Learn Lightroom (part 4) – Editing Workflow

As you can see in the name of the title, this is part 4 of the Learn Lightroom series. If you missed any of the previous tutorials, you can click on the links below to get caught up.

Learn Lightroom part 1 – Interface & Preferences
Learn Lightroom part 2 – Importing Workflow
Learn Lightroom part 3 – View, Manage & Filter

I hope you’re as excited for this tutorial as I am. The editing process is my favorite part of the Lightroom workflow. Since all of the sorting and filtering is out of the way, we can focus entirely on fine-tuning only the best images from the catalog.

Quick Develop

Before we move over to the Develop module and get started, I want to briefly cover the quick develop settings. Most of the editing process in Lightroom is done in the Develop module, but there are a few basic tools in the Library module as well.

The Quick Develop panel is located on the right side of the window in the right panel group. I don’t use these tools very often, but occasionally they can be useful, so it’s important to cover.

the Quick Develop panel

The adjustments that are available in the Quick Develop panel are very similar to what we’ll be using in the Develop module later, but they’re a little more basic. To make adjustments, simply select the desired image(s) and press one of the arrow buttons for the adjustment you want to change. The left arrows reduce the value, and the right arrows increase the value. The single arrow buttons change the value in small increments and the double arrow buttons increase in larger increments. To show additional options, hold down the alt/option key.

Quick Develop panel alternate options

Although the names of the adjustments are the same, the Quick Develop tools work differently than the editing tools in the Develop module. The tools in the Develop module have sliders. Any changes made can be seen and further refined later on. Changed made in the Quick Develop panel, are made with simple arrows and you won’t be able to see how far the image has been adjusted. Also, if the image has already had editing applied in the Develop module, adjustments made in the Quick Develop panel will be applied on top of the previous edits. For now, this isn’t really important. Just remember that they don’t function the same way.

One of the most useful concepts of the Quick Develop panel is that it can be used to apply settings to multiple images at the same time. While in grid view, simply select all the images that you want to make changes to simultaneously. If you make a mistake or want to return to the original unedited photo, press the Reset button at the bottom of the panel.

The settings in the top of the Quick Develop panel allow you to apply develop presets. Just like applying adjustments to multiple images, if you have a set of similar images applying a preset to the whole group can save a lot of time. We’ll cover how to make develop presets later on in this tutorial.

Editing Overview

Before you get started processing your images, it’s a good idea to plan out the process ahead of time. Evaluate the images that you want to work on and visualize the final result. If you need to, make some notes about the work that needs to be done so you can go about it in an organized fashion.

As you get more comfortable editing and processing your own images, you will develop your own workflow. There are a lot of different ways that you can go about processing your images and there is really no right or wrong way to do it. Generally, you start with the global adjustments that affect the entire image and gradually work your way down to the area specific local adjustments.

Workflow Outline

Below is a an outline of a simple editing workflow. This is a pretty standard order for processing and the order that we’ll be using in this tutorial.

  • Apply presets/global adjustments – Develop presets can be applied during the import process or after in the Library module. Global adjustments and presets can be applied in the Library module with the Quick Develop panel. Develop presets are also available in the Develop module.
  • Apply lens corrections – A quick and easy way to improve your images is to fix problems caused by the lens. Use the Lens Corrections panel to remove vignetting, chromatic aberration, and distortion.
  • Crop/straighten – A lot of your images may not need to be cropped, but if they do it should be done first. Changing the composition will change the amount of work that needs to be done and alter the histogram display, so take care of this right away.
  • White balance – White balance is always one of the first adjustments I make to an image. Some of your images may not need it, but most will benefit from a slight adjustment.
  • Tone & color – Adjust the tone of images using the Tone slider in the basic panel. The HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) panel allows you to adjust colors in the image based on their hue.
  • Noise reduction/Sharpening – Check to see if the image can benefit from a reduction of luminance or color based noise, then apply capture sharpening.
  • Local adjustments – Now that all the global adjustments have been made, it’s time to apply local adjustments. There are lots of tools that can be used including the adjustment brush, spot removal tool, and the graduated and radial filters.

