January 9, 2012

Why Lightroom May Be The Only Photo Editor You Need


I currently use both Photoshop CS5 and Adobe Lightroom 3 to edit, size and save all the photos here at Kevin & Amanda. I love Photoshop through and through, but Lightroom has some pretty awesome features that can definitely rival Photoshop’s near and dear place in my heart. Lightroom is brimming with easy-to-use tools and sliders to lighten, brighten, enhance, and correct just about any photo you can throw its way. Below are a few of my favorite features to use in Lightroom, some “before and afters” of photos edited only in Lightroom, and the step-by-step adjustments I made to get them there. With its multitude of features, straightforward user interface, and much more reasonable price tag, I’m convinced that Lightroom could easily be the only photo editor you need. Come see what I mean.


Organizing Photos

Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first, then onto the cool tools! I use Lightroom to get all my photos off my memory card and onto the computer. I then weed through and discard the photos I don’t want, and organize and arrange the remaining photos.

Some things to note when importing photos:

  1. Make sure Render Previews: Standard is selected.
  2. Optional: Rename your photos to something descriptive, with a lot of key words so you can search for them later if you’re looking for a particular photo. (Example: Christmas 2011 Pensacola Beach)
  3. Here’s how I organize my photos. I put them in the Pictures folder on my computer, and then each event goes into its own subfolder. (Example: Christmas 2011)

Now you’re ready to import. After all the photos have been imported, while under the Library tab in Lightroom, I scroll through each photo and use the 1-5 number keys to “star” my favorite photos — that is, the ones I like and want to keep. I delete the rest. (To delete, select Edit > Select by Rating > None to select the “unstarred” photos then hit the Delete key to Delete from Disk.)

Then I simply drag and drop the remaining photos to arrange them in the order I want them to appear, if they aren’t already in order.

Now that we’ve got the house cleaning out of the way, let’s edit our first photo!


Crop & Straighten

My first step is to go through and crop and straighten the photos that need it. Hands down, this is a thousand times easier to do in Lightroom than Photoshop.

Straight Out Of Camera (SOOC)

Just press the “R” key to bring up the Crop and & Straighten window. The plentiful grid lines that appear are extremely helpful. There’s usually always one close to something in the photo you can use to line it up and straighten it out.

For example, the fence in the above photo. Press “R” again to apply the crop.

Much better! Now’s when the magic really starts to happen.


Under the Develop tab in Lightroom, you’ll find a multitude of tools and sliders to enhance your photo.


Vibrance & Saturation

Let’s start with Vibrance and Saturation. These two can really make the colors of a photo come to life. Vibrance enhances blues. If there’s a sky in your photo, add some Vibrance. You won’t regret it.

Sky = Vibrance. In this photo I bumped the Vibrance up to 60. As you can see, it enhanced the blues in the photo while mostly leaving the other colors as is.

Saturation enhances yellows and reds. I use Saturation more sparingly than Vibrance. It’s easy to overdo. Here I only increased the Saturation to 10. This enhanced the colors in the dirt and field while mostly leaving the sky alone.


Now here’s the before and after. Move your mouse on and off this photo to see the changes we made.

(Note: If you’re reading this post in a feed reader or email, you’ll have to click over to Kevin & Amanda to see this feature in action)


White Balance

This is one of my favorite tools to use in Lightroom. If the color in your photo just isn’t quite right, simply click on a point in the photo that should be white to balance out the entire photo.

Straight Out Of Camera (SOOC)

This is another one I always do in Lightroom instead of Photoshop. If Photoshop has a white balance tool that’s even anywhere remotely this easy to use, I’m completely missing it.

In the Develop tab of Lightroom, under the Treatment heading, you’ll see a White Balance Dropper you can use to click on a point on your photo that should be white. At this point, the whites in your photo will probably be either too blue or too yellow. As you can see in the above photo, some points are more yellow than others. For the most accurate white balance results, select the point in the photo that is the most white.

