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Mastering how to edit photos in Lightroom is a must if you want to take your images to the next level. Many professional photographers edit in Lightroom since it’s one of the most popular photo editing software out there.
Learning how to edit photos in Lightroom is a fundamental part of a photographer’s workflow. When post-processing photographs, I always ask myself this question: Why is photography important? I want to make sure that my images communicate to the viewer the same emotion I felt when I took them. Lightroom (today called Lightroom Classic CC) allows you to enhance your images with countless professional tools available.
This article is Part 3 of The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Lightroom
So how to edit your photos in Lightroom?
1. Edit like a pro in Lightroom
Lightroom offers compelling editing functionalities. You can apply a preset with a single click, similar to what you can do on Instagram or having full control of each setting and manually change each one of them one at a time for a more professional and polished look.
As we’ve briefly introduced, the editing phase happens in the Develop module. The develop module is where you will probably spend most of your time when working in Lightroom. From this module, you can adjust pretty much any imaginable setting of your photo.
Lightroom, thanks to its powerful editing features, allows you to apply your style and make your photos look unique. You can be as creative as you want and differentiate your work from other photographers.
Unless you are a visual artist, a good rule of thumb of photo editing is to make your final images look as natural as possible. In the beginning, you’ll be very tempted to over saturate or over contrast your photos, but with time you’ll learn how to recognize when you’ve reached a well-balanced image.
Related article: Lightroom Editing Tips for Golden Hour Photos
The Post Processing Sliders
On the right-hand side, you have the most important set of menus of Lightroom, the Develop Sliders.
Let’s take a look at the develop settings by editing a photo.
I’ll stick to a top to bottom walkthrough in my explanation through the various panels of the post-processing menu. When you edit in Lightroom, you’ll find yourself going back and forth between the menus while adjusting the values.
Also, remember, the way I edit my images is entirely personal.
All types of images share some standard rules. For example, you don’t want too bright or too dark photos.
In general, follow these steps as an introductory guide then find your style and experiment to see what different results you obtain.
I’d be thrilled if you shared your results in the comments below.
Let’s start by going to our Library module and select an image, then back to Develop we see the photograph fitting the middle space area of the screen.
The Basic Panel
Fundamental to learn how to edit photos in Lightroom is the basic panel.
In the develop menu I’ll now jump straight to the Basic panel on the right.
The Basic panel is located right underneath the Histogram. Expanding this menu, you’ll immediately see that the first value you can edit is the White Balance. The real benefit of shooting in RAW is that the file retains all the information needed for you to change these values as if you were changing the settings in your camera.
White Balance. I like to produce a cold look in my photos. So let’s start by bringing down a little bit Temperature and Tint.
Tone. I am now going to bring the exposure up a little (+0.50 stop) even though this image is pretty bright, but this will serve my purpose for later changes. I’ve also added quite a lot of contrast. Moving the contrast slider to the right makes dark parts of the image darker and bright parts of the image brighter.
Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks. At this point, I usually go to adjust the dark and light areas of the photo.
Since I’ve increased my exposure, I’m going to bring down the highlights quite a lot, but I’ll increase the whites a bit to make it more distinguishable. It’s essential to make sure that you don’t overdo this step, you need to keep your image quite balanced, you can keep an eye on the Histogram to have a better idea of what is happening in your photo.
Bringing the blacks down and the shadows up will give me enough contrast and balance in the dark areas.
Clarity affects the transition between dark a light areas. Bringing down clarity will make the image less defined with an almost out-of-focus effect.
In our case, we want well-defined shapes as you usually would for a landscape photo. Bringing the slider to the right will make the forms more defined.
Dehaze. The Dehaze slider is a new arrival in the Presence section. It’s a handy slider since several factors could cause atmospheric haze. Fog or pollution, for example, can affect the look of a landscape photo. With the Dehaze slider as the name says you can reduce this effect and add detail in your image. Again don’t overdo it.
Vibrance. Many of my images end up on social media. Smartphone screens tend to make colors look much brighter than they are. With the vibrance slider, I almost always make colors less intense by shifting it to the left.
Saturation. Similarly to Vibrance, Saturation affects the intensity of colors. The difference is that with the Saturation slider, all the colors in the image are changed, not only the dominant colors. If pushed too much, it will end up adding a color cast to the picture. Again, I tend to shift it to the left just a little bit to desaturate the image.
Tone Curve. This is a fantastic tool that you need to master if you want to learn how to edit photos in Lightroom. Probably it’s my favorite tool. The Tone Curve represents all the tones of your photo.
The X-axis of the curve is the tone axis.
