Home Photo Tips How to Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom

How to Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom

Editing your photos can be a daunting task for many photographers, especially after shooting a large event like a wedding or a concert. In my years of shooting and editing photos I have learned to love the editing process, thanks to Adobe Lightroom.

It is the time when I get to add my final creative touch to the images that I have captured. Since everybody’s eye for creativity varies, it is important to develop your own style of editing. There is no one “correct” way to edit your photos; through time and experience your style will grow and develop.

Editing Photographs in Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom is the perfect tool to deal with large batches of images, while also having the ability to do some precision touch-up work (without having to move into Adobe Photoshop, although that option is available and easily accessible). I’ll be taking you through my process on a one of my images, to show you how I edit photos in Lightroom.

One final note before we get into the editing: Always shoot in RAW format. If you aren’t familiar with the difference between RAW and JPEG file formats, check out our article on RAW vs JPEG.

Import and Metadata

Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Import

When I import photos from my camera into Lightroom, I find that the process goes faster if I save the RAW files to my hard drive first, before I import into Lightroom. For this tutorial I have selected a photo that I shot in Muir Woods National Monument near San Francisco, to use as examples.

Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Import settings sm

In Adobe Lightroom, once I have selected each image that I wish to import, I open the “Apply During Import” drop down menu to reveal the Metadata settings. From there you can see I have already created a Preset to store my copyright information.

Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Metadata
Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Metadata settings

The metadata contains the name of the copyright holder, rights usage information, and contact information. From there click “Import” and the files will be added to your workflow area for editing.


Exposure and Contrast

In the Develop screen, the editing and adjustments will finally begin. While my process is different for every photo depending on how I want the final image to come out, I usually start with the Exposure and Contrast controls.

Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Original Ladybug
75mm, 1/320 sec at f/2.8, ISO 250

For this example I will use this photo of a ladybug on flower, shot on my Nikon D750 and the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8.

Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Exposure
Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Exposure settings sm

For this image I wanted to first bump up the exposure just a little (+.20), to give the flowers a little more pop. Keep in mind that the more you increase the exposure, the more noise will be introduced into your image. Some of that noise can be reduced with the Noise slider, but in doing so you will lose some sharpness as well. This is another reason why your final image will come out much cleaner if you get your settings correct (or as close to correct) as you can in-camera. After I adjust the exposure, I move down to the Contrast slider.

I wanted the blacks in the image to be a little more distinct from the light colors of the flower, so the contrast was bumped up to +20. This will give the areas of lightness and darkness a clearer definition from one another.


Black Clipping and Shadows

With this image, and with a lot of my work, I tend to prefer dark black and higher contrast. Since your personal style will vary, it’s important to tweak the sliders until you find what best suits your eye. Again if your image is too dark coming out of the camera, there is only so much you can do to bring back your black or white clipping areas.

Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Blacks
Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Blacks settings sm

I typically pull my Black Clipping slider somewhere in the range of -15 to -55, just because of my own preferred look for my final images. For this image you can see I settled on -43. Next I move on to the Shadows slider, which controls the exposure and amount of detail you want in the shadow areas. Similarly, the Highlights slider will control the exposure and detail you want to see in the highlight areas.

Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Shadows
Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Shadows settings sm

In this photo I settled on -48 for the shadows to, once again, bring a clearer definition and contrast between the flowers and the rest of the image.

Clarity and Vibrance

Now we move into the Clarity and Vibrance adjustments. The clarity adjustment is an easy way to sharpen your image without getting into the “Detail” section, where you would have much more control over the parameters of the sharpening adjustments. Pushing the Clarity slider too far into the positives, while it may be useful for some images, would have a detrimental effect on my image in this case. I played around with the slider a little and decided that a Clarity of +33 was right for my image.

Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Clarity
Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Clarity settings sm

The Vibrance slider is another one of the easy, yet extremely useful, tools to adjust the saturation of the muted tones in your image. It can be especially helpful when shooting portraits, as it will generally not over-saturate the skin tones.

Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Vibrance
Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Vibrance settings sm

For the ladybug photo, I decided that a vibrance of +48 worked great.

Sharpening and Crop 

Moving into the “Detail” drop down menu I mentioned previously, I wanted to ensure that the area surrounding the ladybug was as sharp as possible. I decided on a Sharpening amount of +59.

Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Sharpening
Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Sharpening settings sm

I try to avoid cropping my images as much as possible, since cropping will detract from the overall quality of the image. This is another aspect that I challenge myself to get right in the camera.

Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Crop
Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Crop settings sm

Between the previous image and this one you can see that I cropped out some of the greenery at the top of the frame. While this isn’t absolutely necessary, I find that the cropped image has a better feel. In some circumstances, I find that a creative crop to adjust the framing of the image will create a more pleasing final image.

Color Adjustments

Now I move into my final tweaks of the image, color adjustments. I go back up to the Temperature slider because the image looks just a little too yellow for me.

Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Temp and Tint
Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Temp and Tint settings sm

I dropped the Temperature from about 4400 to 4100 to make the Blues pop a little more, and give the image an overall softer look. Again you can compare between the previous image and this one to see the change in the blue shades.

Finally, I move down to the HSL/Color/B&W drop down menu and adjusted the Red and Orange hues of the image to -44 and -28, respectively.

Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Red Hue
Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Red Hue settings sm

This made the red of the ladybug shell pop just a little more against the whites and blues of the flower.

Export Photos

When exporting photos, you will have options to choose the destination folder and the image format and quality as well.

Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Export Settings 2

Finally, if you choose to add a watermark, this can be done near the bottom of the Export menu under the drop down menu, “Watermark”.

Related Article: How to Create a Watermark in Adobe Lightroom

One of the most important parts is ensuring that your copyright and contact info are saved in the metadata. Along with watermarking your images, this will help prevent others from using your images without permission.

Edit Photos in Adobe Lightroom - Original and Final

In the end, this is simply how I like to edit photos in Lightroom, and easily export them using SmugMug. Your style will vary and grow over the course of your photography career. Being able to craft your own personal creative touch when editing photos allows you to leave your final mark on the images you capture.

Graham Hettinger
Graham Hettinger
Graham Hettinger is a live music, event, and travel photographer. He specializes in concert photography and has worked with a number of internationally touring musicians.




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