Simple Lightroom Image Fixing Workflow

Simple Lightroom Image Fixing Workflow

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Whether it’s a photograph of mom that you’re sending to her or an image that you’re preparing to print, most photos can use some fixing before they’re ready to be shared or used.

Lightroom-workflow-before_after.jpg

Here’s a quick and easy Lightroom workflow that I apply to most every day images before sending them to family and friends, posting them to Flickr or my blog or printing them for a paper based photography project.

If you’re new to photo editing or to Lightroom, this step by step process should get you on the way to fixing your images.

Step 1

The first step to fixing an image is typically to straighten and crop it so that you remove any areas that you don’t want to include in the final image.

Lightroom-workflow-step1.jpg

To help you apply the rule of thirds to your crop, in Lightroom the crop grid, by default, shows a ‘rule of thirds’ grid over your photo.

Place an object of interest in the photograph over the intersection between the gridlines or place the horizon or another strong horizontal line along one of the horizontal lines to achieve a pleasing composition.

Here I’ve cropped and sized the image to place the waterline along the top line of the grid.

Step 2

Adjust the Exposure by dragging on the Exposure slider. This image is a little underexposed and the histogram falls well short of reaching the far right of the chart area. Increasing the Exposure fixes this.

Lightroom-workflow-step2.jpg

Step 3

To test to see if you need to use the Recovery slider to recover blown highlights, hold the Alt key (Option on the Mac) as you click on the Recovery slider handle. If you see light areas on the image, drag to the right to recover them.

Lightroom-workflow-step3.jpg

Here I artificially increased the Exposure before doing this to show you what the image will look like if you need to use the Recovery slider. If you see something like this on your image and if it is nicely exposed, drag the Recovery slider to the right to remove/reduce these areas.

Step 4

Hold the Alt key (Option on the Mac) and drag the Black slider to the right until you see the smallest hint of black appearing in the image. You use this slider to ensure that your image has some blacks in it.

Lightroom-workflow-step4.jpg

By now the histogram should extend to the very left and right of the chart area ensuring that your image has a good tonal range.

Step 5

If you have some areas that are clipped you will see white arrows in the histogram area. You can hold your mouse over these to see the clipped areas on the image. If areas are clipped you will have blown out highlights or plugged shadows which are generally undesirable.

Lightroom-workflow-step5.jpg

Here I have over adjusted the Black Clipping slider so there are some plugged shadows that you can see colored blue on the image.

Step 6

You can use the White Balance tools to adjust the white balance in the image. Drag the Temp slider to the right to add warmth to the image or to the left to make it colder. Dragging to the right warms the image by adding peach/orange tones to it and dragging to the left cools the image by adding blue tones.

Lightroom-workflow-step6.jpg

If you’re shooting in RAW or DNG then there will be a range of options available from the White Balance dropdown list.

Here I’ve added a lot of warmth to the image to show what is possible.

Step 7

You can also adjust Brightness and Contrast although I prefer to skip these adjustments and add some Clarity to adjust and sharpen the midtones and some Vibrance to boost the color in the undersatuated areas in the image.

Lightroom-workflow-step7.jpg

From here I would sharpen the image and it’s ready to go.

In a future post I’ll explain the basics of sharpening in Lightroom. Make sure you subscribe to DPS to get this update.

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at Projectwoman.com.

  • Great workflow! Thank you.

    As a new user to lightroom, and photo touchup in general, these tips are invaluable to me. Am I correct in thinking this is all available w/ JPG, or do I need to shoot RAW to use the adjustments provided? (My camera only shoots JPG, my borrowed DSLR shoots RAW, but I haven’t played with it much yet.)

  • Ken

    These guidelines work with JPEG although you’ll find your choices when adjusting the White Balance will be limited compared to RAW. In LR2 there are pre-sets available for sharpness, one for landscape and one for portraits. These work well in the majority of cases.

  • Dennis

    Why do you not adjust the contrast? I find that almost all of my shots need a little contrast boost.

  • This workflow works for any image in Lightroom – not just RAW – which makes it a great tool for folks who shoot JPEG only. In fact all these screenshots show a JPEG image being ‘fixed’ (check the overlay on the image as it shows the filename and the camera settings used).

  • From step 7 “You can also adjust Brightness and Contrast although I prefer to skip these adjustments and add some Clarity to adjust and sharpen the midtones and some Vibrance to boost the color in the undersatuated areas in the image.”

