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how to edit photos in lightroom

want to know how to edit photos in lightroom? i thought i’d put together a quick tutorial to help out anyone that’s just got lightroom, or has had it a while but hasn’t gotten to grips with it yet. i use lightroom 5, but i assume versions before and after will be a similar process.

this is just a basic guide ..there’s a lot more you can do in lightroom – like batch editing, making templates for photo books, quickly colour grading videos and much more. if you have any additional questions, please let me know in the comments, or come ask me on twitter.

just so you know, i take my photos in the RAW format (depending on your camera type these files might be named CR2, RAF or similar but they are the RAW files), but editing jpegs is the same process – there’ll just be a bit less details and control etc when it comes to editing highlights, shadows and the like.

if you already know how to edit photos in lightroom but want a couple extra tips that you may not know of, just scroll to the bottom of this post.

okay, let’s get started! (i’m realising now i should have used a photo where there’d be a more dramatic before/after!)

lightroom import photos

norman parkinson portraits in fashion before editing

step 1 – import photos

first you need to import your photo(s). to do this, make sure you’re in the ‘library’ section, then click ‘import’ (bottom left area), choose where your files are located, select the ones you want to edit, then click import again – this time the button will be bottom right. then all your chosen and imported photos will show on the filmstrip at the bottom.

lightroom develop module

step 2 – develop module

next to the library tab will be one titled ‘develop’ – click on this and you’re in the area where you’ll be editing your photos. on the top left is the ‘navigator’ where you can see a preview of your image and edits made or will show you what your image will look like if you hover over the presets below.

below the photo you can see the before and after of your photo (more on this later) and to the right you will see the different editing modules such as basic (includes brightness, contrast, shadows, highlights etc), tone curve, where you can edit the curves, split toning, lens corrections (adjusting vertical, horizontal and other distortion, as well as vignette) and more.

lightroom basic editing

lightroom tone curve

step 3 – let’s get editing

did you say that to the tune of ‘let’s get physical’? i know i did.

finally to the fun part – editing! no matter what, whether i use presets or not i always use the open section on the right (titled ‘basic’) first to make sure the exposure, contrast, blacks, whites and white balance are either as close to the ‘real life’ source as possible, or close to what i want the photo to be like when it’s finished. the first is recommended if you’re using presets.

to make things easier on yourself i really recommending taking the best photo you can in terms of exposure and the like to save time further down the line. when it comes to this stage i only really need to brighten, contrast etc a little to make it ‘pop’ if i’ve taken a well exposed photo to begin with. to make these adjustments, just pull the sliders to the left or right.

in the above example i’ve also adjusted the curves to make it more vibrant. i normally make a slight or exaggerated ‘S’ shape with my points here.

this is where taking RAW photos comes in handy – if your photo is quite under or overexposed, or the white balance is totally off, you will have much more control when it comes to correcting this. with jpegs it’s quite easy to blow the highlights and shadows (basically losing the detail in these areas) and your photo won’t look as good as it could.

lightroom compare before and after

step 4 – compare

at this point i normally take a moment to compare what my original photo looks like against the version i’ve done basic editing on. to do this click on the Y|Y underneath the photo. if you keep clicking on this it will show you the split vertically, horizontally and so on. i find comparing is useful to see if there’s any additional changes i need to make.

after this i decided to apply a preset, which made the background texture a little dull, which leads on to…

lightroom adjustments quick mask

step 4 – adjustment brush

this is where you can make some magic happen! this tool is under the histogram panel, with the little brush icon at the end. you can use the keyboard shortcut ‘K’ if you can’t find it. here you ‘paint’ the area you want to adjust and it layers a mask over. you can also erase sections if you went over. then you can adjust – here i bought the contrast up a bit and the brightness down. remember you can preview these changes in the navigation panel to the left.

i use new ‘pins’ for each area i want to adjust. so the background is one, and if i wanted to change the book cover i’d make a new pin and do it separately, so as not to disturb the background.

when you’re finished, just click the ‘done’ button below your image. i like to compare again here. sometimes the difference between your images can really make a huge impact, even if your edits were quite minor.

norman parkinson portraits in fashion after editing

step 5 – et voila!

that’s pretty much it! i could go more indepth telling you about all the tools, but that is essentially it. remember, if you have any questions please do ask! if you want to learn how to edit photos in other programs such as photoshop, let me know and i’ll see what i can do.

extra tips on how to edit photos in lightroom

  • if the side panels distract you or you want your photo to show bigger, you can minimize them. you do this by clicking on the arrows on the edges. the same applies to the panels within the develop module.
  • in the right panel with ‘basic’ ‘lens correction’ etc, you can select ‘solo mode’ so that only one panel shows at a time and you don’t need to scroll as much. to do this just right click and enable it.
  • the little notch next to each setting? click to enable/disable so you can see the individual changes.
  • keyboard shortcuts i use most: R = crop, Q = spot removal, K = adjustment brush
  • in the white balance section, click on the eyedropper and select a neutral tone in your image to help adjust white balance correctly.
  • like the way you’ve edited a photo? press ctrl + shift + n to create a new preset with those settings. you can still adjust the photos you use it on, like any other preset.
  • want to focus on just your photo for a moment? press L once to dim, and twice to make everything but the photo black. when dimmed, you can still edit your photo, which may be useful.
  • if you have lots of photos selected (in the filmstrip or in the library module) you can press the forward slash (/) to deselect the photo you’re looking at, and keep pressing to deselect subsequent ones.
  • hold down the shift key when using the sliders to move in smaller increments.
  • play with split toning to give your photos a retro look, or to help with white balance and other issues.

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  • Reply Alice 06/01/2016 at 11:41

    Ooh this is really helpful. I’m just getting to grips with editing myself – I’m always amazed at the difference that can be made x

    • Reply laura redburn 10/01/2016 at 17:00

      i know, it’s amazing the difference a simple bit of editing can make!

  • Reply Kathryn 07/01/2016 at 21:50

    The before and after effect is really interesting. I haven’t got Lightroom but have heard good things. Thanks for the tips! xx

    • Reply laura redburn 10/01/2016 at 17:02

      i use it loads! sometimes just to gasp at how different the photo looks with some basic editing, haha. lightroom is ace. the camera raw editing in photoshop is pretty similar to this too.

  • Reply Lori 07/01/2016 at 22:09

    Thanks for sharing lovely! I’ve recently been playing around with lightroom so these are great tips x

    • Reply laura redburn 10/01/2016 at 17:04

      love lightroom! when i first got it i thought it was going to be really confusing, but got used to it really quickly. though i keep trying to use the photoshop keyboard shortcut for cropping which s annoying!

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