The Develop Module

View Modes

The default view mode in the Develop module is Loupe view. There’s also a second view mode called Before/After mode. The view mode buttons are located below the image preview area.

develop view mode buttons

There are four different ways that the Before/After image preview can be displayed. Click on the button several times to rotate through the views or click on the arrow next to the button to select one of the four options from the menu.

before after view modes

There are three more buttons on the toolbar that let you swap develop settings between the before and after images. The first button copies the settings from the Before image to the After image. The second does the reverse and the third swaps the Before and After settings.

before after buttons


The Develop module filmstrip is identical to the Library module filmstrip that we covered previously. The image filtering tools are located on the right above the thumbnails. The Develop module doesn’t give you access to the Folders panel like in the Library module. Rather than go back and forth, you can use the Source indicator to find images.

develop module filmstrip

The source indicator gives you information about the currently selected images. If you click on the arrow, the menu has multiple ways of selecting images. You can select from all of the images in the catalog, folders and favorites, or any of a number of recently selected sources.

source indicator menu

The History & Snapshots Panel

The Histogram Panel

The histogram is a bar graph that represents all of the pixels in the image. The darkest tones are located on the far left of the graph and lighter tones on the right. The higher the values go on the histogram, the more pixels there are of that tone. There are three layers for red green and blue tones. If all three tones overlap, the area is grey. When two tones overlap, cyan, magenta, or yellow appears accordingly.


Below the histogram there is additional information about the image. It normally shows the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and focal length that the image was taken at. If you hover over the image, the information will change to show the tone values that you are hovering over.

The triangle buttons in the top corners of the histogram indicate whether there is any highlight or shadow clipping in the image. Whenever tones are too dark or bright, they clip to black or white and lose the ability to show detail. The triangles will become highlighted if clipping occurs.

The highlighted buttons indicate that both shadow and highlight details are being clipped

The highlighted buttons indicate that both shadow and highlight details are being clipped

If you hover over the triangle a mask will appear over the image, indicating the areas that are clipped. A blue mask indicates shadow clipping and a red mask indicates highlight clipping. If you click on one of the triangle buttons, it will turn the mask on permanently.

This is the corresponding image for the histogram above.  The blue mask shows clipped shadow detail, and the red shows clipped highlights.

This is the corresponding image for the histogram above. The blue mask shows clipped shadow detail, and the red shows clipped highlights.

Tones in the image can be adjusted using the histogram. Hover over the area of the histogram that you want to adjust. Click and drag left or right to make adjustments. As you drag, you’ll notice that Lightroom is adjusting the sliders below to account for the change.

Keep an eye on the histogram throughout the editing process. As you make adjustments to the image, the tones values will change slightly. If clipping occurs, go back and adjust for the change.

The histogram can be used to adjust the tones in an image.

The Tool Strip

The tool strip is located just below the histogram. It contains a set of specialized editing tools. To select any of the six available tools, click on the icon and a panel with options will open up underneath. After you apply changes with the tools, hit the Enter key or click on the Done button that appears in the toolbar below the image preview. Mistakes can be cleared by clicking on the reset button at the bottom of the panel. You can close out of the tool by hitting Esc or by clicking on the Close button.

tool strip

As we start covering Lightroom’s develop tools more in-depth, you will come across a lot of slider adjustments. To make adjustments, click on the slider and drag. You can also click in the box to the right and enter a number value. If you double click on the slider or the name to the left, it will reset back to zero.

slider adjustments

Some of the sliders will show you a real-time preview of the adjustment if you hold down the Alt/Opt key while dragging.

Crop & Straighten

The first button in the tool strip is the crop and straighten tool. When you select the crop overlay tool from the tool strip, a grid overlay appears around the image and the tool options panel opens below the button. You can also open the crop tool with the keyboard shortcut “R”.

crop tool

To crop the image, click and drag the handles on the edge of the image or click and drag inside the image. After the crop is applied, you can reposition the image by clicking and dragging inside the crop frame. To switch the orientation of the crop from portrait to landscape, press “X”. When you’re finished cropping, press “R” or the Done button.

