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Mastering Lightroom in 7 Days: Developing Your Photos

This week, let’s go into a little more depth about developing your photos.  At the end, I’ll include a simple workflow to help you work through editing your photos.


Developing Photos in the Basic Panel


The Basic Panel is where I usually start when editing my photos.  Adjustments that you make in the Basic Panel (and all the other panels below it) are global adjustments.  This means that they apply adjustments to the entire photo. Typically, I work down the basic panel one step at a time.  So lets do the same thing here.

White Balance: Before I make ANY edits I always like to have a good White Balance.  The little eye dropper tool is my best friend when it comes to White Balance.  I click on the eye dropper tool and then find a white/gray/neutral area of my photo.  If I am having a difficult time finding a neutral area, I use the whites of the eyes. Hovering over an area with the eye dropper will show you a preview of the White Balance you’d have if you selected there. I sometimes tweak my white balance after using the eye dropper tool using the Temp and Tint sliders.

The option of adjust the white balance using the different white balance settings that came with your camera are available as well.  Use the drop-down menu to the right of “WB” to see your choices.

Exposure: This is where you adjust the exposure of your photo.  To increase the exposure of your photo, click and drag the slider to the right.  To decrease the exposure of your photo, click and drag the slider to the left.

Contrast: This is where you increase or decrease the contrast of your photo.  To increase the contrast, click and drag the slider to the right. To decrease the exposure of your photo, click and drag the slider to the left.

Highlights and Shadows: I am lumping these together because they work hand-in-hand.  To brighten the highlights on your image, click and drag the Highlights slider to the right.  To lessen the brightness of the highlights on your image, click and drag the Highlights slider to the left.  To add a little brightness to the shadows of your image, click and drag the Shadows slider to the right.  To darken the shadows of your image, click and drag the Shadows to the left.  I often use these sliders together by brightening the shadows (dragging the slider to the right) and lessening the highlights (dragging the slider to the left) on images.

Whites and Blacks: If you are familiar with setting a white point and black point in Photoshop, then these will be familiar to you. Alt-drag the Whites slider to the right until you start to see some black spots appearing.  Alt-drag the Blacks slider to the left until you start to see some white spots appearing.  TRUTH: I generally don’t do much with the Whites slider.  I drag the blacks slider to the left to add a little contrast.

Clarity: This tool is a little like smart contrast.  It works by finding edges and sharpening or softening them.  You can add more clarity or less clarity. More clarity looks good on landscape images or images with a lot of texture.  Less clarity looks best on portraits.  My favorite way to use this slider is as a brush.  We will talk about brushes in a minute.

Vibrance: This tool is a little like smart saturation.  It adds saturation but is careful not to add too much to skin tone colors.  Thus, this is a great tool for use with portraits. Increasing Vibrance will give a little color pop to images. Decreasing Vibrance will have the opposite effect.

Saturation: Saturation will increase and decrease saturation across all the colors.  Thus, this works best for landscape images and not portraits.


Developing Photos with Local Adjustments

Once I have worked my way through the Basic Panel, I move on to the Local Adjustment Tools to make local adjustments. Local Adjustments are changes that are made to only a portion of the photo.  The Local Adjustments Panel is located directly above the Basic Panel.


Cropping: This tool crops your photos to any aspect ratio or shape you can imagine. Also allows you to rotate and straighten your photo.

Spot Removal: Use the spot removal tool to remove acne and other small spots from your photo.  You can remove spots of any shape by clicking and dragging over theAlthough Lightroom’s Spot Removal feature has improved much in the last few releases, it isn’t up to removing/fixing large areas yet.

Red Eye Removal: Fix red eye caused by camera flash in this area.

Graduated Filters: Graduated filters apply local adjustments over a large area of an image by dragging and pulling from the edge of your photo towards the center.  Changes are applied more heavily at the outside of the image and gradually taper off.  They are great at applying changes around the edges of your photo, to skies, and areas above and below horizon lines.

NOTE: Each time you apply a Graduated Filter, Radial Filter or Brush, a small Pin (black and white dot) will appear. To delete the effect you’ve applied, highlight the dot and click delete.  A pin is highlighted when there is a small black dot in the middle.

Radial Filters: These are similar to Graduated filters, but they are applied in a circle instead of a line.  Click and drag a circle over an area of your photo and changes are applied to the outside or inside of your circle depending on what you choose.

Brush: This tool allows you to be precise when applying changes.  Adjustments are brushed on to your photo wherever you choose to apply them. Changes can be brushed on to areas as small as they eye or as large as the background.  Brush size can be changed to allow for precise brushing.


Simple Workflow for Editing Images

The longer you use Lightroom the more you will develop your own editing workflow.  This is my workflow when not using Lightroom Presets. Everyone’s editing workflow will be slightly different and your’s may be slightly different from what I list here.  That’s okay. Next week we will discuss editing with Pretty Presets Lightroom Presets and Brushes in depth and I will show you my workflow using presets then. HINT: You can work so much faster with Presets and Brushes!

  1. Adjust White Balance and make other global adjustments using the Basic Panel.
  2. Make any spot removal adjustments necessary (i.e. acne, flaky skin, minor background issues.)
  3. Use Brushes, Graduated Filters, and Radial filters to make adjustments to images.
  4. Apply final global changes using the other Panels in the Develop Module including vignettes (Effects Panel), Additional Contrast (Tone Curve Panel), and Reducing Noise (Detail Panel.)


Happy Developing in Lightroom!

Don't Miss the Other Installments in this Series!

1. Mastering Lightroom in 7 Days: The Catalog

2. Mastering Lightroom in 7 Days: Importing

3. Mastering Lightroom in 7 Days: The Library Module

4. Mastering Lightroom in 7 Days: The Develop Module

5. Mastering Lightroom in 7 Days: Developing Your Photos

6. Mastering Lightroom in 7 Days: Developing Photos With Presets

7. Mastering Lightroom in 7 Days: Exporting and Everything Else

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