The Complete Guide to Adobe Lightroom Processing

Manual focus lenses became Automatic and now motion-tracking devices. Images are captured, manipulated and shared with millions of people around the globe. All this at the click of a button.

Photographically, the analogue world only had access to film. This had to be worked and processed in a dark room. First by developing the film, and then by enlarging the negatives onto photosensitive paper.

There were very simple and basic ways to edit and manipulate areas due to over or under exposure. These methods called dodging and burning allowed the printer, limited, control over images.

All of this gave way in the digital age, where digital cameras required a new workflow. Image manipulation software such as Adobe Lightroom took over from the laborious techniques of the former times.

These programs allowed photographers and printers to work fast, efficiently and most importantly; instantly.

In short, film cameras turned into DSLRs. Gelatin covered silver upon a plastic base turned into microchip sensors. And darkrooms turned into Adobe Lightroom.

Our complete guide will take you through all the tutorial and tips that you need to master editing your photos in Adobe Lightroom.

What is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom?

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is basically a photographic editing software package, that can also act as a library for your images. It is a great tool for organising images into folders and collections, for easy accessibility.

Its no-nonsense layout focuses on substance over style and allows you to do 90% of your photographic manipulation quickly and efficiently.

By using a handy copy/paste method, you can change the look of hundreds of images at the click of a button. Also, presets are available for specific ways to stylise your photographs. All of these benefits make Adobe Lightroom the popular choice for image editing.

Why We Recommend Lightroom Vs Alternatives

Capture One vs. Adobe Lightroom

The biggest competitor to Lightroom would be Capture One. Photoshop wouldn’t qualify as competition, as they are different programs made by the same company.

Capture One comes from a company who specialises in medium format photography and first released around the same time as Lightroom (2006). Both programs are created to house and organise RAW files, and then subsequently manipulate the images in non-destructive manners.

The differences start appearing in the fine-tuning of the images, one area being colour management. Lightroom uses HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) sliders but Capture One goes further by allowing colours to be changed in shadows, highlights and mid tones.

But Capture One has been described as finicky and too powerful to be used as fast as the alternative, Lightroom.

This article runs through all the benefits and drawbacks of both software packages and shows you why Lightroom is the more popular and cheapest option.

Capture One Vs. Adobe Lightroom

Best Alternatives to Lightroom – RawTherapee | Capture One | DxO | Darktable

There are many alternatives to Lightroom as a RAW converter, as an image management tool and manipulation software package. Here, we shall only compare programs that encompass all of these things, just like Lightroom.

Whatever your reason for not using Lightroom, be it the outright cost or the monthly subscription process, or just being used something different, there are alternatives.

For many years, Apple’s Aperture was Lightroom’s biggest competitor. Apple since then has decided to gut the program and create Photos. So what are other companies doing? There are three, strong alternatives recommended by many different photographers; On1 Photo RAW, Luminar and Darktable.

As this article suggests in great depth, One1 Photo RAW is a complete photo workflow solution. Luminar is great at processing but only lets you work with one image at a time. Darktable is a free and open source program, which is a great tool for people with a lot of photographs but no budget.

Luminar as an alternative to Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom vs. Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop are, as you can tell, from the same company. Lightroom even has Adobe Photoshop in its name, which should tell you a few things.

Photoshop has been the powerhouse of all digital editing since the 1990s. It can do anything, and because of this, it has a steep learning curve and can be confusing. It not only covers photography but anything graphic related. All types of visually creative work go very well with the Photoshop interface.

Lightroom, in this case, is the younger sibling. It maintains professional processing tools but adds speed to the mix. With LR, you can work fast, applying changes to hundreds, if not thousands of images.

Lightroom meets most photographers’ needs, and 9 out of 10 use it for all editing needs. The 10% who need more would use both, by editing in LR and then exporting to PS.

Photoshop is best seen as an image editing device while Lightroom as an image management tool.

Is Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom better software for editing?

Where to Buy Adobe Lightroom

The great thing about Adobe is that it offers 30-day trials. free of charge. Everything is available on their website, through their pay-monthly creative cloud system. Or you can prepay for a year on Amazon here.