Lightroom has lots of different crop guide overlays. If you don’t like the grid you can change it to several others including: golden mean, rule of thirds, triangles, diagonal lines, golden ratio, and aspect ratios. You can access the menu by going to Tools > Crop Guide Overlay and choosing an option. The keyboard shortcut “O” will cycle through the options.

By default, Lightroom constrains the crop to the original aspect ratio. Click the padlock button in the panel to unlock the constraint. You can now drag the handles to any ratio you want. Lightroom has presets for all of the common aspect ratios. Click on the Aspect ratio menu next to the padlock to view the menu. If the aspect ratio you want isn’t listed, select Enter Custom to enter your own. Lightroom can store up to five custom ratios.

aspect menu

The straightening tool is located below the aspect ratio tool. There are several ways to rotate images depending on which you prefer. You can drag the slider or click on the ruler icon and drag a straight line across the horizon in the image. You can also hover outside the corner of the crop overlay. The cursor will turn into a double arrow which you can drag to rotate.

straighten tool

horizon line

For now, we’re skipping the rest of the tools in the tool bar. We will come back to them later at the end of the editing process when we’ve finished the global adjustments.

The Basic Panel

The basic panel contains a majority of the global adjustments that you’ll use on a lot of your images. It’s divided up into four different smaller sections: Treatment, White Balance, Tone, and Presence.

Basic panel


The treatment section contains two buttons: Color and Black & White. Clicking the black and white button or using the keyboard shortcut “V” will convert the image to black and white.

White Balance

The white balance tool allows you to correct for color casts in your images. To apply a white balance preset, open the menu and select one of the options. If you want to manually set the white balance or fine-tune the preset, use the temperature and tint sliders. Moving the white balance slider to the left makes the image cooler and to the right makes it warmer. The tint slider changes the overall tint of the image. Moving it right adds magenta, and moving it to the left adds green.

white balance

If your image has an area that is neutral grey, you can use the white balance selector tool to automatically set the white balance. Click on the icon in the panel and move the cursor around the image. A small grid will appear, showing large magnifications of the pixels you hover over. Click on a spot and the image will be adjusted.

wb selector


The tone sections adjust the range of dark and light tones in an image. They do not affect the color, only the tone value. All of these tools are arranged in order, starting with the most important. Start at the top and work your way to the bottom.

  • Exposure – Adjusts the exposure across the entire image. An adjustment of +1 is similar to increasing the exposure by 1 f/stop.
  • Contrast – Contrast stretches the tones by making the highlights lighter and the shadows darker. It gives images a higher dynamic range.
  • Highlights – Highlights only affects the light tones in the image. Lower the slider to recover detail in the brightest parts of an image.
  • Shadows – Only affects the dark tones in an image. Raise the slider to recover and reveal detail in the shadows.
  • Whites – Sets the limit for the brightest pixels in an image. Set this to fine-tune the highlights after adjusting the exposure, contrast, and highlights sliders.
  • Blacks – Sets the limit for the darkest pixels in an image. Lower the slider to make the limit darker. Raising the blacks slider can bring back a lot of detail in the darkest parts of an image.

Hold down the Alt/Opt key while adjusting the whites and blacks sliders. It will mask the image, showing you where clipping occurs. For most images, I move the slider right to the point where it starts to clip.

Presence: Clarity, Vibrance, & Saturation

  • Clarity – Clarity adjusts the contrast in the image’s midtones. Adding clarity can give the appearance of contrast, edge detail, and sharpness. Reducing the clarity produces a softer low contrast appearance. Some images will look better with increased clarity, while others may require reduced clarity.
  • Saturation – Saturation is a description of how pure and vivid colors are. Increasing saturation increases the color intensity across all colors in the image.
  • Vibrance – Vibrance works in the same way that saturation does, but it won’t increase colors that are already saturated or skin tones. It only increases background or secondary colors in the image.

Tone Curve Panel

You shouldn’t need to use the tone curve panel for every image. If you want to continue refining the tones in the image after you’ve finished adjusting the settings in the Basic panel, you can do it in here.

The horizontal axis represents the original unedited image and the vertical axis represents any adjustments you make. Just like the histogram, black is on the left and white is on the right. If you move a point on the curve up, it becomes lighter and if you move it down it becomes darker.