Yay! The building is white again. But the colors have lost some of their vibrancy. It’s kinda dull.

So let’s add a little Vibrance and Saturation to this photo. Huge difference. The vivid colors just bring this photo to life. I’ll admit, I don’t always use Lightroom to add Vibrance and Saturation. I’ll sometimes rely on Photoshop actions to do that for me. But with results this gorgeous, why bother with a whole other program??

Don’t worry, Photoshop. I still love you…


Let’s see the before & after. Move your mouse on and off this photo to see the changes we made.


Fill Light

I’ve recently developed a deep appreciation for Fill Light. You know that completely dreadful lighting in the middle of the day with super bright lighting and tragically harsh shadows? No matter what settings you use, usually either the shadows are way too dark, or the lighter parts are way too bright. I love to take photos in perfect lighting, but that doesn’t always happen. Fill Light & Recovery can help.

Fill Light will lighten the areas of photos that are dark with shadows. Recovery helps bring back definition to the lighter (too bright) areas for an overall even tone. (I’ll show you an example of Recovery in the next photo. )

Straight Out Of Camera (SOOC)

Let’s start with this photo. Not great to start out with but believe it or not, this dud of a shot turned out to be one of the most dramatic photos in the entire volcano series. I obviously exposed for the sky and clouds (well, maybe a little under exposed, to be perfectly honest) causing the ground to turn out too dark.

Fortunately, by just adding a little Fill Light, we can easily even out the entire tone of the photo. If we’d just upped the Exposure, the sky would’ve ended up too bright before the ground got light enough. Have I mentioned how much I love this feature?

However, now that the photo is evened out, it could still use a little Exposure boost.

That’s better. Now the photo is certainly brighter, but it also got a little flat. There’s no pop. No pizzazz. Increasing the Exposure can do that to a photo.

Therefore, whenever I crank up the Exposure, I usually increase the Blacks as well. Blacks darkens the shadows in the photo for rich contrast and depth. Ahh. Life is restored.

And since Sky = Vibrance…

This is where the magic really happens, folks.


Isn’t this a dramatic before & after? Thanks to Fill Light I was able to salvage what normally would’ve been a tragic outtake.



Now let’s see what Fill Light and Recovery can do when working together. You’ve seen that Fill Light lightens the areas of photos that are dark with shadows. Now let’s see how Recovery can help bring back definition to the lighter, over-exposed areas for an overall even tone.

Straight Out Of Camera (SOOC)

Yikes! Atrocious lighting here. Just ghastly. But it’s not as if I could say, “Ah, excuse me Mr. Peacock, would you mind stepping into this shade for me? That’s right, now tiiiilt.. Look at me… Got it! Thanks!”

Not really.

The first thing I did was correct the over-exposed areas in the photo by adjusting the Recovery.

Next I used Fill Light to brighten the shadows to even out the lighting in the photo.

Now all this photo needs is a little Vibrance and Saturation to go from flop to fab!


It may not be flawless lighting, but it’s a lot better than what we started out with, right?? I always look for nice, soft lighting, but unfortunately, sometimes harsh lighting can’t be helped. Thanks to Fill Light & Recovery, now I don’t stress out about it as much.


Noise Reduction

This is a new feature in Lightroom 3. It’s another tool that can fix a bad lighting situation. If you’ve got terribly dim lighting, are forced to bump up your ISO, then end up with an abundance of unpleasant grain in your photo, Noise Reduction can take care of that for you.

Straight Out Of Camera (SOOC)

Let’s start out with this photo. A not-too-remarkable beach sunset. We’ll to work our way up to the Noise Reduction in this photo.

I started out by adjusting the Fill Light and Blacks.

Next I manually adjusted the White Balance. Since there was nothing really white to click on with the White Balance Dropper, I manually dragged the Temp & Tint sliders.

