10 top Lightroom tips for absolute beginners

First published:
October 12, 2020
February 12, 2024

10 top Lightroom tips for absolute beginners

First published:
October 12, 2020
February 12, 2024

Screenshots from James Paterson

Lightroom is one of the most powerful image editing tools out there for photographers - here's how to get started

Your photos deserve a little careful enhancement, and Lightroom is one of the best places to do it. Lightroom is one of the most powerful image editing tools out there for photographers. And its capability to make powerful adjustments to images, whilst also being easy to use, means it caters to image makers of skill levels.

These 10 top tips will get you up and running, from easy tonal tweaks to bold colour-boosting tricks and more...

1 Import your images

Before you can start working up your photos in Lightroom you’ll need to import them. If you’re used to a traditional open-edit-save workflow then Lightroom requires a slight shift in mindset. Rather than opening our images into the app, you instead need to tell Lightroom where our files are stored on your drive. In essence, this is what Importing is.

Once imported, the photos are logged in the Lightroom Catalog, which keeps track of where the image is on your drive and what edits have been made to it. Be careful not to move folders around on your drive as Lightroom will lose track of them. Instead, if you need to move or rename folders then this is best done within the Folder panel in Lightroom’s Library Module.

To import new photos, either click the Import button in the Library Module and navigate to your files or simply drag your new photos into the Lightroom interface
The keyword feature in Lightroom
The Import box houses lots of handy settings. Take a moment to add a few keywords to your freshly imported photos and perhaps add them to a collection. This’ll help to keep your growing image library organised

2 Choose a profile

Found at the top of the Basic Panel in Lightroom’s Develop Module, Profiles are a great way to kick-start your image editing. With a single click, a Profile can give your image a specific look or provide a handy starting point for further edits. Some, like the Adobe Raw set, have been created with specific types of image in mind. The Adobe Portrait Profile, for example, renders skin tones more naturally. The Adobe Landscape Profile enhances blues and greens, so it boosts skies and foliage in outdoor scenes. This Adobe set is only available with raw files, while other sets like the Artistic and Modern Profiles can be used with jpegs, tiffs and raws.

Screenshot of the profile browser in Lightroom
Profiles are a great first stop in your image-editing workflow. Click the grid at the top of the Basic Panel to open the Profile Browser, and double-click a Profile to close the grid
The black and white profile set in Lightroom
The B&W Profile set offers a range of quick and easy black and white conversions. Once applied, you can further tweak the effect using the Black and White Mix controls

3 Enhance the tones

The Basic Panel in Lightroom’s Develop Module is the best place to begin enhancing tones, fixing colours and more. Start at the top of the sliders and work your way down. You can hold Alt while dragging the Black and Whites sliders for a useful view that shows clipped pixels. In general we want to guard against clipping, as it means either blown highlights or detail-less shadows. So drag the Black and Whites to a point just before the pixels begin to clip. This ensures your image has a full range of tones from dark to light.

Screenshot showing the sliders in Lightroom
Work through the Basic Panel sliders to boost contrast and colour. Any slider in Lightroom can be reset to it’s default by double-clicking it

4 Fix white balance

If your colours look slightly off then you can correct them with ease using the White Balance controls, especially if you’ve shot in raw, as this means you can adjust white balance afterwards with exactly the same results as if you’d done so in-camera before taking the shot. To set the white balance, you can either adjust the Temperature and Tint sliders or alternatively grab the White Balance eyedropper tool beside them and click over a point in the image that you know should be neutral, like a grey road or a white wall.

Screenshot showing the white balance eyedropper in Lightroom
The White Balance eyedropper lets you click over part of the image to correct the colours

Screenshot showing a before and after comparison in Lightroom
When fixing white balance manually with the temperature and Tint sliders it can be helpful to temporarily set Vibrance and Saturation to +100, as this makes any unnatural colour casts more obvious

5 Boost your colours

The Vibrance and Saturation sliders are invaluable for boosting colours. Saturation offers universal control over colour intensity, while Vibrance instead targets the weaker colours, which can be useful for portraits as it allows you to strengthen colours without over-saturating skin tones. The HSL Panel below offers further colour controls. You can tweak the saturation of eight different colour ranges, or alter the Hue and Luminance instead. It’s often easier to do this on-image rather than with the sliders. Toggle the little target icon on and you can drag up or down over colours within the frame to alter them.