The three split point sliders at the bottom of the curve allow you to define a range for each of the regions. Below those, the darks and lights sliders adjust the midtones and the highlights and shadows sliders adjust the ends of the range.

tone curve

Open the Point Curve menu at the bottom of the panel and select one of the three options: Linear, Medium Contrast, or Strong. Click on a point in the curve and drag to adjust. As you move the curve, the affected slider below will move to adjust. You can also drag the sliders instead of the curve. It has the same effect.

You can make adjustments to individual points in the curve by using the Edit Point Curve button in the bottom right corner of the panel. Click the button then click on the graph to add a new point. Drag the point up or down to modify it. If you want to delete the point and return to the linear curve, right click on the graph and choose flatten curve.

The target adjustment tool is located in the top left corner of the panel. If you select the tool, you can click anywhere on the image and drag up/down to adjust all of the similar tones in the image.

point curve buttons

HSL / Color / B+W Panel

This panel is where individual colors are adjusted and fine-tuned. You can choose from the three panels at the top: HSL, Color, and B+W.

The HSL panel (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) changes colors. The Hue sliders adjust the tone of individual colors, the Saturation sliders adjust how vivid and saturated colors are, and the Luminance sliders adjust the brightness of each color.

HSL panel

The color panel controls the same adjustments as the HSL panel, it just arranges them different. Adjusting the sliders in one panel will affect them in both panels. To use the color panel, select one of the color blocks at the top to see the three sliders for that color. If you want to see all the color sliders at once, select “All”.

color panel

When you convert an image to black & white, Lightroom applies an auto mix to the image. In the B+W panel, you can adjust the areas of an image based on their original color to create a different mixture of greyscale.

bw panel

Split Toning Panel

Split toning is a technique where two different colors are used to tint the highlights and shadows of an image. The split toning panel has two sets of sliders and a balance slider. The first set sliders adjusts the hue and saturation of the tone in the highlights. The second set of sliders controls the hue and saturation of the tone in the shadows. The balance slider controls the balance between the highlights and shadows.

split toning panel

To adjust the hues, simply move the slider up or down or click on the color picker icon. Split toning is usually applied to black & white photos, but you can get some interesting effects by using it on color photos too.

Detail Panel

The first set of controls in the Detail panel is for applying Sharpening. The second is for reducing digital noise (Noise Reduction). Almost all RAW files will need some sharpening.

When applying sharpening and noise reduction, you need to zoom into the image too see the results. The top of the Detail panel has a small preview at the top. If you click the Target button next to the preview, you can pan around the image preview and select a point to zoom in on.

detail panel

Noise Reduction

Digital noise is an artifact that looks like small dots or colored blobs. It reduces the quality of an image and makes it look grainy. Images that were taken with a long exposure, high ISO, or in low-light often suffer from higher than normal digital noise.

Sharpening can increase the digital noise in an image, so it’s usually best to apply the noise reduction first. I usually check for noise two or three times during the editing process just to make sure it still looks acceptable.

  • Luminance – Reduces the appearance of luminance based noise and smooths out the image. Luminance noise looks like small grey or black dots. Increasing the luminance too much can cause small details to blur, so only apply what is necessary, never more.
  • Detail – Helps preserve details. High values preserve more detail, but will reduce less noise. Low values may reduce some details, but will eliminate the noise.
  • Contrast – Sets the amount of edge detection used to find noise. Lower settings produce smooth results but have less contrast. High settings keep more contrast, but can have blotchy areas as a result.
  • luminance noise
    luminance corrected

  • Color – Reduces color based noise and evens out the color tones in affected areas. Color noise usually appears as multicolored blobs in the image.
  • Detail – Controls the color noise limit. Low settings remove color noise but may show bleeding. High settings protect detailed edges, but may show slight speckling.

color noise
color correction


Sharpening is usually done in several steps: Capture sharpening, and Output Sharpening are the most important. While editing images, capture sharpening is applied to compensate for the loss of sharpness in RAW file capture. If you use JPEG images, they have already has capture sharpening applied. Images are usually sharpened a second time when they are exported. This is called Output sharpening. The amount of output sharpening will depend entirely on what medium and size the image is being used for. For now, just worry about capture sharpening.