It needed a lot more blue, so I decreased the Temp. It was also a little too green for my liking, so I increased the tint. Now this is all very subjective, so just drag and play until you like what you see.

This may look a little blue now, but Vibrance and Saturation, always warms the photo up a bit.

Now the photo is gorgeous with color, but if you look closely at the sky, you can see a little noise and grain has appeared. Now let’s put Lightroom’s Noise Reduction to work.

Color. First, start by moving the color slider to the right just until all the random colors in the photo disappear. If it starts effecting the overall color of the photo, move it back to the left until you find the right balance.

Luminance. Then adjust the luminance slider to smooth and soften the remaining grain, being careful not to render the full image too blurry.

Here’s the result. Much better than the photo above! This subtle feature makes a huge difference in the overall appearance of the photo.



Now if you’ll indulge me just one final feature. See that sign off in the horizon in the sunset photo above? It’s kinda distracting. Let’s get rid of it. In Lightroom.

Simply adjust the brush to the size of your imperfection, click on it, then drag the brush to an area of the photo you want to duplicate in the original spot. That’s it.


Here’s our final before and after of the beach sunset.

Oh! One more cool feature to mention. Batch Editing. If you’ve got multiple photos that all need the same correction, you can batch edit the lot of them by clicking CTRL-C while under the Develop tab in Lightroom. Select the settings you want to copy, then highlight the photo or photos you’d like to apply those settings to. Click CTRL-V to apply. Done! Quick and easy.

Try Lightroom free for 30 days and see if you love it as much as I do.

Try Lightroom

Happy Editing!

See More Posts About: PhotoshopTutorials


Stephanie February 28, 2012 at 12:09 pm

I started using Lightroom last night – LOVE it! I used your tutorial and then started playing with it – there are like 50 presets that give awesome Photoshop like actions!! Also LOVE the easy integration with Photoshop!

Thanks again!!!
Stephanie @ All Artful


Amanda March 5, 2012 at 12:28 am

I use the white dropper in PS levels to help balance the white. I’m not sure if that is how you’re supposed to use it, but it seems to work that way.


Leslie Pepple March 7, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Thank heavens for this post – finally a user friendly, quick, fun (and gorgeous!) tutorial for Lightroom 4! I have just one question – I’m having trouble finding the fill light feature (seems like it shouldn’t be that hard to locate) I keep thinking it should be under the “basic” section of the editing tool bar.

PS: Bostons are proof that we are meant to lead joyful lives! :)


Laura @ Lauras' Sweet Spot! March 30, 2012 at 3:41 am

This post is incredible! I am totally putting Lightroom on my wishlist and bookmarking this page- Thanks for all the great information!


Kathy April 5, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Hi Amanda, I am new to photography and I am trying to find a starter photoshop. Now I see you like the lightroom3, what do you think about lightroom4?


Vicky April 26, 2012 at 11:29 am

Awesome tutorial. I recently started using Lightroom and still have a ton to learn but this post does a great job of explaining what to do and when.


Kimber May 6, 2012 at 1:03 am

Thank you for posting this, Amanda! I’ve been frustrated with Photoshop for the type of product photos that I need and so I’ve downloaded the Lightroom trial at your suggestion. It does just what I need and had such an easy learning curve (especially compared to PS). Again, I really appreciate your post because without it, I would have never tried Lr. Take care!


Mindy May 31, 2012 at 5:12 am

I know that you did this tut a while ago, but maybe you still can help me? Or if someone else would kindly help me? I read that “saving” your photo after editting it is very different than any other program. Can someone help me figure out how to save my “changes” (editting) to my hard drive? Thank you!


Les June 7, 2012 at 1:37 pm

And I can’t do all that with the GIMP?


Amanda July 23, 2012 at 12:54 am

All your photography and editing tutorials are fantastic! Any chance you will have a lightroom 4 tutorial in the future?


