to add words like Happy Holidays but the limit to wording is in Watermarks. You could get creative and make a Watermark in Lightroom but you are limited by where you can place your watermark i.e. you can't move it freely around as you can in Photoshop or GIMP.
I created a simple watermark which is at the bottom of the photo, and added Happy Holidays in Photoshop Elements. GIMP is free so you can use that.
I tried to find a simple explanation of how to create and add watermarks: Watermarks. The font I used is Channel Font.
Quick Edit of low light photo
I'm not going to go through the edit because I just wanted to show that a photo can be "rescued" if too dark but as you can see this will take a lot more work and tweaking plus the noise level from the tweaking is much higher. That means more work on removing the noise, more info that gets stripped from the photo and more loss of contrast.
And that's it. Hope everyone has a relaxing and wonderful holiday plus New Year.