  • Amount – Controls the amount (strength) of the sharpening.
  • Radius – Controls the width of edges to apply sharpening. Images with fine details require a smaller radius. As you increase the strength of sharpening, reduce the radius to avoid unwanted effects.
  • Detail – Increase the detail slider, depending on how much fine detail is in your image. Low values sharpen edges only, and higher values help make textures and patterns more detailed.
  • Masking – A low masking value applies sharpening to the whole image. Raising the value restricts the areas sharpening is applied. Usually sharpening only needs to be applied to the lines or edges in an image. Hold down Alt/Opt while adjusting the slider show a visible mask on the image and see a preview of the effect.
In the masking preview, the black areas are masked while the white shows areas that will be sharpened.

In the masking preview, the black areas are masked while the white shows areas that will be sharpened.

Lens Corrections Panel

The Lens Corrections panel lets you correct distortion, vignetting, and chromatic aberration caused by the lens. Vignetting makes the corners of the image appear darker than the rest of the image. Distortion causes straight lines in the image to bow in or out, and chromatic aberration appears as a color fringing around objects with high contrast. There are four tabs at the top of the panel: Basic, Profile, Color, and Manual.

lens corrections panel


The Basic panel combines the tools from the other three tabs in one place. The other tabs have more advanced controls. We will cover those individually next.

As long as Lightroom recognizes the camera and lens that were used to take an image, you can correct most problems here. Checking the Enable Profile Corrections box will remove most distortion and vignetting issues. The Remove Chromatic Aberration box will eliminate most problems with color fringing and the Constrain to Crop box will reduce the crop frame to account for any perspective changes that alter the size of the image.

lens corrections panel basic boxes

The bottom half of the Basic tab is called Upright. It has tools for correcting perspective related issues.

lens corrections upright

  • Level – Attempts to level & straighten the image automatically. It works best with images that have a horizon or strong lines.
  • Vertical – Levels the image and corrects vertical perspective problems. When you take a picture of a building or tall subject and angle the camera up, the subject will appear to lean away from the camera in the image. The vertical button corrects for this.
  • Full – Levels the image and corrects both the vertical and horizontal perspective.
  • Auto – Performs the same functions as the Full button, but with more balanced results.


The top of the Profile tab has the same Enable Profile Corrections option as the basic panel. After you enable the profile correction setting, the rest of the options below become available.

lens corrections profile

  • Setup – The default setting is automatically loaded for your lens and camera combination. If you have created your own custom profiles, you can load them here.
  • Lens Profile – If the boxes in the Lens Profile section say none, Lightroom could not recognize your lens and camera model. Look through the available options and select the appropriate option.
  • profile lens corrections

  • Amount – There are two sliders to fine-tune the Vignetting and Distortion after the lens profile has been applied. Usually, Lightroom does a great job with the lens profile, but these options are available just in case.


The color tab features the same Remove Chromatic Aberration box from the basic tab. Usually checking the box will take care of most fringing. In case it doesn’t you can fine-tune the result here.

lens correction color

The top of the tab has a Fringe Color Selector and a section labeled Defringe. Depending on the shade of fringing that is causing the problem, there are two sets of sliders. The first two sliders are for purple fringing and the second two are for green fringing. Adjust the hue to the appropriate shade, and gradually increase the amount slider until the fringing has been removed. You can also use the color selector to click on areas in the image and select a more accurate hue.


The Manual tab has two sets of sliders for more advanced control over distortion, perspective, and vignetting.

  • Distortion – Removes distortion. Dragging to the right removes barrel distortion, and dragging to the left removes pincushion distortion.
  • Vertical – Corrects vertical perspective distortion.
  • Horizontal – Corrects horizontal distortrion.
  • Rotate – Rotates the image.
  • Scale – Increases and decreases the size of the image. Is usually used in combination with the constrain crop tool to correct composition issues created by altering the image.
  • Aspect – Sometimes the image aspect can get messed up when applying distortion corrections. Move the slider to the left to compress the image and to the right to stretch the image.