There are a few plans to choose from for photographers. Either opt for Lightroom CC (classic) and 1TB of cloud storage for $9,99, or for the same cost you can trade in the 1TB for 20GB and receive both current versions of Lightroom and Photoshop too.

How to get a free Adobe Lightroom Trial

File Management in Lightroom

The file management system in Lightroom is very simple to use. After some time playing around in the Library module, you will feel right at home.

Importing, moving and organising your photographs using a no-nonsense platform is a blessing. Folders and images can be imported at a click of a button, and then moved using the drag-and-drop method.

Collections and keywords are very handy. Each image can be assigned multiple words connecting them all. These can be found later alongside other images in the same vein. Similarly, with collections, you can create folders with specific tasks. These can isolate all your best images from those trips to Iceland, found across many folders.

Everything is saved in what is called a Catalog. This is where all the information on your editing is saved. Lightroom creates a default Catalog that it loads from each time. This allows you to create others to divide different workflows or subject matters.

How to Import Photos in Lightroom

Importing photographs into Lightroom can be done a few different ways. First, there is File>Import Photos and Video (or Ctrl + Shift + I). Both of these take you to the import page where you add the photographs to your Catalog.

If you have Show import dialog when a memory card is inserted selected in preferences, then the import screen will open automatically.

Another lesser-known way would be to create a folder on your Hard Drive that you will use only with Lightroom. This can be set up to automatically import images that are placed here.

This option can be found at File>Auto Import. This can be handy for your workflow. But this folder will not automatically import folders – only images.

For a few other ways to import images, have a look at this extensive article on what you should think about when importing.

Importing images into Adobe Lightroom

How to Organise Photos in Lightroom

How you organise all your photos, in general, could denote how you should organise them in Lightroom. What works for me, is to separate all my images into folders on an external hard drive.

These folders are all dated and named, in that order. An example would be 2018.02.02 -Budapest Parliament. I find this works best for me as they are all in order of date, and tells me what is in each folder.

These folders are imported into Lightroom, which keeps the titles, so I know where everything is. They are all located on the left of the Library Module and can be found very quickly.

This also helps when it comes to adding keywords, which is a great tool for organising and searching images of the same theme. Doing all this keeps all my images uncluttered so I don’t waste time.

You could effectively throw all your images in one folder on your desktop, and import that. From there, you could add folders, colours, tags, flags and ratings to separate them. The Library and organisation are very versatile and the system comes down to you and how you want it.

This article runs through what you might benefit from and gives you tips along the way.

Organising your images into folders in Adobe Lightroom can provide a huge bonus to work efficiency

Understanding the Lightroom Catalog

If you are familiar with computer software, the Lightroom catalog is an SQLite database. If not, it’s not a prerequisite.

The database part is important as it basically states that your library of images is just like a physical library full of books. Each book relates to a card with information on it.

This is how the Lightroom organisational system works. Everything is accessible through tags, keywords and even searchable file or folder names. The catalog is a collection of all these card or photographs.

Other catalogs can be created, but these should be limited to a few situations. The speed of the program shouldn’t be affected by hundreds of catalogs that you have in one place.

Having all your images in one place is a bigger benefit than having many catalogs with a few files on each.

You might want to separate work photographs from your family snaps. So having two different workflows would make sense.

Other tips and information can be seen in this article and will help you understand the catalog in minutes.

Locating images on a hard drive in Lightroom

Creating Collections in Lightroom

Collections in Lightroom is a great way to keep your photographs neat and tidy. I personally use them when finalising a project I have been working on. After editing the photographs down to an idea number (15 for live concerts), I tag them using a green label. When I create a collection, I go for the smart version.

This allows me to tell the collection to look into this folder, and only show those with a green label. This makes it easy to delete the ones I no longer want and find these images again if need be.

This article is a step by step guide to creating collections and how your workflow can benefit from them.

