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Editing Photos In Lightroom Part 1: The Basic Tab

By David Fleet


editing photos in lightroom

At this stage of editing photos in Lightroom we can begin making use of features under the 'Basic' menu. Having dealt with cropping, lens corrections and calibration, it's now time to make some of the really satisfying adjustments that will produce very immediate improvements...


1. Initial histogram check

Ok, before making any changes, a quick glance at the histogram is a good place to start (understanding photo histograms). I can see, in the example below, that my image has plenty of detail throughout a range of tones and colours.

editing photos in lightroom

But, at the same time, you'll notice two yellow triangles above each end of the histogram, which point out there are some blown highlights (bright cloud - centre of picture) and some shadows that are blocked up (lower left hand side of foreground rock). Clicking on the respective triangles will highlight these areas on your actual image:

editing photos in lightroom

Blown out highlights are nothing to be afraid of! Sometimes you might actually want them (i.e. for high key portraits), and sometimes a small amount can be impossible to avoid. In this particular image that patch of sky was much brighter than the rest, so without under-exposing the rest of the image I could not avoid blowing it out.

You could use an HDR technique to capture a greater range of details (Adobe Photoshop tutorial for blending multiple exposures - this tanslates easily to Lightroom users), but I wanted to capture this shot in a single exposure, so that option was not open to me. We'll look at how to easily fix this problem in a second...


2. Adjusting white balance

Altering the white balance tends to be the first actual adjustment I make at this stage of my workflow. Because I shoot in Raw, I tend to leave my in-camera white balance setting on 'auto', which for the most part does an ok job. But if you're not quite happy with it then you can change the white balance using a whole host of pre-defined settings, or even adjust it using a slider to fine tune a custom balance.

If this is totally new territory, check out this introductory article on setting white balance.

3. Correcting the highlights

What I do now is quickly check the overall exposure. Whenever you don't get this quite right in-camera, it's very easy to sort out at this stage of the Lightroom workflow.

So, remember those blown highlights we spotted on the histogram? Well this next tool is what we're going to use to try and deal with them. It's called the 'recovery', because it allows you to recover lost information in the blown out highlights. In other words it will darken the very brightest areas of my image, without affecting the other tones too much.

editing photos in lightroom

Here I've moved the slider to a setting of 21, which has completely recovered the blown out highlights flagged by the histogram. Be careful when pushing this setting too far as it can darken the overall image; you have to try and strike a balance.


4. Correcting the shadows

Right, you'll also remember that our initial histogram check showed some shadow areas that were a bit blocked up on the lower left hand side of the rock. Well we can use the following settings, or a combination of them, to deal with this.

As with blown out highlights, there's obviously nothing inherently wrong with very dark shadows - they're just another tone. But if they are hiding detail that you'd like to be clearer, then a fix is required.

I begin by using the 'fill light' slider to lift the brightness of the shadow areas. This is a really nifty tool to use when your images are backlit, as my example shot is. Drag the slider to the right until you're happy with the adjustment:

editing photos in lightroom

I've gone to the extreme here, just to show you the effect of this tool. The downsides of brightening shadows with fill light are that it can quite quickly bring about noise (speckles) and lead to a rather 'washed-out' and flat look.

To remedy the latter side-affect, I restore some tonal contrast by moving the 'blacks' slider a bit to the right. This deepens the really black areas and gives nice depth, but be careful not to undo your work with the fill light slider!

editing photos in lightroom

I usually leave the brightness and contrast settings alone when editing photos in lightroom, because other tools do their jobs better in my opinion. Instead of them, I'd suggest sticking to the exposure, fill light and blacks sliders.


5. Adjusting contrast

I like this part of editing photos in Lightroom! Adding contrast really increases the impact of lots of photos and makes the main subject 'pop'. To do it, I use a combination of the 'clarity' slider and a curves tone adjustment.

The clarity slider adds contrast, but only within the midtones. So it creates contrast and punch, but without brightening the highlights or darkening the shadows. This is really useful in images like the example I am using, where I've already carefully altered the highlights and shafows but still want to add contrast.


6. Adjusting vibrance and saturation

Nearly there! The last of the 'basic' settings we have are 'vibrance' and 'saturation'. Vibrance is in fact a tool which increases the saturation of colours, but is confined to those that are currently the least saturated. In other words, it targets the dull and washed out areas, which is quite cool.

I think the vibrance slider is much more useful than the saturation slider. The saturation slider intensifies colour in all areas of the photo, even those that are already pretty striking. This can easily push the colours beyond what is visually believable and ruin the image.

So I very rarely use the saturation slider. If I do I keep it pretty low, often around 3, at a maximum perhaps 12.

editing photos in lightroom

Now let's take a look at the very final stage of my workflow for editing photos in Lightroom - sharpening and noise reduction.

The Lightroom Series:

1. Lightroom Tutorials Home
2. Lightroom Review

1. Importing Photos to Lightroom
2. Organizing Photos in Lightroom
3. The Lightroom Develop Module
4. Editing Photos in Lightroom 1
5. Editing Photos in Lightroom 2

The creative and technical aspects of post-production are really nicely explained in this beginner-friendly guide from DPS.

Where Next?

How To Use Photoshop (For Beginners)

Improve Your Portraits In Photoshop

Resizing A Batch Of Photos

Return to Photography Art Cafe

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