    Would you please do a blog post on using these two different methods. I think it would be interesting to see the different results. If you did that using the same photo you used for this post it would make for a nice follow up. Keep the great Lr hints and tips coming. I’m learning a lot from you!

  • Right…that great big IMGP3692.JPG I missed!

    Thanks again Helen, for a great tutorial!

  • Thanks for the workflow! I’ve been looking to refine my workflow and have never been able to find a good workflow for cleaning up photos (other than Crop, ‘Auto Tone’, etc).

  • Dawn

    Very clear, concise post on basic developing. I too am relatively new, and it’s easy for me to get bogged down trying to use “all” the features afforded me in LR2. Instead, this post reminded me that if I stick to the basics, it should take merely a minute or two to adjust a single photo.

    One great feature of LR is that if I have a number of images from the same beach around the same time, I could use a sync for most of the settings you used, and process them all at once! What a great program- makes the whole “developing RAW on your own” prospect MUCH less prohibitive.

  • Cheeze439

    Really good advice, although I knew the basics of histograms this really helped me use them to get a good balance to my under/over exposed shots. Before this it was trial and error and I could never quite get the to look right, but following your advice I’ve managed to salvage some really nice shots. Your tutorials are always of a high standard Helen and I appreciate the time you take to post them.

  • great article. i always forget that i can alt+click on the adjustment sliders.

  • Dominika

    Great post, thank you! I think I must be blind or something – can’t see the black clipping slider. Which one is it?

  • Bluenoser

    Thanks for sharing this, much appreciated. I do have a question though – why do you not adjust white balance at the beginning? Everything I’ve read on workflows in LR has always adjusted that first, and it seems to make sense since it has such an effect on your colour. By no means am I doubting your workflow, just very curious on that issue.

    Thanks.

  • Sriram Narayanan

    Are there any good image adjusting software that are free? This might not be relevant to this post, but i am wondering if it is possible to do similar manipulations with other programs. As a member of an amateur photography club, i can say that most of us cant afford LR2 or adobe PS.

  • Shana

    Nice tutorial and it will definitely help those trying to get started in LR. It might be helpful to briefly explain that LR works in the ProPhoto color space, whereas most people convert (at some point) to sRGB for printing, web viewing, etc. Since sRGB is a smaller color space, it is not wise to extend your ProPhoto histogram all the way to the left and right (especially the right) or it’s likely you’ll have blown / clipped areas when you convert to sRGB. I adjust exposure so it looks right to my eye (on my calibrated monitor), then take a glance at the histo to get some feedback there. I always leave some breathing room on the right (unless there’s an area that is supposed to be blown).

    I don’t think I would use the alt-click method for adjusting recovery. Recovery removes contrast and too much will result in a very flat image, so I like to watch my image as I adjust the slider in order to understand the effect it’s having (something you can’t do if you’re holding the alt key). To see clipped areas, just click on the right-hand arrow at the top of the histogram, and they will show up in red. If too much contrast is removed with the recovery, I will instead create two exposures – one for my subject and one for the blown areas – then blend them together in Photoshop.

    Another important aspect is the camera calibration (last section in LR). This has to be chosen first IME – before any other editing – as it can have a very dramatic impact on the image. I created a preset to set this to camera neutral when I import my images, although I occasionally change it to something else depending on the image.

  • Great workflow, very natural and logical. Just wanted to say that the very same workflow is possible and just as easy in Apple Aperture 2.0 (some of the sliders have different names though). So maybe the post could have a more open title (not so LR specific). And one can of course lift all the adjustments made on one photo and stamp those to another photo (or a group of them) in Aperture too.

  • Bonnie Conley

    Picasa works pretty good and it’s free!

  • To Sriram Narayanan – yes, I use Google’s free Picasa to do a quick & effective edit/tag/export workflow for a large government client. Many of the same steps outlined in this article are done with easy-to-find buttons in Picasa – here’s mine: Straighten, Crop, I’m Feeling Lucky, Sharpness, Tag (keywords). Originals are automatically saved to a hidden subfolder, and image searching is fast & easy (if you’ve accurately named & tagged your shots.) Give it a try, I think you’ll like it. Good luck.

  • Sriram Narayanan

    Thanks, Bret F, that was very helpful. I have used picasa, but mostly for uploading pictures, but i will try it and see.

  • Nice basic info for Lightroom users. For professional photographers it’s a must have.