Creating collections in Adobe Lightroom

Mastering the Lightroom Workflow

Lightroom’s recent versions have 7 different modules:

  • Library – You can organise all your images, add keywords and metadata. You can also organise folders and create collections, quickly add presets or share to your favourite sites.
  • Develop – Here you’ll do most of your processing. You have two viewing modes, loupe or before/after.
  • Map – If your photographs already have GPS information, they will add themselves to the applicable areas on the map. Otherwise, you can drag and drop them wherever you’d like.
  • Book – This allows you to design and create a book layout. Drag and drop images from your collections and folders, working from cover to cover.
  • Slideshow – You can turn your images into presentations. There are layout ideas, overlays and backgrounds that can be applied. Also, music can be added alongside fading and timing of your project.
  • Print – This gives you presets and layouts to quickly manage your photographs for printing. Resolution, media types and colour management can all be defined here and sent to a printing business, without leaving your chair.
  • Web – Here, you can work on images exclusively for the web. There are templates and presets that you can use to create an attractive gallery for your website. The information can then be exported and dropped into your server to create the same style on your site.


Managing your workflow in Adobe Lightroom

Lightroom is great at so many things, yet, you won’t need all the tools all of the time. It is possible to hide panels so that you can see the image better and focus more on it. This is especially handy on a laptop, where the image can be overshadowed by tools and panels you won’t use anytime soon.

Another great tip is changing the overlays when cropping images. The standard cropping tool shows you a grid, which is handy for straight lines like horizons. But by pressing ‘O’ on the keyboard while in the cropping area, you can cycle through presets, such as the golden ratio or diagonal lines instead.

Using a repeated image of a man to show different crop overlays in Lightroom


Handy Shortcuts to Help with the Lightroom Workflow

Everyone has their own workflow method. After photographing a live band, I already know what my final outcome should look like. I want to finish with more or less 15 images, from a mixture of close-ups and wide shots.

In order to get that, I might take 200 photographs of the band in all sorts of ways, using a few different lenses and perspectives.

When I’m editing, I usually go through the images, quickly picking the ones I like. I’ll then look at them closer after the initial pre-edit.

The only way I can do this quickly and efficiently is by using keyboard shortcuts. Starting from the first image, using the loupe viewing mode, I press the right arrow key to go through all the images from that shoot. As I go along, I use numbers ‘8’ and ‘9’ to give me a green and yellow tag. If I see an image that I really like or want to use, I will press ‘5’ to give the image a 5-star rating.

When I get to the end, I can filter all of the things I have applied. Green for keep, yellow for good but not the best and 5-stars for exceptional. After this pre-edit, I can further edit down the images I have selected, which could be 30 out of the initial 200.

I do this by taking away the applied tag. When I have the images I want, I can then easily delete the images with no tag. This will be around at 170 images, leaving 30 images to keep.

This article gives you all of the possible keyboard shortcuts you might use in your day-to-day editing.

A photograph showing that keyboard shortcuts can maximise efficiency in Adobe Lightroom

The Develop Module

The develop module is the area where most of the editing magic happens. Here you can do small, local adjustments such as increasing exposure or correcting the light balance. Or you can do something a little heavier, such as applying masks to increase the hue of a specific area. Here, we will go through many adjustments we can do in this module.

Contrast and Tone 

Under the develop module, on the right-hand side, you will find the Tone sliders. This is the local adjustment panel that you will use the most, as they will cover 75% of what you need in your images. The standard tone sliders are Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks.

The exposure slider is used to add or subtract light, the contrast changes the tonal range and helps things stand out a little more. Highlights bring down the exposure of the lightest areas without affecting the whole image. Shadows help to make the darker areas darker or lighter to push away unwanted detail or make it more visible. The white and black sliders help to create pure white and black areas in your image, to naturalise your image better.

Here is an in-depth account of what these local adjustments do and what you can use them for, to get the best out of your images.

Using an image of a doorway to show how local adjustments can help you get the best from your image

How to Work With the Colour Temperature

When it comes to photographing a subject, your DSLR camera sees and processes everything in RGB; Red, Green and Blue. It also only works with reflected light from a subject, which can have dramatic effects on the colour of your subject or image. You might find that you will have to tweak the white balance to make the white areas a little bit more natural and real.

