How to Edit Photos like a Professional in Lightroom

Post production of your photographs is a vital component to delivering high quality imagery. In a digital age of photography, modern image creators must engage in the two-part, mutually dependent process of shooting and editing. 

Although during shooting you will be creating images with your camera, the after effects of the editing process marks your finishing touch. Working together, this well-oiled machine of creativity is how you achieve your complete and final product, a captivating photograph.

If you are beginning your journey in photography or looking to spruce up your editing skills, here are five tips on how to edit your photographs like a professional in Lightroom.

Tip 1: Start With Basic Adjustments

Lightroom is an incredibly effective and streamlined tool for editing photographs. Although some photographers have other methods of image editing such as Photoshop or Camera Raw – in this article, we will focus solely on the use of Lightroom for post production.

Lightroom has several components that can seem slightly overwhelming if you are new to the program. Yet, once you have figure out the beginning steps, you will begin your editing flow in little time.

To start editing your images, you will want to first import your photographs by navigating to the top tool bar. Insert your memory card, find File > Import photos and video and choose which items you want to add to your library.

Once you have added your images you can begin to make edits on the right side tool bar of the Develop Panel. The adjustments tool bar has 9 options for you to work with: Basics, Tone Curve, HSL/Color, Split Toning Detail, Lens Correction, Transform, Effects, and Calibration.  We will be working on this image below as we make adjustments. 

In order to be efficient, you should begin by making basic adjustments. In the basic adjustments panel you can work in either color or black and white mode.  Once chosen, you can then change your color profile from a menu of preset options from Adobe including – Adobe Color, Landscape, Portrait, Standard and Vivid or Monochrome.

The next step and potentially one of the most important aspects of editing is adjusting and configuring your white balance. Although you may have already determined and set this within your camera during the time of shooting, Lightroom allows you to change and alter these values for RAW images.

White Balance presets can be changed and include the options of; As Shot, Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Flash and Custom.

You can also adjust white balance with the color picker to set a tonal range and alter the values of temperature and tint. Temperature will make your image cooler or warmer and tint will bring your image closer to either green or magenta pigmentation.

For our image, you will see the white balance edits made to the image on the right. In order to capture the daylight and tones of the sun, I changed my white balance to daylight and adjusted the temperature toward yellow to bring out warmer tones.

After you have set your ideal white balance, you can then make changes to your tone column which includes Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, White and Blacks. In these specific instances, you will make changes based on your lighting conditions and the personal preference you have for your images. Each photographer’s style is different, so it is best to experiment with these values to achieve the desired look of your image.

For our image, I added contrast and brought up the shadows to bring detail back into the darker parts of the photograph. 

The last aspect of basic adjustments is under the section of Presence. Here, you can alter clarity, dehaze, vibrance and saturation.  Clarity will add detail to your image, dehaze can help minimize fog, vibrance brings up the overall colors and saturation will adjust the intensity of your color range.

For our image, I boosted clarity, added vibrance and balanced out the colors by lowering the saturation a few notches.

Tip 2: Make Tonal Curve Adjustments

The second step to making high quality edits to your photographs is to employ the use of the tone curve. The tone curve has two elements that allow you to make overall changes your image: the regional adjustments to light and the RGB point curve.

The regional adjustments allow you to alter the values of the highlights, lights, darks and shadows within your image. You can do this by moving the markers up and down the scale, as well as changing the shape of your graph to reflect alterations in lighting.

In our image, I made changes to each value in order to enhance details and overall aesthetic cohesiveness.

Next, you can select your point curve to make changes in the areas of tone and contrast. Lightroom has a preset of point curve options such as linear, medium contrast and strong contrast.

You can also create your own custom values by adding and moving points along the curve. Changing values on the RBG curve alters overall contrast layers, while changes made on each color scale, red, green and blue, will alter the tones of your image.

In our image, adjustments made to the green point curve allowed me to add some red highlights to the facade of the building and bringing in a more warm, tonal enhancement.

Tip 3: Play With Color

If you are shooting your images in RAW, you will most likely notice that the images out of camera are often flat and lack true color perspective. In order to bring back color into your photographs or even adjust your palette based on preference, you will want to use the HSL/Color Panel and Split Toning.

The HSL/Color Panel allows you to alter the Hue, Saturation and Luminance of these 8 colors within your photographs red, orange, yellow, green, aqua, blue, purple and magenta. Depending on the look you hope to achieve, you can increase or lower these values by dragging your sliders to the left or right.

In our image, I made changes to each value of color in order to create a specific tonal look. In this case, I wanted to have an overall orange/yellow emphasis on the buildings with a bright blue complement of the sky.

Another way for you to change color in your image is to use the Split Toning values. Split Toning allows you to choose a highlight and shadow color from the tone palette and balance accordingly to create your color range.

The best way to use the Split Toning panel is to adjust the color of your highlight or shadow by clicking the color box next to either word. This will show a color box for you to select from and adjust the saturation for each.

In our image, I chose to add a yellow highlight and blue shadow to balance my tones. Then, I moved the balancing values more toward the right to emphasize the highlight and add warmth to the image.  You can use these values to either adjust and color correct within your image or even for added creative flair and an infusion of uniqueness. 

Tip 4: Make Technical and Detail Edits

Depending on which order you prefer to edit in, you can either make your technical and detail changes at the beginning or end of your post production process. In this case, we will make these changes after we have altered our lighting and color values.

In our develop column, you will see 4 panels that relate to technical edits; detail, lens correction, transform and effects. Detail will allow you to make your image sharper or softer and reduce noise in the forms of luminance and color. 

The second panel, Lens Correction, allows Lightroom to automatically make adjustments based on your camera and lens in terms of removing chromatic aberration, enabling a profile correction and adjusting the vignetting around your image. 

You will always want to choose to remove chromatic aberration as it can cause unflattering tones in the highlight regions or around the corners of your subject.

Third, you can make changes to orientation and straighten your image in the transform panel. Lightroom offers 5 predetermined settings for adjusting your image shape; auto, guided, level, vertical and full.

You can also manually adjust the values of orientation by moving the sliders back and forth for transformation in the form of vertical, horizontal, rotate, aspect, scale, x offset and y offset. In order to make changes without cutting out certain parts of your image, you will want to choose the “Constrain Crop” box.

The final technical edit you can make in the Develop panel is in the Effects column. These options include changes that are solely preference based and more creative for your editing process. In this area, you can choose to add or subtract vignetting values as well as grain. In our image, I chose to add a bit of grain to give the image a less polished, digital look and a more vintage, film inspired effect.

Tip 5:  Finalize with Calibration

The final edit column you can use in Lightroom is to make any neccessary changes in the calibration section. The calibration section is a place to make overall changes to the color shadows of your image and to the hue and saturation of your three primary colors: red, green and blue.

Calibration is not necessarily a section you have to adjust in Lightroom if you are already satisfied with your color changes. Yet, you can make any further alterations to the overall image in this panel.

Calibration is particularly useful in fixing issues with pigmentation or skin tone of your subject in portraiture. Whether you choose to use it can be decided once you have made changes to every other component or even at the beginning as a start to your editing process.

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As you can see, with several edits and changes in regard to lighting, color and detail, we have transformed our original image into a well- edited, creative photograph. 

Editing is a truly personal process that allows you to develop and hone your artistic skill set and set a precedent for your imagery. More often than none, a photographer is often recognized by the mark of their editing style, so it is important to develop and craft a look that is specific to your professional photographs.

Do you have any tips for utilizing Lightroom to edit your professional photographs? Share with us your insight in our comments below.

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