  • LR User

    Great summary! The order makes perfect sense and it does give a handle on something that might appear daunting to a beginner. Starting with WB after Straightening and Cropping is definitely an option to consider as some commentators have noted.

    Here is an idea for those who got these steps nailed down and can at least feel happy with the results of their initial photo adjustments: It is to work entirely on the histogram area with your mouse! Just move the mouse over the histogram from right to left and you get: Recovery, Exposure, Fill light, and Blacks. The goal is – in general – to have a full and balanced spectrum in the histogram. That should take care of the light!

    Then take a look at the Colors…

    Finally sharpness, and Voila!

  • Do you ever use the selective color slides?

  • Barry Kennedy

    Thanks very helpful , at what stage would you lens correct?

  • Nice tutorial. It’s very helpfull

  • Michael

    Hi Helen! Thank you for useful info for a beginner user of LR. I have been using LR 5.5 for already few months and I was kind of satisfied with the results I got. However, after reading “The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 book for digital photographers” by Scott Kelby, I have started to feel the benefits of this wonderful editing application. I agree with your workflow in general but I would start with the White Balance first and after I would go with the flow with the application order of the Develop module. I wonder why have you shown the Camera Calibration Process of 2010 that matches the ACR interface that I used to use before I purchased LR? Do you believe there is some advantage of using the old interface of tools? Actually, I was very pleased using my Adobe Camera Raw application because I always shoot in RAW format.
    Thanks!

  • Helen Bradley

    Hello Michael. You make a good point about the Process Version. If you check the top left of the screenshots you will see this was done in Lightroom 2! That was the current process version at the time so I was using the most recent version. You should use the most recent version for your Lightroom version.

  • Why do you not adjust the contrast?

Some Older Comments

  • Studio MK April 26, 2011 07:39 pm

    Nice tutorial. It's very helpfull

  • Barry Kennedy January 19, 2011 12:39 am

    Thanks very helpful , at what stage would you lens correct?

  • haring photography January 23, 2010 02:28 am

    Do you ever use the selective color slides?

  • LR User October 29, 2009 03:02 pm

    Great summary! The order makes perfect sense and it does give a handle on something that might appear daunting to a beginner. Starting with WB after Straightening and Cropping is definitely an option to consider as some commentators have noted.

    Here is an idea for those who got these steps nailed down and can at least feel happy with the results of their initial photo adjustments: It is to work entirely on the histogram area with your mouse! Just move the mouse over the histogram from right to left and you get: Recovery, Exposure, Fill light, and Blacks. The goal is - in general - to have a full and balanced spectrum in the histogram. That should take care of the light!

    Then take a look at the Colors...

    Finally sharpness, and Voila!

  • Mircea Wedding photographer August 20, 2009 07:29 am

    Nice basic info for Lightroom users. For professional photographers it's a must have.

  • Sriram Narayanan August 14, 2009 06:29 am

    Thanks, Bret F, that was very helpful. I have used picasa, but mostly for uploading pictures, but i will try it and see.

  • Bret F. August 9, 2009 04:52 am

    To Sriram Narayanan - yes, I use Google's free Picasa to do a quick & effective edit/tag/export workflow for a large government client. Many of the same steps outlined in this article are done with easy-to-find buttons in Picasa - here's mine: Straighten, Crop, I'm Feeling Lucky, Sharpness, Tag (keywords). Originals are automatically saved to a hidden subfolder, and image searching is fast & easy (if you've accurately named & tagged your shots.) Give it a try, I think you'll like it. Good luck.

  • Bonnie Conley August 8, 2009 05:41 am

    Picasa works pretty good and it's free!

  • Marcin Petruszka August 7, 2009 07:03 pm

    Great workflow, very natural and logical. Just wanted to say that the very same workflow is possible and just as easy in Apple Aperture 2.0 (some of the sliders have different names though). So maybe the post could have a more open title (not so LR specific). And one can of course lift all the adjustments made on one photo and stamp those to another photo (or a group of them) in Aperture too.

  • Shana August 7, 2009 08:36 am

    Nice tutorial and it will definitely help those trying to get started in LR. It might be helpful to briefly explain that LR works in the ProPhoto color space, whereas most people convert (at some point) to sRGB for printing, web viewing, etc. Since sRGB is a smaller color space, it is not wise to extend your ProPhoto histogram all the way to the left and right (especially the right) or it's likely you'll have blown / clipped areas when you convert to sRGB. I adjust exposure so it looks right to my eye (on my calibrated monitor), then take a glance at the histo to get some feedback there. I always leave some breathing room on the right (unless there's an area that is supposed to be blown).

