Adobe Lightroom is an amazing tool that can help you make your images better, your workflow faster, and the whole photo editing process more fun. I feel fortunate that I was introduced to it early, months before I even touched Photoshop, because it became the center of my workflow. Not only do I do a great deal of my editing through Lightroom, but Lightroom is also where I organize, sort, and prepare my images for print. Lightroom is not a substitute for those edits that are best done in Photoshop—cloning/healing, skin retouching, selective sharpening and some creative enhancements—but it allows me to focus my time in Photoshop on these special tasks. Perhaps, those who work in Photoshop alone might wonder how Lightroom could fit into or improve their workflow. Today, I would like to share 5 things that I love to do in Lightroom.
1. Turn Blah into Beautiful
Lightroom can be used to edit both JPEG and RAW images, but it really shines when used for processing RAW images. There are tremendous benefits to shooting in RAW. RAW files give you the maximum amount of tonal data with which to work, without white balance limitations, and without baked-in settings applied by your camera. Lightroom gives you the tools to manipulate that wealth of RAW data with an incredible amount of flexibility.
There is of course a learning curve associated with shooting and editing in RAW. Because they do not have any contrast, sharpening etc. applied by the camera, your images can look very flat and bland upon import. I know very well how discouraging it can be at first to see such unimpressive-looking images coming from your memory card.
Fortunately, the most significant steps that you can take to put some “Wow” into these images can be performed quickly and easily with a little practice. In the Basic panel of the Develop module are the tools to adjust white balance, exposure and overall contrast. These adjustments might seem basic and unglamorous, but they make up one of the most enjoyable parts of editing for me because they make the biggest difference. I have grown to love those first couple of minutes that I spend on an image, because with each move of a slider, something more and more appealing seems to magically emerge from the haze of blandness.
Here’s an image with lots of midtones and very few bright and dark tones. This image looks particularly “blah” as a SOOC RAW file with no contrast applied by the camera.
I can adjust the exposure and overall contrast to taste with the Basic Panel sliders (exposure, blacks, highlights/whites), and already it is much improved.
Even though I shoot with a custom white balance, sometimes the light can change and I need to tweak white balance later. This process is quick and easy in Lightroom using the Eye Dropper and click on a neutral color or, as I did in this case, using the Temperature and Tint sliders. A couple quick adjustments improved the overly cool and green look of this image. This edit is nearly complete.
I hopped over to Photoshop to clone out the clamp holding the blanket, even out the background wrinkles, selectively sharpen her beautiful eyes, and very lightly soften her skin. All done!
In situations like the one below, I am particularly glad that I shoot in RAW. The sun came out of the clouds as I was busy making goofy faces at this adorable but solemn little girl, and in the resulting images, the highlights looked blown on her cheek and dress.
If this was a JPEG, I would likely be left with a big white blotch on her face and an unusable image, but fortunately the data was there in the RAW file and lowering the Exposure and Highlight sliders brought detail back into that area.
Here’s the final image after a visit to Photoshop to even out skin tone with a curves layer, some skin retouching, and increasing contrast of the background.
2. Press That Sync Button
The Sync button located at the bottom of the Develop module saves me hours of editing time. I do a lot of newborn photography, so from each session I will have 5-6 series of images taken with the same lighting and set-up. I can edit one image, then select the others in the series, press Sync and –voila!—the adjustments I made to the first image are applied to all of the images! Flip the little toggle switch next to the Sync button and “Sync” changes to “Auto Sync”. In Auto Sync mode, if I select multiple images in the filmstrip, I can work on one image and have the settings applied in real time to all images. Love it!
3. Correct color casts and jaundice with the adjustment brush
With each new version of Lightroom, the Adjustment Brush has gotten better and more useful. I love the version in Lightroom 4 that can speedily neutralize many color casts and even jaundice.
Everyone has struggled with the dreaded green skin of subjects photographed in grassy or wooded settings. After global white balance is corrected, I select the Adjustment Brush (keyboard shortcut “K” to activate/deactivate the tool), paint over the area with the green cast, then pull the Tint slider towards magenta until the cast is gone. I can always reactivate the tool later, to further adjust the slider if needed.
Newborn jaundice can be a tricky thing to minimize without leaving the baby’s skin looking grey and unhealthy. It also can vary in intensity in different areas of skin. I used to tinker for hours with curves and Hue/Saturation layers in Photoshop only to often end up with an unsatisfactory result. It was a huge “Aha” moment to discover that I could address jaundice in Lightroom with the adjustment brush. I find it works best to treat the jaundiced skin as having a green cast, and not excess yellow.
Here is a SOOC image with some challenging skin colors and underexposure.
I selected the Adjustment brush with Tint set to magenta and brushed onto affected areas on her face and shoulder to minimize it. What if the color is really funky and adding magenta doesn’t quite do the trick? In the image below, after the baby’s overall facial jaundice was reduced using the method above, the area on the right side of her chin still looked very discolored.
I painted that area again, this time with the brush set to “Color” (area that I painted with the adjustment brush shown in red below), clicked the color box to expand it, randomly selected a light pinkish/magenta color, and fine tuned the color selection by moving the color selection square around until I found the color that exactly neutralized the jaundiced patch of skin.
Now my work in Photoshop has become much easier. Here is the final image.
4. Watch the Noise Disappear
Short and sweet–noise reduction in Lightroom is amazingly good. You can reduce color and luminance noise with two easy sliders. No plug-ins are required. It’s simple and a joy to use.
5. Create Custom Print Layouts
I have always been impatient with the tedious process of creating storyboards and card samples in Photoshop. Placing each image one by one, creating a clipping mask and then moving layers and re-clipping if I wanted to change image locations were tasks I dreaded. When I learned that Lightroom could be used to create custom page layouts for storyboards and collages using the Print Module, I was overjoyed. You can specify your page dimensions and easily create a variety of templates to layout your images, then save those templates as presets to reuse next time. Since you just drag and drop your images from the filmstrip into your template, it is quick and easy to see your image choices at a glance, swap images and experiment with layouts. You can even import album PSD templates into Lightroom and make album proofs in record time.
I am always excited to learn about new ways to use Lightroom. Even though I try to keep up with the latest features and improvements, I feel like it is such a powerful and versatile tool that I have barely scratched the surface of what it can do. There are so many other uses that I could not expand upon today — creating high resolution slideshows, uploading images to web pages, and converting your images to black and white, among others. I hope that this glimpse into how I like to use Lightroom will benefit your workflow too!
Jean Rhim, California
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Jean is a newborn and child photographer located in San Ramon, CA and serving the San Francisco East Bay and the greater Bay Area. She is also a wife, mother of two amazing kids, and pediatrician on extended hiatus from medicine to pursue her photography. You can see her work on her website and Facebook page.