Tracy Hibbs October 13, 2012 at 12:21 am

I have NEVER, NEVER written a comment on any kind of blog, tutorial, or anything for that matter. I just wanted to tell you how wonderful your tutorial was!! I have tried the trial of LR as well as many other software programs in the past. My problem is I never know where to start! I have bought books ect but it is always just too much information and confusing. I am a very visual learner and your tutorial was PERFECT! Most visual tutorials don’t include the written steps to go along with the visuals and vice versa…again yours was perfect!
I REALLY REALLY hope you continue with your tutorials…you know you really could create your own series of them! I would pay for them :)

Thank You Again,
Tracy Hibbs


Cheryl Ann November 21, 2012 at 10:38 pm

I agree! Amanda’s tutorials are spot on. Not fancy, not elaborate, but just what you need to get started! And I just love that she is willing to share her expertise in the simplest of manners, because that is exactly what she knows we need!

Mubariz Khan November 19, 2012 at 9:51 am

Thanks a lot. Love ya!


Cheryl Ann November 21, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Just bought Lightroom 3 (4 is already out) OEM for $29.95 with free shipping, only because of your review. I haven’t read all of your comments, but I loved your article and I couldn’t pass up this deal. I have Creative Suite 3, kind of old, but still a great program. I don’t need the latest of ANY program, just a somewhat current version and I am excited to try this one out. My Thanksgiving present to me, and I don’t think I would have bought it if not for this post. I have followed you, Amanda, for years and I trust you and that is probably something you hear all the time! I am a bit older than your average follower, but I can see that you are a straight arrow and I love all your posts, your voice and pretty much most of whatever you do! Thanks for always shooting straight and being a really great woman, girl and blogger.


Cheryl Ann November 21, 2012 at 10:49 pm

P.S. Check out my facebook page, I could use your input, Amanda. https://www.facebook.com/cherylannshipman I am just starting out (in business) and I know you have defined your focus and marketing and I was wondering if you had any advice for just little old me? When did you define your focus (did it change somewhere down the line, when, and how did you handle it?) How do you keep the public at bay? How much do you share and when? You seem to have it defined well, as in, how much to give and how much to keep private. You seem so open, but I know you have an idea of where you’re going. I would appreciate your advice…I am focused, I know what I want to do, but I want to do it without exposing myself without boundaries. Thanks, Amanda, for being the best role model I have discovered (EVER) and consistently loved since finding you and your blog.

Debbie Haggard November 23, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Amanda….love the lightroom tutorial, thanks. I have a question. When you export/copy a picture/portrait that will be used to hang in your home…..do you use any special or different settings in Lightroom?


Renee Booe November 25, 2012 at 6:23 am

Great post! I shared it with my fans on my Facebook page because I think it is so helpful. Thanks for the great info.


Ellen November 26, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Great tutorial. As of right now, you can buy Lightroom 4 Upgrade for $79.00 from Adobe, regular price is $150.00. Photoshop Elements 11 can also be bought as upgrade for $79.00, regular price is $99.00. (Be sure to read the ‘upgrade’ rules.)

I just bought Photoshop Elements 11 for $49.00 at Amazon.com .

I feel Photoshop Elements is just as good as LightRoom for editing photos, but I’ve been using Photoshop Elements since it was called Photoshop LE. LightRoom is a photo organizer/editor. Photoshop Elements is a photo/graphics editor. You can do more in PSE than you can in LR. They are alike and, at the same time, different programs.

Look up LightRoom tutorials on YouTube. You’ll find more there than you think.
The HELP feature for Adobe products is extensive……….. dive in.


Becky November 27, 2012 at 12:59 am

You obviously have plenty of similar feedback, but does it ever get old to be patted on the back? I’m a total newb, and bought both a canon dslr and lightroom last year on black Friday. I use my camera all the time, but my dvd player on my old computer didn’t work, got a new one a few months ago, and was too nervous to open LR thinking I should’ve purchased photoshop. Nope, think I’ll stick and learn. Thanks!


