adobe lightroom editing

7-Step Lightroom Editing Workflow To Level Up Your Landscape Photos

Great landscape photographers make it seem as though taking incredible photos is easy. But as any new photographer can tell you, it’s a lot harder than it looks! Often when photographing landscapes we get one, maybe two, of the three (foreground, subject, background) elements right. The usual issue is our subject is well exposed, but the foreground is too dark and the sky too bright. However, with the right Lightroom editing workflow, you have an opportunity to help balance out exposure in these images and really make your landscapes pop.

Lightroom Editing Workflow For Landscape Photography

Check out this before and after for an idea of what’s possible using the Lightroom editing workflow I’ll be showing you how to do in this tutorial. On the left, you can see what the photo looked like out of the camera and before editing. On the right is what I achieved with the process I’m about to show you. Drag the slider left and right to check out the entire frame of each.

Related Article: Free Lightroom Tutorials

Before: landscape photo on a beach at sunset, straight from camera, no processingAfter: a landscape photo processed in Adobe Lightroom
A pretty remarkable difference, right? With that in mind, let’s jump into Lightroom’s Develop module so you’ll be able to show the world just how gorgeous that moment and place was. If you’re like me, you’ll find this editing workflow really brings your landscape photos to life. It will have others experiencing that “you really needed to be there” moment.

1. Lens Corrections

We begin by using the Lens Corrections adjustment panel, toward the bottom of the list of panels in Lightroom’s Develop module. You may need to scroll way down below ‘Basic’ and ‘Tone Curve’ to see it.
Locate the Lens Correction adjustment panel. In this screencap, we've underlined it in red to make it easier to spot.
Locate the Lens Correction adjustment panel. In this screencap, we’ve underlined it in red to make it easier to spot.
These settings have a significant effect on the composition of the photo and need to be done early in the process. There are three things we’re going to accomplish in this step. We’re going to alter the overall exposure, remove distracting and bright colored edges (which may be enhanced in other processing steps), and leveling out the horizon. Now, let’s talk about how we’re going to make these adjustments:
  • Check ‘Enable Profile Corrections’ to automatically fix distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting caused by the lens. This option is especially useful for photos taken with a wide-angle lens, which often suffer from warping of objects at the edges of the frame.
  • Check ‘Remove Chromatic Aberration’ to remove colored halos which can border objects. Chromatic Aberrations often appear as a bright purple border around objects. Too many aberrations will discolor your photo.
  • Click the ‘Auto’ button under these options to level out the shot and fix perspective issues. The photo may be rotated, perspective altered, and dimensions cropped. However, if ‘Auto’ has a drastic effect and degrades the overall photo, use the ‘Level’ button instead. The goal is to level out the scene, especially if a clear horizon is present.
Lens Corrections adjustment panel in Adobe Lightroom for landscape photography
Lens Corrections adjustment panel in Adobe Lightroom

2. White Balance

White balance controls the color temperature (how warm or cold a photo appears). Let’s move to the top of the Adjustment panel list and expand the ‘Basic’ panel. At the top of the adjustments are ‘WB:’ and ‘Temp’. The next step will vary depending on whether or not your photo is a RAW or JPEG. First, select the drop-down menu next to ‘WB:’. Then, if your photo is in:
  • RAW format, there will be several options (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Custom, etc). Select the option which gives the best result. You don’t have to stick to the exact option representing the shooting situation. In my photo ‘Shade’ actually worked best.
  • JPEG format, then only Auto and Custom will be available. Select ‘Auto’ as a starting point.
The ‘Temp’ and ‘Tint’ values may change after you select a white balance option. Fine tune the temperature by moving the ‘Temp’ slider left to give the photo a cooler feel (which adds a blue hue) or to the right, giving it a warmer feel (which adds a yellow hue). Manipulate the tint to add a green or magenta hue to the photo. Move the ‘Tint’ slider left to add a green tint, move it to the right to add a magenta tint. Depending on the light source and surrounding environment, a photo may have a neutral look which needs to be altered. Usually, a very small change in the tint can have a very noticeable effect, so change the values incrementally.
White Balance settings in Basic adjustment panel, Adobe Lightroom
White Balance settings in the Basic adjustment panel
My photo was taken during a brilliantly warm orange and purple sunset. So after selecting ‘Shade’ from the white balance options, I increased the temperature even further to give a warmer feel (which added a more orange/yellow hue). Then to bring out the purple light of the sunset, I increased the tint slightly.