Also, you might find that the colour of the photographed objects is either a little too colourful or not colourful enough. These things can be changed by using the HSL sliders or the Vibrance part of the editing panel. As this article suggests, there are many ways that the colour can be changed to help normalise or add a kick to your images.

Using a split photograph of chairs to explain different colour temperatures and white balance

How to Crop and Straighten Images

Cropping images can help with your composition by removing and cutting out distracting areas of your photographs. This also allows you to ‘zoom’ into a photograph and make a subject more prominent. The crop tool in Lightroom can be accessed in the ‘basic’ area of the develop module, or by pressing ‘R’. This tool is also great for straightening images that might have been photographed off-kilter.

This is a very useful tool and one you will find yourself going to again and again.

Showing The Golden Gate Bridge and how to use the crop tool to straighten images

Using Brushes and Masks

We have looked at making local adjustments to whole images, but what if you want to change a small part or a single subject from an image. This is where brushes and masks come into play. With brushes, you can select areas that need some adjusting, and change accordingly. These areas could benefit from adding exposure or bringing down the colour to make it less distracting.

There are many possibilities, from using graduated or radial filters. You can basically use any of the tools (and more) found in the develop panel on the right, but applicable only to specific areas of your images. These can also be copied and pasted to other images that have the same problem, which really cuts down on editing time.

Using an image of leaves to show how masks and brushes work in Lightroom

Red-Eye Removal

Nothing is easier to remove in Lightroom than red eyes. It even has its own specific area in the Basic part of the develop panel.

In the event of red eyes, which usually come from direct flash and are the reflection of blood vessels in your subject’s eyes, Lightroom is here to help. Select the red-eye correction tool, drag the area over the eye and then release.

This is solved automatically, but a little tweaking might be needed. In this case, drag the selector to make it bigger, to cover the whole area.

Showing how to correct red-eye using red-eye corrections using Lightroom

How to Correct Exposure

You might not need to be a lighting specialist or photographic professional to achieve a perfect exposure. Your camera can get very close, but sometimes, your image will benefit from a little tweaking in Lightroom. Either the whole image might need adjusting or a specific area.

Lightroom has an ‘auto’ button in the basic panel in the develop module. This might adjust a few other things, such as ‘contrast’ and ‘whites’.  You can also just move the ‘exposure’ slider by clicking and dragging it left or right until you feel happy with the result.

This can also be done by moving the ‘whites, blacks, highlights and shadows’ sliders to focus on specific areas of your image. The exposure might seem darker because the shadows are a little underexposed, for example. This article helps you understand what to look for and how to make the changes.

Using a landscape image to show correct exposure value

Working with Colour Using HSL Sliders

Within digital photography, there are two areas where colour is very important. First when you take the photograph, and second when you come to process the photo. Both have different ways of dealing with these colours, either in-camera or during post-processing.

In Lightroom, the colour can be changed in a few different ways. Firstly, before changing anything else, make sure you are happy with the white balance, either manually or by setting it to auto and tweaking the result.

The Hue gives you the opportunity to replace entire colours in the image, leaving other colours untouched.

Saturation focuses on the strength of the colour, either by making the main colours stronger or the surrounding colours weaker.

Luminance deals with the brightness of a colour, either muting it or making it stand out more.

Have a play around with an image or two to get used to how they work, and what the areas affect and change.

Showing the HSL sliders in Lightroom

Getting the Most Out of Shadows

If highlights are the brightest points in an image, the shadows are the darkest. These shadowy areas don’t have to be dark, black holes for your eyes to fall into. They can house some detail. The ‘blacks’ filter deals with the darkest areas of the photograph too, but in a stronger way than the shadow slider.

Using this tool you can add or subtract exposure and therefore detail in these areas. This helps to make them more defined while giving a more professional look. Plus, the shadow might have a beautiful texture or design to it that adds value to the image.

