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How to Edit Photos in Lightroom (for Beginners)

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Taking pictures in RAW format means deep color correction and photo editing. One of the best software for this task is Adobe Lightroom.

Importing your Images into Lightroom

You import your images into Lightroom by using the Import feature. Go to File > Import Photo and Videos.

Here you need to select the source, from which you want to import the images (likely from your SD card or similar,) and select them. Once you have selected the images click Import.

We will cover how to import your images in further detail in another article.

Culling Images

Once imported, you will want to begin sorting your images.

Step 1: Flag your keepers, and reject bad images.

The first step in this process is to flag images in Lightroom that you want to keep. You should also flag the images you don’t want to keep as rejected, so you can delete them from your Lightroom catalog at a later time.

Step 2: Organize your Images

If you need to add the images you intend to keep to a collection or add keywords in Lightroom. This is a good time to do it. However, you can also wait and only add keywords to the images, that you actually end up editing.

I personally like to star rate or add color labels to my keeper images, at this point. By adding stars (with the keyboard shortcuts 1-5) I evaluate the images that I think have the greatest potential. They are then automatically added to a smart collection.

If you have set up smart collections in Lightroom “listening” for keywords, by only adding keywords you will also add your images to the appropriate smart collections

Image Editing in Lightroom’s Develop Module

Most editing process in Lightroom is done in the Develop Module (Press D or switch to it in the top right corner of Lightroom Classic). Below I will go through the most common adjustments done in the Develop Module. All images don’t need the same treatment, so some of the steps below might be unnecessary for your images.

Step 1: Fix Rotation

If your images are not rotated automatically during import, the first thing is to rotate your image in Lightroom, so you can better see what is up and down in your image. (You might actually also do this during the culling process in Grid mode in the Library Module.)

Step 2: Give your Image an Initial Crop

Before I start to do the actual image editing, I prefer to crop my photos in Lightroom. If you need to crop a bit closer to the subject or cut out some disturbing elements near the edge, it is time to do so. This helps appreciate your image more while editing and gives you a better chance of seeing what you need to edit.

Step 3: The Basic Panel

The Basic Panel of Lightroom consists of three main parts – WB, Tone, and Presence. Here you can fix white balance, adjust exposure and contrast, increase clarity and saturation, etc.

Lightroom comes with the Dropper tool placed at the top-left side of the panel. By clicking the dropper over different areas of your photo, you can adjust white balance and, thus, improve white balance. To see the result immediately, select the neutral area of the picture (like a gray background).

Step 4: The Tone Curve Panel

To process RAW images in Lightroom like a pro, you need to use the functionality of the Tone Curve Panel that contains tools for correcting tone and contrast. The image editor has two kinds of tone curves – the region Curve and the RGB (also known as Point Curve). The region Curve is set by default, and actually, is less functional than the other curve type. By using it, you can adjust the level of brightness of the picture.

The RGB/Point Curve allows you to perform more detailed photo editing. It not only corrects the luminosity but also allows adding anchor points along the length of the curved line.

Click on the button in the right corner at the lower part of the panel to change the type of curve you want to use. Lr also offers a collection of presets that you can view in the Point Curve section, in case you think that you won’t manage to adjust the curve manually.

Step 5: The HSL/Color/B&W Panel

HSL is decoded as Hue, Saturation, and Luminance. This is a powerful panel that is capable of modifying each different color separately. The functionality of this panel lets you work with eight basic colors modifying their brightness, increasing saturation, etc. Besides, you can decolor the picture achieving a spectacular B&W image.

The HSL panel awards you with the control necessary for effective Lightroom RAW editing. It also allows personalizing your style, and correcting oversaturated colors. The tools arranged here allow you to play with shades of color, and select the color options that seem to be the most appropriate.

Saturation affects the intensity of the image colors. It allows you to modify the mood of a photo. Remember that the more saturated pictures produce a livelier mood, while dim photos convey sadness.

The luminance defines the amount of light reflected from a surface. It allows playing with various parts of a picture if it features numerous colors.

Step 6: The Split Toning Panel

The main function of the Split Toning Panel is to intensify highlight and shadows, which results in emotional and realistic images. Incorporating such sections as Highlights, Balance, and Shadows, the panel offers two sliders for modifying the value of each setting.

It also has a single slider for leveling the toning between the highlights and shadows. When you process RAW images in Lightroom, you can’t do without this panel.

Step 7: The Detail Panel

The Detail Panel consists of two sections, namely Noise Reduction and Sharpening. The panel allows you to modify various Sharpening settings. First of all, here you can adjust the Sharpening Amount. Use the lower value to make the picture clearer.

Sharpening Radius setting allows you to define the size of the details that you want to make sharper. Well-focused pictures require a smaller radius, whereas the images with larger details require a larger radius respectively. 

Sharpening Detail is the setting that controls the degree of sharpness of high-frequency information in the image and the level of edges sharpening. Lower settings generally increase edge sharpness to eliminate blur. Higher values can highlight the textures in a picture.

Masking Controls and Edge Mask. Use zero value to ensure the same degree of sharpening of each image detail.  Go for 100, if you want to apply the sharpening effect only to the areas near the strongest edges.

Lightroom RAW editing would be incomplete without reducing image noise. There are two types of noises: luminance (grayscale) noise (adds a grainy effect to a picture) and chroma (color) noise (color artifacts in the picture). If you shoot with not-so-powerful cameras or at high ISO speeds, your images will inevitably contain noise.

Step 8: The Lens Correction Panel

Here you can find all the necessary instruments to reduce image distortion or color fringing produced by a lens. Using the Upright tool, you can effectively correct the perspective.

Wide-angle lenses can produce a tilted horizon effect. Or they can stretch objects that are closer to the edge of the frame. Some optical accessories add an effect of vignette to the picture that cause the darkening of corners, and in some case the darkening of the entire image.

Open the “Enable Profile Corrections” tab to see the changes that have been applied to your shot, as well as get access to the lens information.

Step 9: The Effects Panel

Browse through the Effects Panel and enhance your image with a vignette or film-grain effect. It also lets you modify the level of haze and fog effects in a picture.

Step 10: The Camera Calibration Panel

The Camera Calibration Panel consists of several sections with their specific functionalities including RGB Primaries, Shadow Tint, Camera Profile, and Process. The RGB Primaries section allows you to adjust the overall color scheme of a picture. Although it may seem that this panel is similar to the HSL panel, unlike the second one RGB Primaries section, can alter the overall definition of red, green, or blue.

The Shadow Tint simply changes the color cast of shadows, while green and magenta compensate for each other. The functionality of the Camera Profile lets you match the profiles available in your camera.

The Process section is capable of altering the process engine utilized by Lightroom. It’s not advisable to change the setting of this section but use its current configurations.

Adding Local Adjustments

If you want to edit only parts of an image, you will have to use local adjustments. The local adjustment editing tools allow you to i.e. blur the background in Lightroom using the clarity slider and a targeted local adjustment.

Batch Editing Images

If you have a bunch of images that you want to process in the same way, you can follow this easy-to-use guide on how to batch edit photos in Lightroom. Batch editing lets you copy settings from one image to multiple images.

Concluding words

Using Lightroom to edit your images is easy, but it can take time to master if you want to know all the details of the editing process and use Lightroom as a professional.

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