The constrain crop option is the same as the one located in the basic panel. Checking the box will crop out any areas affected by altering the image.

Tool Bar (continued)

We are completely finished with the global adjustments and it’s time to go back to the tool bar. You don’t need to wait till very last to do these, but definitely wait until after you’ve applied settings in the Basic, Tone Curve, Detail & Lens Correction panels.

Spot Removal Tool

Use the spot removal tool to repair areas of an image. To activate the tool, click on the icon in the tool bar or use the keyboard shortcut “Q”.

spot removal tool

The spot removal tool has two different modes:

  • Clone – Makes an exact copy of the pixels in one location and copies them to the destination. Works wonders for reproducing patterns and textures.
  • Heal – Blends the pixels from the sample location with the destination. Works well for removing dust spots, blemishes, and imperfections or areas with color gradients.

To adjust the size of the brush, adjust the Size slider or use the scroll wheel on the mouse. The opacity slider adds transparency to the effect and the feather slider adjusts how soft or hard the edges of the spot are blended.

To apply the spot removal, click on the spot that you want to fix or repair. Lightroom will automatically find an area to sample for the sample. You can click and drag either of the circles to move them. If you click and drag on the outside of the circle, you can change its size. There is an arrow pointing from the sample pixels to the area being healed so you can tell them apart. When finished, use the keyboard shortcut again or hit the Done button.

heal tool

Red Eye Reduction

The red eye removal tool looks for red colored pixels and changes them to a neutral grey or black. To activate the tool, click on the icon in the tool bar.

red eye reduction

To apply a correction, click on the center of the eye and drag outward. Select the entire eye, not just the part that is red. After you make a selection, a pupil size and darken slider will appear in the panel. Adjust the pupil size slider and the darken slider to fine-tune the adjustment.

Graduated Filter, Radial Filter, & Adjustment Brush

  • Graduated Filter – A linear gradient that you can apply anywhere in an image. Click on the icon in the tool bar or use the keyboard shortcut “M”. Click on the image and drag to create the mask.
  • graduated filter

  • Radial Filter – A circular gradient that can be applied in an image. Select the tool or use the keyboard shortcut “Shift + M” to activate it. Click on the image and drag to create the mask. Adjustments can be applied either inside the circle or outside.
  • Adjustment Brush – Uses a paintbrush like tool to apply adjustments. Select the tool by clicking on the icon or with the keyboard shortcut “K”. Select from the brush options in the bottom of the panel to modify how the effect is painted on.

brush options

When you select any of these three tools, a list of effects sliders open up below in the panel. There is an effects preset menu at the top of the sliders that has a list of Lightroom presets. At the bottom of the menu is an option to save your settings as a custom preset.

adjustment effects presets

Effects Panel

After you’ve finished processing an image, you may want to add some creative effects. The Effects panel gives you the ability to add a post-crop vignette or a grain to images.


Post-Crop Vignette

Lets you apply a creative dark or light vignette to the outside of an image. Applies the vignette to the cropped image and not the original. There are three different styles that can be accessed from the menu at the top. They determine how the vignette is blended with the colors in the image.

post crop vignette

  • Highlight Priority – This is the default style. It tries to avoid shifting the highlights.
  • Color Priority – Similar to highlight priority, but it tries to minimize color shift.
  • Paint Overlay – Applies a flat black or white overlay over the image that blends with the original colors.

After you select a style, adjust the sliders below to get the desired effect.

  • Amount – Adjusts the intensity of the effect. Negative values darken the outside of the image and positive values lighten them.
  • Midpoint – Sets how far into the image the vignette is applied.
  • Roundness – Makes the vignette more circular or square.
  • Feather – Makes the edges of the vignette softer or harder.
  • Highlights – Only available for Highlight or Color Priority styles. Adjusts how the vignette is applied to highlights in the image.


The grain effect simulates a film grain effect in your images. To see the effect best, zoom in to 1:1 or greater.

  • Amount – Adjusts the strength of the grain effect.
  • Size – Adjusts the size of the grain. Sizes larger than 25, have a grain with soft edges to make it look smoother.
  • Roughness – Adjusts the frequency (regularity) of the grain effect.