Amber December 1, 2012 at 12:53 pm

LOVE LOVE LOVE this!!! I have been using Lightroom for awhile now but this info is EXACTLY what i needed!! Thank you sooo much! :)


Byron December 1, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Thanks for the great tutorials. I like the pic of the Los Poblanos peacock too (one of my favorite places)!


Mary T. December 18, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Thanks so much for sharing in detail! I work with LR and I don’t work with PS. I am honestly a bit intimidated by PS because it’s quite complex. I do like to work in LR and have a lot to learn in it yet. So your details have helped me quite a bit tonight. Thanks again for sharing and I look forward to reading more from you!


Nikki December 24, 2012 at 5:38 pm

I cannot tell you how much this is helping me. I have never used any editing software before; I have always just found it too complicated. I finally broke down and got Lightroom. I have a nice camera finally and want to be able to get professional quality pictures. You really brought it all together for me. By explaining what features do and showing us… I cannot thank you enough. You’re a wonderful photographer!


Mary December 29, 2012 at 8:20 pm

I have a couple of things to comment on… first – I love the way that you teach! I re-did a couple lighthouse photos that I had taken and wow! I love them so much more!! On a another note… I was reading another comment on LR about a gal who has a friend who was shooting a wedding and uploaded them in to LR and then when she returned the photos were gone. Well, I’m pretty sure that I am a jinx magnet lately! Because believe it or not a couple days after reading this I went to work in LR and everything was gone. History, catalogs, files, everything! I don’t understand how or why but my program is cleaned up now! My files were okay but I lost everything that I had been working on. Oh and did I mention I love how your personality shines through! You are certainly a good read! Thanks again!


Lisa @ Crazy Adventures in Parenting January 19, 2013 at 9:00 pm

This has given me something to think about, as I am too scared of Photoshop to attempt it, maybe this might be a better program for me? I love that renaming option!!

FYI, wanted to give you a head’s up, since you installed that new Pinterest button over your images, the hover before/after feature for this post no longer works. Not sure if you did that on other posts, too.


Rebecca January 27, 2013 at 10:33 am

What photo storage cloud do you use/ recommend ?


Casey January 30, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Hi! I’m so glad I found this!! My question is about Lightroom 4. Where do I find the fill light and recovery at? I just got it and am still learning to use it. Any help would great! Thank you!!


Sam February 10, 2013 at 5:33 am

WOW!!!!! Amazingg post.
The tutorial wasreally helpful for a begginer with absolutely no clue about post production. At first I was afraid that lightroom might be too basic a software and that I would have to spend months learning photoshop, but your post made me realize that Lr is all I need! The pictures. Alongside werre super helpful. If you could make a more detailed tutorial giving fixes to basic problems using lightroom, it would be amazing. Thank you sosososooso much


Frank Edgar April 26, 2013 at 3:36 am

I have been doing photography for about 5 years and this post really speaks to me, thank you.


Neranji de Silva January 5, 2014 at 4:33 am

Thank You so much, i’m a wedding album designer, this is so useful to me, got an newe ideas from this lesson


sue taylor January 12, 2014 at 4:10 pm

As an award winning professional photographer, I only use LR, not photoshop. LR offers everything you need for the most amazing and quick results.


tashi November 9, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Hey Kevin and Amanda, thanks for the tips, great page and I am learning Lightroom 5 now so this is perfect for a newbie user. Call me greedy but I want to know something else… can you tell me how you made a ‘before and after’ mouse rollover? that’s a great feature on this webpage… I should work it out myself perhaps but since you seem so generous here with LR tips just thought I’d ask… Thanks again


Nash November 20, 2014 at 11:59 am

Sometimes I try to edit pictures for my wife’s blog. I am not verse in Photoshop and I will try Lightroom. It seems to be a lot easier. And thanks for your tutorials I am here saving them right now.


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