The Y-axis represents the lightness of a given tone.
The X-axis. Tones.
Going from left to right, you have Shadows, Midtones, Highlights. The Midtones are split in Dark Midtones and Light Midtones.
The Y-axis. Tone’s Lightness
By moving the curve down tones get darker, moving it up they get brighter.
As you will see, it’s pretty intuitive to start making changes using the tone curve. If for example, you want to make the image brighter, click on the midtone area and drag the curve up. You will see your image getting brighter as you drag the curve. You can repeat the same action for the Highlights and Shadows until you obtain the desired result.
Lightroom gives you two ways to operate on the Tone Curve. The first one is called Region Curve, and it’s an aided mode that you can use when you’re moving your first steps in Lightroom. The second mode is called Point Curve. You can activate it by press a little square button at the bottom right of the Tone Curve Panel.
The Point Curve mode gives you more control, and you have access to the three colors defining the RGB gamut and choose which one you want to change, Red, Green, or Blue. By default, you will affect all three at the same time.
The Tone Curve is probably the first thing I use when I start my editing. Before jumping into the Basic panel and playing with highlights and shadows, I use the tone curve to get as close as possible to the level of contrast I want to obtain.
By dragging the various points on the curve, you see that we obtained the right level of contrast but at the same time I “muted” the tones a bit to give the image that slightly unreal feeling almost like a memory or a dream.
One thing you will notice is that we obtained a slight “S” curve. It’s is a common way to make your image pop more. All I did to then mute the tones is drag the farthest left-hand point (Shadows) up, and the farthest right-hand side point down (Highlights).
Experiment with different images and find your style.
HSL stands for Hue-Saturation-Luminance. This powerful panel allows you to control different colors of your image independently.
You can brighten or saturate specific colors while leaving others untouched.
Hue is the gradient of color in your image. If you look at the grass, you will say that it’s green, but what shade of green? Is it green or there’s some yellow as well? These variations of color are what we can describe as hue.
Saturation. Intuitively by dragging left or right a slider in the Saturation section, you will make that color more or less intense.
Luminance. Luminance is the reflective brightness of a color. Usually, if I desaturate a color, I try to balance and see how it looks by adding more luminance.
Here are my HSL settings after I’ve edited my photo.
It can seem as the split toning panel is not the most used one. Of all the options you already have to change color, adjust brightness and contrast of an image, you could think that it’s already enough. I use this panel as it gives a way to add two different colors to the highlights and shadows. If you look at the images below, you’ll understand what the split-tone panel does to a photo.
Alright, now let’s see the before and after of the image.
2. Export Your Work
Exporting your edited photos is one of the most crucial steps of post-processing. You’ve organized and edited your images, you’ve created reusable presets. To really learn how to edit photos in Lightroom you have to learn how to “Export”.
Click and select the photo you wish to export (Lightroom can export multiple images at the same time). Then right-click on your mouse or trackpad and select Export > Export…
The Export Dialog will pop up.
Here you can choose:
Export Location. In what destination in your computer or external hard drive you want to export your work. Lightroom makes you choose what you want to do if a file already exists. I leave it to the default “Ask what to do” to avoid unwanted overrides.
File naming. You have several options, as you can see from the menu. It’s totally up to you if you want to rename your files or keep the original name.
File Settings. Are you going to do more work on the image by using Photoshop? You can choose to export your file as a PSD. Or the most common file extension, if you’ve finished your work on this photo, is JPG.
Image Sizing. Here as you’ve already guessed, you can resize your images. If you know the pixel and resolution, you want then choose width & height and type the number of pixels. If you want your JPG to be a bit smaller in terms of file size, you can select percentage and type, let’s say 90% or less depending on the size you want to obtain.
Metadata. Here you can choose if including the details about camera and lens, exposure settings date and time, and so on in your image. By adding these, you will make it available to other photographers, or you can decide to include the Copyright only.
You can save the Export Settings as a Preset for future reuse. This option will save you time in the future. To save your export settings, click the “Add” button on the left-hand side of the Export Dialog, name your preset and voila’, your export preset is now available under “User Presets”. To remove it, select it and click “Remove”.
Lightroom Edit, Final Thoughts
You made it to the end of this guide, congrats. Now it’s time to start editing your photos with Lightroom and take them to the next level.
I hope you enjoyed this guide. Please make sure you share it on your Social Media channels!
If you haven’t already, you can read Part 1 and Part 2 here:
- Part 1: Intro The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Lightroom
- Part 2: Lightroom Catalog Management | How to Organize Your Photos
- And here you can find a tutorial that teaches you how to install Lightroom Presets