Steve's Photography Tips: Processing Photos with Lightroom

Tips to help you improve your photos!

Up to this point, all of the Steve’s Photography Tips posts have been about taking photos. But once you have used your camera to take your photo, what do you do with your photo next? Some people just share them or print them as they are, and that is fine. But personally, I like to take my photos a little farther than that by doing some processing on them.

There are several different ways to digitally process your photos, and none of them would be the one right way. However you choose to process your photos is fine, especially if you are happy with the results. Or if you are working for someone else, if they are happy with the results.

For today, we will look at one of the many ways to process photos, and that is with Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom has several useful features for photographers. One of its main features is one that I don’t usually use, and that is photo organization. You can import all of your photos to Lightroom, tag them with different keywords, and have them all in one place. I’m sure this “Library” mode has all sorts of uses if you have several photos from one photoshoot, such as a portrait session. You can have all of them there and then export them quickly, even automatically including a watermark if you choose. I do use this from time to time if I have a large collection of photos for one blog post, such as the Looking Back posts. With Lightroom, I can quickly gather all of my photos, do some quick touching up, and export them all at the same size, even with sequentially numbered filenames. I know some use that for all of their photos, and that is fine. Although it is also fine that not all of us do.

For me, the best feature of Lightroom is its “Develop” feature, which lets you quickly and easily give your photos a new look using presets, or making your own changes.

Let’s start with a sample photo. I chose a photo from last year’s Bangkok trip, and this photo is a scene from one of the streets we saw there.

You can use programs like Adobe Lightroom to digitally process your photos and make them even more interesting. Read all about it at Burnsland!

It’s an okay photo, I guess. But it really needs something to make it look a little more interesting. So why don’t we give it some different looks to see what we like? With all of the presets in Lightroom, there’s so much to choose from!


Here you can see just some of the looks that I tried by going through the different presets that I have. Lightroom comes with several presets preinstalled, but you can also download tons of them from the internet, some for free, others for a price. I’m cheap enough to stick with the free ones, though, but that’s just me.

I finally settled on a preset called “Yesteryear,” which is one of the standard Lightroom presets. But I still wasn’t quite happy with the photo, so I did a little more work to it, using the sliders at the right:

Lightroom changes

As you can see, I turned the highlights down quite a bit, while turning the shadows up almost the same amount. This makes the light parts darker and the darker parts brighter, giving the photo a more even look. Sometimes you might want dark shadows, sometimes you might not, so use that at your discretion. I also turned up the whites and turned down the blacks, which adds a little bit of contrast back into the image. I turned up the clarity for a little more contrast, and I increased the vibrance to make the colors a little more vibrant.

With these sliders, I usually work on a trial and error basis. Experiment with them all to see if you like it or not. Sometimes the results might surprise you.

And here is an important note: As mentioned in the Shoot Raw post a while back, Lightroom and other such programs work best with Raw files, because the programs can pull much more data from Raw files than from JPG files. That extra data helps out when you are turning up the Shadows slider to make the dark areas brighter, for example. So definitely have your camera save Raw files and not just JPG files. You will be glad you did.

So that is my usual method in Lightroom: start with a preset that looks good, and then refine it more with the sliders at the right until I get either the look I was going for or something unexpected that I am happy with. Sometimes the process takes a little longer than usual, depending on how much I play with the different sliders.

Also, if you have several similar photos to process, once you get one like you like it it is relatively easy to save those settings as a preset of your own and then apply it to all of the other similar photos. Sometimes it is still best to make some more adjustments to each photo, but having a preset to start with makes it go a lot faster.

How did the final image turn out? Here’s a before and after preview, and you can read more about it in tomorrow’s post:

Editing photos lightroom-before-after

In some ways, it almost looks like two completely different photos just stuck together, doesn’t it? But it is indeed two halves of the same photo, except that the right half is processed and the left half is not. And I think most everyone would agree that the right half of the photo is much more interesting to look at than the left half. And yes, this is a slightly different look than what I give many of my photos, but who knows, I could end up doing more like this. Or not. That’s the fun of processing and giving your photos different looks.

As I mentioned earlier, Lightroom is not my main method of processing photos, but it is good for something quick. For more involved photos, I use Adobe Photoshop, mainly because of its ability to have multiple layers in one file. Lightroom is a bit more simple, and Photoshop can get to be more complex, so if you are just starting out, Lightroom might be a good way to go. And more about Photoshop another time.

In the meantime, if you want to do more with your photos in a relatively easy way, you might want to give Lightroom a try. You can download a free trial version to do some experimenting of your own to help you decide if Lightroom is right for you.

Watch for more soon from Steve’s Photography Tips!

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Burnsland is Steve Burns, with generous help from his lovely wife Laura. Steve is a husband, father, photographer, webmaster, writer, podcaster, artist, Christian. Steve enjoys sharing his photography, art, and stories through, from the Burnsland World Headquarters in Tennessee.