Adjusting the vibrancy of an image in Adobe Lightroom
Vibrance lets you boost the less-saturated colours in the image while leaving the stronger colours alone
The HSL panel in Adobe Lightroom with a before and after comparison
The HSL Panel can be useful for boosting blue skies - click the Saturation tab and then drag upwards over the sky to boost the blues, then click Luminance and drag down to darken them slightly

6 Retouch marks and blemishes

If your image is blighted by sensor marks then these can be removed using the Spot Removal tool. Simply grab the tool from the Lightroom toolbar and set it to Heal in the options below the toolbar. On a keyboard use the ] and [ bracket keys to resize the brush tip so that it’s slightly larger than the mark, then paint to remove it. If the same annoying mark appears across a whole set of photos then there’s no need to manually fix every one - simply correct one image, then sync the edit to the rest (see tip 8).

The spot removal tool in Adobe Lightroom
As well as sensor marks, you can also use the Spot Removal tool to retouch pimples in your portraits, jet trails in skies (shift-click between two points to paint a straight line) and any other small distractions in your photos.

7 Selectively boost the image

Three tools in Lightroom allow you to make powerful local edits to boost parts of your photos. Whether you need to enhance a sky, boost the colours in your subject, tease out detail in shadow areas or even soften skin, these tools can help. The Graduated Filter lets you make linear adjustments, much like a lens-mounted grad. The Radial Filter creates circular adjustments, which can be useful for adding subtle vignettes to draw the eye towards your subject. The Adjustment Brush lets you paint to target a part of your photo. After defining an area with one of these tools, you can adjust the tones in any way you like using the sliders to the right.

Using the adjustment brush with mask overlay in Lightroom
When painting with the Adjustment Brush hit O to toggle a mask overlay or on off to see what’s included in your local adjustment. Hold Alt and paint to subtract parts of the mask if necessary.

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8 Sync your edits

Lightroom is a parametric editor, meaning that edits won’t alter the original image file, they simply change its appearance within the interface. These changes are stored alongside the file as extra bits of data. Not only does this mean everything remains editable, it also makes it very easy to copy settings from one image to another. To do so, simply edit one image then highlight several others (either Cmd/Ctrl+click to select individual images or Shift-click between first and last to select an entire set in the filmstrip) and click the Sync button. You can choose which edits to sync, or simply check all. This ability to copy your edits means you can quickly work up an entire batch of photos in a few minutes.

Synchronize settings in Lightroom
The sync box lets you apply edits from one image to others with ease. Either choose to copy specific edits or check them all to sync everything

9 Sharpen the details

The Detail Panel with Lightroom’s Develop Module lets you apply sharpening and noise reduction to your photos. Sharpening is essentially localised contrast control. When we sharpen a photo, we increase contrast along edges in the image where dark pixels meet lighter ones. The dark side of the edge gets darker, the light side becomes brighter and the edge looks crisper. The Sharpening Amount slider controls the overall strength of the contrast change, while the Radius slider determines how far away from the edge the sharpening occurs.

Sharpening is essential when preparing your images for output. Use the Amount slider to control the strength of the effect, and the Radius slider to set the distance from edges in which sharpening occurs
Using the masking slider in Adobe Lightroom
There’s little point in sharpening the out-of-focus area of the frame, as all we’d be doing is amplifying the noise in these areas. The Masking slider lets us confine sharpening to the detailed areas - hold Alt and drag it for a view that shows what’s being masked out

10 Exporting your images

To export an image or set of images, right-click and choose Export or hit Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+E. The Export box lets you choose an image format. Tiff is a good choice if you want maximum image quality. Jpeg is more universal and creates smaller file sizes, but keep in mind that it’s a ‘lossy’ format, so if the image is repeatedly opened and closed the compression can lead to image banding (where graduated tones clump into unsightly blocks of colour). As a rule of thumb it’s best to export as a high quality jpeg at the very end of your workflow, then keep the original on file to refer back to if necessary.

The export options in Lightroom
The Export box lets you resize your images to a specific resolution, so it’s ideal for outputting your images for print or web at a set size
Creating an export preset in Adobe Lightroom
To save yourself time it’s a good idea to create export presets for your most-used image settings, such as a 1200px jpeg for a web page or an A4 print size for your printer

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