My first venture into the world of photography was with my mom’s Canon film camera. At the time, the only way you had much control over an image after it left the camera was if you spent hours in a dark room. Then came digital photography, and digital editing and the whole game changed. Now, even the most amateur of photographer has creative control over the final look of an image. While it sounds exciting, it can also be a little overwhelming.
Programs such as Lightroom and Photoshop are intimidating with all their buttons, sliders and layers. Where do you begin? How do you know what your image needs to look amazing? In this article, I am going to walk you through 5 of the basic Lightroom tips you need to know to create stunning images in Lightroom.
1. Crop for Composition
A well-composed image will stand apart from others because it helps draw the viewer’s eye directly to the main subject of the image. When I begin editing an image, the first thing I look to adjust is the composition. There are several different photography composition rules you can use. Once you are familiar with the different compositions, you will start to see them before you ever take the photo.
However, there are the occasional times when you didn’t get the composition just right in camera, so you need to adjust it while editing. To adjust the composition of an image in Lightroom, select the crop tool from the toolbar on the right side of your screen. You can also click ‘Tools’ → ‘Crop’ from the menu bar.
The photo shown in the image above was taken with a center composition. For this image I will leave it as a center composition, however, I will make a slight cropping adjustment to remove a few distracting elements. As you can see below, I have cropped the tree and part of the bicycle. As a result, the focus is now on the couple instead of any distracting background elements.
Pro Lightroom Tip: The crop rectangle by default superimpose the rule of thirds lines. However, if you press “O” in your keyboard, the crop tool will change this to more advanced compositional overlays such as the golden ratio, diagonal lines, Fibonacci ratio. Which is really handy if you want to try a different compositional crop for your images
2. Adjust Image Exposure
The goal with every photo is to create a perfectly exposed image in the camera, so that very little editing is needed. However, when shooting in natural light, and with live subjects, it can be difficult to get perfect exposure every time.
In the case with the image we are using for this article, the female is wearing a white dress which is much brighter than the other elements around her. Since I did not want her dress to appear too bright, losing all the details, I chose to shoot at a lower exposure and adjust in Lightroom.
To adjust the exposure, I moved the exposure slider to the left to darken the entire image until I achieved the desired exposure I was looking for. I always adjust exposure before making any other adjustments because correct exposure can change how the other adjustments affect the image.
Pro Lightroom Tip: When you are adjusting your exposure, always keep an eye on the histogram (top of the right-hand panel). If a portion of the graph touches the right border, it means you have spots that are too bright. If on the other hand, if the histogram moves too far to the left border, that means you have dark spots. In both of those case, you lose image details on those areas.
3. Adjust White Balance
The white balance of an image refers to the temperature of the image – how cool or warm it appears. When taking natural-light images, you are at the mercy of the light source nature gives you. This means that more than likely you will need to adjust the temperature of your image when editing. An image that is too warm will look orange-y while a too cool image will have a blueish tint.
In Lightroom, there are a couple of ways to adjust the white balance of your image.
Use Lightroom’s “suggestions”
In the top right corner of the basic panel, you will see a drop-down white balance menu. It will give you the option to keep the white balance as it was shot, automatically adjust it based on what Lightroom thinks is best or create a custom white balance. This is a good starting point if you are unsure where to go.
The second option is the dropper tool
This tool lets you click on a neutral color in your image, such as something that should be pure white or pure black, to determine the correct white balance. Clicking on a neutral color in your image will automatically adjust the image’s white balance.
Adjust the white balance using the sliders.
The straight out of camera image was slightly too cool since it was taken in a shaded location. I increased the warmth of the image by using the white balance sliders. I moved the temperature slider to the right slightly to warm up the image. Then moved the tint slider slightly to the right to combat the green tint in the image from the green grass surrounding the subject.
4. Add Contrast & Clarity
Once I have my white balance where it should be, I can begin adjusting aspects of the image that will help the subject(s) to stand out. To achieve this, I begin by moving the contrast slider to the right to increase the contrast between the light and dark portions of the image.
Then, I increase the clarity of the image by moving the clarity slider to the right. This adds sharpness to the details of the image. However, you want to be careful when adding clarity that you do not add too much grain to the image that could cause the subject’s skin to look odd.
5. Adjust Tone Curve
The tone curve control panel is located directly below the basic edits panel in Lightroom and is easily one of my favorite tools to use. In this panel, you are able to adjust the balance between the dark and light aspects of your image.
For this image, I wanted to make sure that the details in the flowers and the natural elements around them stood out. However, I did not want to lose the detail and light on her dress or their faces. To achieve this final look, I moved the darks and shadows sliders to the left, while adjusting the lights slightly to the right.
As you are adjusting the sliders, you will notice the grid above it start to change. I always aim for a slight ‘S’ curve to ensure that there is enough contrast between the dark and the lights in the image. The tone curve is a fun tool to play around with to see which adjustments make the most difference in your image.
6. Enhance Colors Using the Color Panel
Second to the Tone Curve panel, the Color Panel is another favorite of mine. It is a great way to target certain colors in an image that you want to enhance or diminish. For this image, the green and yellow in the grass behind the couple was slightly distracting, so I wanted to desaturate some of it without making it look washed out.
To achieve this, I moved the yellow and green luminance sliders to the left to darken the colors. Then, I moved the saturation sliders to the left as well to desaturate the color until I was happy with the results. I also adjusted the red luminance slider to the left to add a little “rosy” color to the skin tone of the subjects.
One of the great things about photography is that it is an art form. And like all art forms, it is subject to artist interpretation. Each artist has their own style. If you were to give the same image to 10 photographers to edit, you would end up with 10 very different images as a result.
While this article is a guide for basic editing tips, please note that it is just that…a guide. Explore, play and have fun while you learn how to edit your images to match your style.
What are some of your favorite lightroom tips? Feel free to share in the comments below.
Download FREE Photography Lighting Cheat Sheet
Subscribe and get a free downloadable photography lighting cheat sheet