Basic Photo Editing in Lightroom

Basic Photo Editing in Lightroom


With all the tools available today to retouch digital portraits, it’s easy for us to go way overboard with editing on photos. We make a few adjustments here and there, then make a few more, and before we know it, the photo looks completely different – sometimes good, and sometimes, well, not so good.

I’ve been shooting portraits now for about 6 years with a digital camera, and when I think of some of the editing I did early on, all I can do is cringe. Yes, there is a place to do extra editing, but, we should use editing to enhance the portrait and the subject, not to detract from our subject.

When I go to edit a photo, I want to enhance the beauty that’s already there. Hopefully, I’ve gotten all the lighting correct when I shot the photo, and I just want my photo to have a little more pizazz.

I’m going to take you through my process of editing a photo, and explain step-by-step what I do to my portraits. Here’s my photo, straight out of the camera.

Photo 1.jpg

The first thing I want do is change the white balance, and make it a little warmer. I like the photo better already.

Photo 2.jpg

Here’s what I did next:

  • Brought the exposure up (+23)
  • Added some fill light (+20)
  • Brought the blacks up (10)
  • Adjusted the contrast down a bit (-13)
  • Added some vibrancy (+17)
  • Used the noise reduction (+55 Luminance) to give it a smoother finish

So here’s the before/after.

Photo 3.jpg

You’ll notice I actually did very little to edit this photo, and yet it just finishes it off and brings your attention to the bride. There’s something so great about just enhancing what’s there, and it doesn’t take a lot of time and effort to do. Sometimes we get so caught up in what we can do with the tools we have, that we forget that all we really need to do is just add a little touch to our photo to enhance the beauty of our subject.

Susie Hadeed grew up in Central America and Missisippi. She’s traveled all over the world doing photography and mission work, but just relocated to the Washington, D.C. area in the fall of 2010. Before moving she was an office manager in her father’s HVAC business, where she played an integral role in growing the company. This gave her the business foundation she needed when starting out in photography six years ago. She’s currently working at building her business and producing inspired wedding and portrait photography in the Washington D.C. area. See more of her work at Photography by Susie.

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Some Older Comments

  • Jim Shaw September 30, 2011 09:03 pm

    I'm using PS cs5

  • Hattie September 11, 2011 06:43 am

    I love both photos, but in my personal opinion I prefer the touched up photo for it is "warmer". I feel its more pleasing to the eye and more appropriate for the occasion suggested in the photo.

  • Marco September 10, 2011 12:53 am

    @gillaroo -- [quote] everything that should be White. , dog dress and seating is wrong. [/quote].

    Did you mean bouquet, dress and seating?? I don't see any dog in there at all!!! Might need to check your monitor!

  • Marco September 10, 2011 12:48 am

    @danny -- you are mistaken about the time before digital. Amateurs that had to use "drug store developing" had to take what they could get without a dark room, but professionals in both film and digital use top quality labs that will follow your instructions and can often give you better results than you could get in your own dark room back in the days. I use a professional, high quality lab for prints yet specify that they render the prints exactly as I submit them and I am only a hobbyist. I quickly learned that Walmart, Walgreens, and Snapfish could not produce the quality prints that I get from my current lab AND THEY WERE PRICED HIGHER!!!

  • Marco September 10, 2011 12:35 am

    Actually, I don't like either one. The original was flat without any punch or separation. The second one really helped the skin tones but gave her an "off-white" dress like a second marriage. A white balance somewhere in between would have been ideal and that is why a GRAY CARD was needed here. See the other recent article on this site about how a gray card can help!!! With a CORRECT color temperature the dress would have stayed white, the skin tones would have popped and the subject would have separated from the background properly!!! This tutorial on simplifying editing is good in that many subjects can get overworked quickly but it lost credibility with many just on the WB adjustment alone!

    I shoot wildlife and some subjects like eagles have additional requirements in post. The white and black often need work since cameras struggle with blocking up the blacks if they get the whites correct. For different types of photography, you need different PP techniques. As I said eagles are tricky and often you need to get the whites toned down using a highlights adjustment and at the same time you need to recover the shadows to get the textures back in the black areas. In landscape photography you will often need to use a different color setting in camera or punch up the blues and greens in PP to get the most from your shots. Film photographers used Velvia film because it naturally boosted the blues and greens in development so we as digital photographers often emulate that in post production. Every type of photography has different needs but you are correct in that there should be A REASON for every step in PP work. If you don't really know why and cannot explain it, you probably should not have done it!!!! The old KISS principle is at work here - Keep It Simple, Stupid!!!!

  • ArdiArdo September 7, 2011 07:06 pm

    Nice tips...i use LR and it realy useful for me..Tq

  • H_S_D September 4, 2011 09:49 am

    I like both the photo's but in my opinion slightly more would need to be done to truly get the best out of the picture. The original photo with the right natural lighting on the subject would probably not need a touch-up.

    First original photo: her skin tone, dress and flowers do not stand out. Nice as it is..colours just seem to blend into one flat photo.

    Second photo: Skin colour has definitely brightened up for the better. Her eyes and face stand out and look stunning. The wood bits on the chair also stand out and show sharper colours, shape and texture. However the dress and flowers still missing the wow factor to finish off the photo. I think the colour of the dress just needs to be made to not blend with the chair and background. In this particular photo you need to have a break up of the colours.

