10 Essential Lightroom Beginner Tips

In its desktop and cloud based versions, it is packed with features that are continually being updated and enhanced to keep it head and shoulders above similar photo processing programs. Immerse yourself in Lightroom, and learn how to create better images with the help of these tips.

1 Cropping

Cropping an image is an essential part of any photographer’s creative arsenal. A simple crop can often turn a mediocre image into a sensational one. Cropping in Lightroom is normally a case of dragging control points to get the rough shape of the crop you want, then you have to drag your cursor around with the crop to move your image so it can be placed in the correct position. Then, if its not perfectly scaled to your requirements, you have to tweak the size of the crop box. Sometimes, you just literally want to crop the edge of the frame by the same amount. If you hit the Crop tool and hold the Alt key, you can crop from the centre of your image. If you have a horizontal crop and you want to flip it so it is a vertical crop, simply press the X key to change the orientation. Handily, it will keep the same aspect ratio for consistent cropping. The default crop overlay is the classic Rule of Thirds, but there are a number of options. Press the O key to toggle through them.

2 Visualise Highlights and Shadows

Your Histogram in the top right corner of your workspace can show you the spread of tones in your image from darkest shadow to brightest highlight. It also has the Highlights and Shadows Clipping options to show you if detail areas are being lost to solid black or solid white. You also have another option to help you see the spread of shadows and highlights, along with those nearing the clipping threshold. By holding the Alt key as you move the Exposure, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks and Dehaze sliders, you can see a realtime representation of which tones are nearing their clipping threshold, or have already been clipped. For highlights, the screen will be mostly black with highlights shown as white and coloured areas. For shadows, the screen will be mostly white with shadows shown as black and coloured areas.

3 Grad Filter Control

Both the Graduated and Radial filter options have a couple of extra options available if you employ the use of the Alt key as you work. One very simple one is to click on your image with the Graduated Filter active and begin to drag the grad down the image. If you hold the Alt key, the point where you initially clicked becomes the centre of the grad. With the Radial grad, the point you click initially is the centre point of your ellipse, but if you hold the Alt key, it becomes the top corner control point.

4 Apply on Import

This is very handy one for those photographers who may be dealing with many dozens, or even hundreds, of photos from a shoot and want to apply a set of baseline edits to them all in one go at the time of import. With your preferred preset ready to go in the Presets pane, right-click it and choose Apply On Import. A small + (plus) symbol will appear next to that preset. Now, any pictures imported from then on will have that preset applied to them automatically with no input required by you. You can deselect your preset at any time so as not to apply it to any further imports.

5 Visualise Fringing

Another quick method to help you see what effect your adjustments are having on the image; under Lens Corrections, in the Manual tab, you can use the Defringe tools to remove the purple and green tones present as a result of chromatic aberrations caused by the lens used to take the shot. Hold the Alt key as you try each Defringe option and you will see that white areas are not affected at all whilst any coloured areas are affected by fringing.

6 Graduated Filter Intensity

This is another simple one that you will either get into and find useful, or just keep using the sliders in the right hand sidebar. If you drag out either a Graduated Filter or a Radial Filter, you will see a small control point at its centre. If you click and hold on it, you can drag the grad around. However, if you hold Alt and hover your cursor over the same centre point, you can now drag your mouse back and forth and, as you do, you can intensify all the settings currently active on that grad. If you had adjusted the Exposure, Contrast, Texture, Clarity, and Saturation for example, they will all be adjusted together as you slide your mouse back and forth.

7 Smart Preview edits

A Smart Preview is a great little trick for increasing your image editing performance. Raw files are very large and if the computer you are using for editing is struggling with handling the large amounts of data involved, you can choose to use this option for a performance boost. If you go to Lightroom preferences, under the Performance tab, you will find the Use Smart Previews option. When ticked, it will let you use a smaller version of your original on to which you can apply all your edits. Although, at this stage there may be a visual decrease in the image quality, at final output, it will be the size and quality of the original.

8 Switch Brush with Eraser

Once more a very simple, but time-saving, trick that can speed up the application and refinement of your adjustment brushes. In normal operation, applying an adjustment brush is an easy enough process, right up until you decide you want to edit the brush strokes you’ve currently added. This would normally mean moving your cursor off the main image window and clicking on the Erase button in the Brush parameters panel beneath the main adjustments panel. Now, instead of doing that, you can just press the Alt key and the cursor will change from the adjustment brush, with a small + (plus) symbol in the centre, to an Eraser with a small – (minus) symbol. You can erase parts of your current adjustment using whatever current Eraser brush parameters have been set, let go of the Alt key and continue adding adjustments as you see fit.

9 Use Luminance

Most photographers are aware that shooting a landscape often means that you are trying to balance exposure between a bright sky and a darker foreground. A sunny landscape may mean that your blue sky looks bright and a bit washed out. A lot of users may be tempted to try and add saturation to the blue sky, but you run the risk of over saturating the entire image. Rather than the Saturation tool, try using the Luminance tool in the HSL tab. To bring out a blue sky, drop the Luminance values of the blue channels to make blues in the image darker rather than more saturated.

10 Visualise Sharpness and Noise

Making sure your images are as free of noise as possible, without degrading the overall quality, is as important a part of extracting as much detail from your precious photos as any. By the same token, also ensuring that your work is as sharp and detailed as possible is another key consideration. Everything you do in Lightroom is a balancing act of settings to ultimately arrive at the best photo possible. Whilst working in the detail panel, to add sharpness or combat any image noise present, hold the Alt key to help you see what is going on in the image as you alter the values of the individual settings. It gives you a useful representation of the effect you are having and just how much the image is being degraded.

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Mark Frost

Mark started work as a commercial artist during the good old days of Letraset, spray mount and having to process your photos at a local chemist. Having discovered his passion for photography, Photoshop and the wonders of digital image manipulation, he has not looked back. He is well on his way to owning more cameras than he’s had hot dinners.

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