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!