Showing the use of strong shadows with an image of a cyclist entering a slice of light

What is Presence?

The presence panel can be found at the bottom of the ‘basic’ area in the develop module. This area covers ‘Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation’.

Clarity is basically a contrast tool, but for mid-tones. This is great for adding a punch to your image without making it look unnatural. Vibrance and Saturation make the colours more or less powerful. This helps create overall balance in your photo.

This article tells you in greater depth when to use Vibrance and Saturation and what effect they will have on your photographs.

Using a photograph of an iceberg to show the before and after clarity effect in Lightroom

How to Use the Tone Curve

The tone curve represents the tonal range in your photograph. The bottom left corner deals with shadows, the top right corner with highlights, and the mid tones are in the middle. These mid tones are split further into light and dark areas. These are easy to adjust, you just need to know what you want to change.

For example, if you want to make the mid tones darker,  just click on the middle portion of the Tone Curve and gently drag it downwards. You will see the image change as you do so.

For more tips and guidelines for using this tool, have a look at this in-depth article.

Using the tone curve in Lightroom

Correcting Lens Distortion in Lightroom

Distortion is a common problem in photography. Wide angle lenses are especially prominent with distortion.  Even your perspective, either being low and shooting upwards or the other way around, can create some deformation of the subject. Luckily, Lightroom has a specific tool that can fix these problems.

The lens correction area of the right-hand panel in the develop module is the place you need to navigate to. This correction can be done automatically if the lens you are using has a profile created for it. If not, you can choose to correct the imperfection manually.

Our article gives you all of the tips, and examples, you need to understand how to correct lens distortion. If you want to know what lens distortion is, we have an article for that too.

Using a building to show distortion in lenses

How to Remove Chromatic Aberration in Lightroom

Chromatic aberrations are purple or green halos around subjects in the image. They are generally a lens problem and something else that can be fixed in the lens correction panel. You might even just need to click a check-box to fix this issue.

If this doesn’t fix it, then the de-fringe slider is now your new, best friend. Move this along until it disappears. Simple.

A zoomed in image of a jetty to show Chromatic Aberrations

Blurring Backgrounds in Lightroom

Blurring backgrounds can be a very important tool. If the background is distracting attention from the subject, or the image would benefit from a smaller depth of field, this is what you need to look at.

The adjustment brush in the develop module is where you will start, painting the area you want to be affected. Then the ‘sharpness’ and ‘clarity’ sliders are what you are going to bring down to get the desired effect.

One way of making this very easy is to turn on the ‘show selected mask overlay’ feature before you start painting with the brush. This will show you what areas will change.

Showing a before and after blurred background action of a Chimpanzee

How to Use Noise Reduction in Lightroom

As you’ve no doubt found out by now, using a high ISO will inevitably add noise to your image. This might be just the gritty style that you are after, but if it’s not, you’ll want to remove it. The problem with noise is that any process to try and remove it will affect the quality of the image.

This is because smoothing pixels removes fine details. Removing noise also affects the whole image, and can’t be masked or applied only to specific areas.

This process takes place in the detail section of the develop module, with the noise reduction section. It is helpful to know whether the noise is from luminance or colour. If you don’t know, you can use both sliders to determine which affects the photograph.

This article offers you more help in de-noising your image.

Showing a before and after de-noising an image of a man in Adobe Lightroom

Creating an HDR Image Using Adobe Lightroom

HDR, or High-definition rendering is the end result of three or more exposures fused together. These types of photography are multiple exposure-bracketed images, meaning the three (or more images) all have different exposures. This technique is used for scenes where there are dark and light areas with a lot of detail that you do not want to lose.

While in Lightroom, select the images you want to layer and click on Photo>Photo Merge. A preview window will open, giving a few options. Auto Align needs to be checked if you were photographing handheld (not advisable) and Auto Tone provides a good starting point for an evenly-toned image.

This article helps you know what to look for when merging photographs, and also what to do in case of any trouble-shooting.