    These are just my thoughts. :)

    The original posting is just supposed to be a simple example and a good one at that too reminding people to keep-it-simple. With simple, selective touch-ups you're more likely to get the best result. Also like someone mentioned earlier always give your clients options because as this thread shows what one person likes another may not.


  • Sue Immel September 2, 2011 05:57 am

    I appreciate the photo both ways. The warmer color, to me, suites her skin. It looks more like she's in the warm sun. Thanks for the tutorial!

  • Art Hackett September 1, 2011 10:18 am

    Wow! The loudest criticism is always from the people with the worst taste and poorly set up monitors……waits for spluttering noises and indignant replies.
    You try try to give people some friendly help/tips and then the bitching starts.
    I love that you're using lightroom, which I think is the mist brilliant PHOTOGRAPHY tool in forever. I've been waiting for something like it since I had to ditch the darkroom. Photoshop is such a clunky POS that wasted time, space and resources, obstructing simple adjustments to optimise photos or real creative process with clunky tools and methods.
    Lightroom enables you to release the potential in your shots without getting in the way. If you can't optimize in lightroom, the shot is probably not worth it and you need to start again.
    Nice job on your example, thanks.

  • Duane Sefton August 26, 2011 04:20 pm

    Picture 1 would never make it into magazines without first editing!

    Keep up with the awsome editing, I like your picture.
    Thanks for your settings info

  • Michael Switzer August 26, 2011 12:58 pm

    It looks like a mistake. Just plain wrong WB. It might have worked if you selectively changed her skin tone but not the couch.

  • Mei Teng August 26, 2011 10:38 am

    I like the warmer look in the second photo. I guess it's really up to personal taste whether to go for a cooler or warmer effect.

  • Dallas Allbritton August 26, 2011 08:31 am

    This conversation has become a little bit humorous BUT, i respect other perspectives. Does an image always have to be "pure" carrying 1 look & 1 look only?

    I would like to ask those who think the dress should be stark white what they think of these images:

  • Greg Aitkenhead August 25, 2011 11:04 pm

    I'm always looking for ways to simplify my workflow and speed up the process of finding my best work, developing it in Lightroom, and getting my shots online. Your post reminded me again to keep the process simple for great results. Thanks.

  • Stephen Battey August 25, 2011 03:42 pm

    I liked the before, the after is WAY to warm for my tastes.

  • KP August 25, 2011 02:37 pm

    The image and the bride are beautiful. In my humble opinion, I think the processing was excessive as I actually prefer the original image so much more than the processed one.

    She is a bride. Bride's dresses are supposed to be white, the redness of the dress does not match the theme.

  • Troels August 25, 2011 04:54 am

    Thanks for sharing your editing techniques, but as others have said before me: I think the white balance makes the photo look worse than the original.

  • Reddy August 25, 2011 03:41 am

    on the other side looks more red to me. Need to do some more work. I have been using lightroom for such a long time. I'm just like Gillaroo.

  • wwlphotos August 25, 2011 12:06 am

    I "strongly" disagree with Andrew. The 2nd image is warmer while the 1st may have the correct white balance, it does not fit the subject. Because this is for commercial use I would recommend creating multiple options of the best images for the customer to review based in part on Andrews comment. The more options you offer a client the more chances you have at getting an additional sale

  • Lena August 24, 2011 10:42 pm

    Brava!!!! Finally to hear it from someone else! Many people keep telling me to edit more, add more stuff. I basically edit in the same fashion you do, and I am very pleased. Agreed, less is best! Sometimes a picture here or there with an added zing... antiquing, or vignette, b/w, but overall just basic. I am glad to hear I am not alone in my beliefs! This photography world can be oh so critical of newbies like me!

  • steve August 24, 2011 08:56 pm

    I like the principle, but the WB looks overdone to me.

  • Gillaroo August 24, 2011 04:23 pm

    I don't like the colour balance change- either do none or less- makes it look like the balance is just wrong- everything that should be White. , dog dress and seating is wrong. Only my opinion

  • anant singhal August 24, 2011 04:04 pm

    Simplicity is so underrated !

  • Dave August 24, 2011 01:07 pm

    It doesn't hurt that she is young, beautiful and has perfect skin

  • sebastian August 24, 2011 12:54 pm

    It's nice and we can really see the improvments, but I think it would be really nice to know why you did every one of those changes.
    A little bit of explanation about what is basic photo editing in Lightroom. :-) Nice job!

  • Rio August 24, 2011 11:07 am

    Nice editing, simple but really made the portrait really look nice.

  • JR August 24, 2011 09:37 am

    Agree. If you have a good capture, editing should be basic, just enough to "sweeten" it up. Nothing wrong with going a bit beyond from time to time, you just need to know when.

  • Irv M. August 24, 2011 09:08 am

    Excellent fix and a lovely photo. I must recomend as an incredible resource for learning just about everything on LR3 editing.

  • danny August 24, 2011 08:01 am

    Thanks for the post. Your original looks pretty good, how do you decided if it needs retouching. Most important, when do you stop messing with it. Before the digital age, what you took with your camera is what you get (unless you own your own dark room which is very very expensive). Will digital photography be like that or should it be like that ?

    Again, thanks for the post.

  • Ron August 24, 2011 07:53 am

    Less is more.

  • Mark August 24, 2011 07:50 am

    This is so helpful I've been watching endless YouTube videos on lightroom editing but this is so much easier to understand and helpful, I most probably over process mine but I'm learning more everyday and hope more posts on lightroom come along soon, thanks again for this post, mark

  • Andrew August 24, 2011 07:48 am

    It looks worse.