3. Tone and Luminance

This section will have the biggest impact on the overall look of the photo. In this step, we will actually address six different issues: white point, recovering details in the highlights, black point, recovering details in the shadows, exposure, and vibrance. For this section, we’ll be working with the ‘Basic’ panel using the sliders under ‘Tone’. Here’s what that panel looks like:
lightroom editing adjustments
Lightroom editing workflow using the Basic Adjustments panel.
Once you’ve located the Basic panel, complete the following adjustments in this order:
  • Set the White Point Skip down to ‘Whites’ in the ‘Tone’ area. Hold down the Option key on Mac or Alt key on Windows, then drag the slider to the left or right. Keep holding down the Option or Alt key, the photo will temporarily turn black with colored areas. ‘Whites’ adjusts the brightest areas of the photo, those at or near pure white, and is a good starting point to set the overall luminance of the photo. I usually aim for a setting near the value where the small dotted areas first start to appear.
  • Recover Detail in the Highlights Drag the ‘Highlights’ slider to the left and set a negative value. The sky and reflections are often overexposed in landscape photos. Coupled with setting the white point, decreasing the highlights can recover a lot of detail. Don’t be afraid to go all the way down to -100. If the sky is still a little overexposed, just ignore this for now. We’ll correct the exposure of this specific area in the next section.
  • Set the Black Point Similar to setting the white point, hold down Option (Mac) or Alt (Windows) and adjust the ‘Blacks’ slider. This time the photo will turn white temporarily, and areas approaching pure black turn a darker color. Setting the black point after the white point and highlights has a similar effect to increasing contrast, but with much finer control. Setting the black point can add depth to the photo and help the colors pop. Generally, the slider needs to be adjusted to a negative value. Unlike the white point setting – where it’s best to set a value close to the first appearance of colored areas on the screen – be more generous with the black point setting.
  • Recover Detail in the Shadows Drag the ‘Shadows’ slider to the right and set a positive value. Landscape photos often expose for the subject, leaving the foreground underexposed. Increasing shadows will bring out more detail in the darker regions of the photo. Shadows often need a smaller increase in comparison to highlights. With the above ‘Highlight’ and ‘Shadow’ settings, always aim to give your photo a realistic look, without looking too flat. For example, if the shadows were increased to +100, everything would be very bright. The distribution of light and dark throughout the shot is lost.
  • Overall Exposure After setting the above adjustments, your photo will have a good dynamic range (distribution of highlights, lights, darks, and shadows), so there should be no need to change the overall contrast. Make slight adjusts to the overall brightness of the photo using the ‘Exposure’ slider. Often only very small changes are needed.
  • Vibrance Finally, in the ‘Basic’ panel, adjust the ‘Vibrance’ slider to the right. This will make the paler and washed out colors more vibrant.
Landscape after tone and luminance adjustment in Adobe Lightroom
After tone and luminance adjustment

4. Fix the Sky with a Digital Lens Filter

Now, we’ll recover even more detail from the brilliant sky by using a ‘Graduated Filter’. This is similar to using a graduated neutral density filter on your lens. Press M on your keyboard or click the ‘Graduated Filter’ icon (at the top of the right side of Lightroom, below the histogram). Ensure all values are set to 0. Then change:
  • Tint to 10,
  • Exposure to -0.30,
  • Highlights to -30,
  • Clarity to 10 ‘
  • Saturation to 30.
Move your mouse cursor over to the photo. Hold down Shift on your keyboard (to keep the gradient upright at 90°), then click and drag in a downward motion, creating a small area near the horizon.
Graduated Filter in Adobe Lightroom
Graduated Filter and settings
Once the filter has been applied, you can:
  • Move the gradient up and down, by clicking and dragging the black circle overlaid on the photo.
  • Make the gradient larger, by clicking and dragging on either of the lines surrounding the black circle on the photo.
  • Edit the values of the filter to really bring the sky to life.
When you’re happy with the settings, click the ‘Close’ button.

5. Sharpen the Entire Photo

Open up the ‘Detail’ panel and increase the ‘Amount’ slider under ‘Sharpening’. Photos shot in RAW will need more sharpening (around 90) compared to JPEG (around 70). Avoid any noise reduction, as this can lose some of the fine detail we see in landscape photography. If you were shooting at a high ISO and do need to reduce noise (by increasing the ‘Luminance’ slider under ‘Noise Reduction’), keep your eye on the main photo window, not the small preview window in the ‘Detail’ panel.

6. Crop for Composition

Press R on your keyboard or click the ‘Crop Overlay’ icon below the histogram. Ensure that ‘Aspect’ is set to original and the padlock icon is locked. Move your mouse cursor to the edges the image, and drag the crop overlay. Work on creating the best composition possible while removing any distractions.
Cropping a Landscape Photo in Adobe Lightroom
Cropping the photo
In my photo, the detail in the rocks at the very right of frame was noticeably warped, as I was using a super-wide angle lens at its widest setting (16mm). This also saw some of the bland areas of sky removed, creating a higher overall impact of compositional elements in the photo.

7. Finally, Add a Vignette to Focus the View

In the ‘Effects’ panel make sure the ‘Style’ is to ‘Highlight Priority’, then move the slider to the left. The goal is to darken the corners and edges, focusing the viewer’s attention on the most engaging areas of your photo. A subtle vignette is very effective in finishing off a landscape photo. Our eyes are naturally attracted to bright spots in photos. So this takes attention away from the bland areas of the sky. In my example photo, it also has the added benefit of evening out falloff of light in the top corners.
After: a landscape photo processed in Adobe Lightroom
The finished photo!
That’s all there is to it! This is the Lightroom editing workflow I follow to process my landscape photos. It really isn’t too difficult and the more you familiarize yourself with it, the easier it will become. You can make the process even faster by creating presets (check out these 100 free Lightroom presets) to do these workflow steps we learned today! Our Lightroom Resources

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About the author

Dean Wormald

Dean Wormald is a Australian digital nomad, working in photography, website user experience and blogging. Dean's Japan travel blog is the main destination where photographs are published, as he travels the country annually.

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