Creating HDR images in Lightroom

Craig Hull

How to Create a Time-Lapse Using Lightroom and LRTimelapse

To create a time-lapse using Lightroom, you first need to take a sequence of images, using a tripod and an intervalometer. For an in-depth guide, see our extensive article here.

When you have all the images, they need to be imported into Lightroom, preferably into a separate folder. Go to the first image, edit it for exposure, sharpness and colour management.

Ctrl/CMD+Shift+C copies all the settings. Select all the photos, and use Ctrl/CMD+Shift+V, to paste the settings across all of the images.

Select the collection of images and head to the slideshow module. You will need a template, which you can get here. Select the template from the template browser. Then click export video, and choose the resolution you want. It will take a few minutes to render the video, depending on the number of images.

Creating timelapse photography in Lightroom

How to Edit Black and White Images in Lightroom

Converting your colour to black and white photography in Lightroom is very easy. It is literally a click of the tab ‘black and white’ in the adjustments panel in the develop module. Voila! But you will find the picture isn’t as powerful as it was in colour.

This is because colour photographs work on different aspects than the black and white photograph. The black and white counterpart needs contrast and light to separate the foreground to the background, whereas colours help in colour images.

The image needs to be played around with to get the best benefits, but our article will help you convert and adjust as necessery.

Lightroom is a great software for converting and editing your landscape photography

Lightroom Presets

Presets in Lightroom can add tremendous value to your work, and save a lot of time on your workflow. They are pre-made settings to be added into and used exclusively in Lightroom. Aspiring photographers, photographic editors and software manufacturers all make their own which range from free to expensive.

A Huge Collection of Free Lightroom Presets

Here is a link to 1064 free Lightroom presets – ready to use on your photographs. Follow the instructions below on how to install them.

A huge amount of presets available for download

How to Install Lightroom Presets

Presets are a great addition to your workflow. This article will show you how to add ones you have found on the internet.

It will also show you how you can save your own.

Importing presets into Lightroom

Nik Collection for Lightroom

The Nik collection is a FREE set of seven premium photo-enhancing filters that can be used as Lightroom plugins, or as standalone programs. Each one of these tools is a whole digital darkroom dedicated to a specific technique.

Downloading the file was a little finicky. The free download is available here where you need to enter your email address. The company DxO, who owns the software, then send you a subscription confirmation email, which you need to click on.

This takes you to the website, which is where you would expect the download to be. There is no link, no information and no tab for the Nik software. You will receive the download link in an additional email.

This article about Nik Collection gives you an in-depth look at how to use these tools, as they operate small programs within Lightroom itself. It also tells you exactly what the tools do, to get you started adjusting your own images.

Using Nik software within Lightroom

Exporting Photos from Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom is different in the way that you don’t save images, but ratherexport them. When you do, you can choose to keep the original file format or go for the standard jpeg. Others can also be used, but are less common.

PSD (Photoshop default) is an export file that is used with Adobe Photoshop for further editing. TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) or DNG (Digital Negative) which was created by Adobe to act as a lossless raw file format.

When you export from Lightroom, the program creates a file that saves all of the modifications you made using adjustments and metadata. You can rename the images, place them in specific folders and even repeat the same process with a click of a button instead of re-opening export dialog box.

There are many ways to export. By using the big button at the bottom of the folders panel in the develop module. By clicking file>export, with a keyboard shortcutCtrl+Shift+E or even to set-up social media accounts such as Facebook and Flickr.

Lightroom export window

How to Back-Up and Problem Shoot

This is the area you want to learn about now, not when it is too late. Backing-up your data is very important in every case. Hard drives can fail, computers shut down, mistakes happen.

Having a back-up means you can worry less and focus more on your photographic editing skills.

There are many systems to backup your images, so you will need to find one that works for you and your budget. Thankfully the images are digital, so you can copy them many times and store them in different places.

Organizing your photographs in Lightroom efficiently is a must. It is also one way you can keep control over your photographs. If you use one catalogue, it is easier to keep a link between it and the master files.

This article has great tips on what to do, what to look out for and possible situations that you can troubleshoot from.

An external hard drive is a great way to back-up your images

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