For Photographers | Basic Lightroom Adjustments


A few weeks ago, I posted a before/after image from a recent wedding in a photography forum, rambling about what an amazing program Lightroom is. I didn't really think anything of it (it was a fairly basic edit), but I got an overwhelming number of questions about what I did, and I promised to write a blog post about it soon. Instead of one post with an overwhelming amount of information, I'm going to break it up into several posts, focusing on different aspects of Lightroom. I'm always learning new things about the program, and I hope this helps you learn something new as well! (Or at least a different perspective on something you were already doing!)

Today I want to talk about basic editing. When I pull up an image, there are several things that I always do to it. I've created a preset so I no longer have to make these adjustments manually, but I almost always:

Fix the white balance

I manually set my white balance in camera, so most of the time I don't have to mess with this. However, sometimes I'm a bit off, or the lighting is a bit different in different areas of the room we're shooting in, so I need to fix this in Lightroom. To do it, I use the eyedropper tool and click on something gray within the image. When you hoover over grayish things in the image, there is a bunch of numbers displayed in the pop-up box... you want these numbers to be as close to each other as possible. This ensures your white balance is more accurate. Sometimes, though.... it still doesn't look right. In these instances.... I just eyeball it. I've been doing this a while, so I know when +3 magenta would help balance out the green cast from the trees or when -5 would remove the pinkish cast in skin tones.

Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 2.26.43 PM

Increase the contrast, shadows, whites, clarity, and vibrance

RAW images typically don't have enough contrast, so a slight adjustment here helps. Bringing up the shadows a bit helps bring back a bit of the details that aren't normally visible (especially in things like tuxes) When I bring up the whites, I click "j" to see the clipping mask and bring it up until the whites are just becoming clipped (they'll start turning red). This means that the image has SOME true whites in it and ensures a better tonal range. I don't ALWAYS bring up the clarity (sometimes I bring it down- just depends on the image and mood), but when I do, it's only by about +10 Increasing the vibrance means that all of the colors except for the skin-tones become more colorful and vivid (so there's no more bright orange people like when you increase saturation!). Whoever thought of this was seriously a genius. 

Decrease the highlights and blacks

This brings back some of the details in the highlights and darkens up the blacks for better tonal range.

Apply sharpening, a slight vignette, and a custom tone curve

These steps certainly aren't necessary... but I think they add. I might have to do a separate blog post on the curves section of Lightroom... It can get fairly complex. But generally, I'll bring up the darks slider and down the blacks.

I know this seems like a lot of adjustments, but generally speaking, RAW images look a bit flat and fuzzy straight out of camera, so these basic adjustments help the image look a bit more like the JPEG preview you see on the back of the camera.

On a well-exposed, normal image, this is all the adjusting I have to do! For example:

Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 2.09.53 PM

The differences in this image is SUPER subtle, but overall, the edit gives the image a bit more depth, vibrance, and warmth.

I hope this helps you understand what I do with a normal, well-exposed image. Next week we'll chat a bit more about what you should do if the image needs a bit more help. =]


Questions? Leave them in the comments below and I'll do my best to answer them!