    I don't think I would use the alt-click method for adjusting recovery. Recovery removes contrast and too much will result in a very flat image, so I like to watch my image as I adjust the slider in order to understand the effect it's having (something you can't do if you're holding the alt key). To see clipped areas, just click on the right-hand arrow at the top of the histogram, and they will show up in red. If too much contrast is removed with the recovery, I will instead create two exposures - one for my subject and one for the blown areas - then blend them together in Photoshop.

    Another important aspect is the camera calibration (last section in LR). This has to be chosen first IME - before any other editing - as it can have a very dramatic impact on the image. I created a preset to set this to camera neutral when I import my images, although I occasionally change it to something else depending on the image.

  • Sriram Narayanan August 7, 2009 03:38 am

    Are there any good image adjusting software that are free? This might not be relevant to this post, but i am wondering if it is possible to do similar manipulations with other programs. As a member of an amateur photography club, i can say that most of us cant afford LR2 or adobe PS.

  • Bluenoser August 4, 2009 10:07 pm

    Thanks for sharing this, much appreciated. I do have a question though - why do you not adjust white balance at the beginning? Everything I've read on workflows in LR has always adjusted that first, and it seems to make sense since it has such an effect on your colour. By no means am I doubting your workflow, just very curious on that issue.

    Thanks.

  • Dominika August 4, 2009 07:00 am

    Great post, thank you! I think I must be blind or something - can't see the black clipping slider. Which one is it?

  • fac73 August 1, 2009 02:58 pm

    great article. i always forget that i can alt+click on the adjustment sliders.

  • Cheeze439 August 1, 2009 09:12 am

    Really good advice, although I knew the basics of histograms this really helped me use them to get a good balance to my under/over exposed shots. Before this it was trial and error and I could never quite get the to look right, but following your advice I've managed to salvage some really nice shots. Your tutorials are always of a high standard Helen and I appreciate the time you take to post them.

  • Dawn August 1, 2009 06:04 am

    Very clear, concise post on basic developing. I too am relatively new, and it's easy for me to get bogged down trying to use "all" the features afforded me in LR2. Instead, this post reminded me that if I stick to the basics, it should take merely a minute or two to adjust a single photo.

    One great feature of LR is that if I have a number of images from the same beach around the same time, I could use a sync for most of the settings you used, and process them all at once! What a great program- makes the whole "developing RAW on your own" prospect MUCH less prohibitive.

  • Nehal August 1, 2009 05:48 am

    Thanks for the workflow! I've been looking to refine my workflow and have never been able to find a good workflow for cleaning up photos (other than Crop, 'Auto Tone', etc).

  • Jeff August 1, 2009 04:52 am

    Right...that great big IMGP3692.JPG I missed!

    Thanks again Helen, for a great tutorial!

  • Zack Jones August 1, 2009 04:44 am

    From step 7 "You can also adjust Brightness and Contrast although I prefer to skip these adjustments and add some Clarity to adjust and sharpen the midtones and some Vibrance to boost the color in the undersatuated areas in the image."

    Would you please do a blog post on using these two different methods. I think it would be interesting to see the different results. If you did that using the same photo you used for this post it would make for a nice follow up. Keep the great Lr hints and tips coming. I'm learning a lot from you!

  • Helen Bradley August 1, 2009 03:37 am

    This workflow works for any image in Lightroom - not just RAW - which makes it a great tool for folks who shoot JPEG only. In fact all these screenshots show a JPEG image being 'fixed' (check the overlay on the image as it shows the filename and the camera settings used).

  • Dennis August 1, 2009 02:54 am

    Why do you not adjust the contrast? I find that almost all of my shots need a little contrast boost.

  • Ken August 1, 2009 02:48 am

    These guidelines work with JPEG although you'll find your choices when adjusting the White Balance will be limited compared to RAW. In LR2 there are pre-sets available for sharpness, one for landscape and one for portraits. These work well in the majority of cases.

  • Jeff August 1, 2009 02:31 am

    Great workflow! Thank you.

    As a new user to lightroom, and photo touchup in general, these tips are invaluable to me. Am I correct in thinking this is all available w/ JPG, or do I need to shoot RAW to use the adjustments provided? (My camera only shoots JPG, my borrowed DSLR shoots RAW, but I haven't played with it much yet.)

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