Adobe Lightroom – An Introduction for Beginners

In the earlier times, the process of photography involved actual shooting and processing in dark rooms.  The method, in digital photography times, is using a Lightroom instead, for most of the professional photographers. Lightroom is a photographer’s best friend – to arrange pictures, edit them fast, and export them into various formats easily.

Without further due, let’s get into the various parts of the Lightroom application.

1. The Catalog

The first step towards using Lightroom is to understand its catalog. Once you have imported your photos, they get added to the catalog. It helps you arrange the pictures beautifully by having all of them at the same place in different folders and sub-folders. The beauty of the Catalog is that it retail all of the metadata of your images, such as the changes you have made to them previously during development. In case you move files to external hard disk, all you will need is to find any missing folders and link them back, and all the settings in those images will be restored – Amazing, right?! You can also export folders to hard disk and relink the folders when accessing them on another PC and have your development metadata restored instantly.

2. Library

The Library module helps in viewing all the images, shortlisting them on the basis of rating, colors or flags, and doing some quick auto-corrections, and checking the image metadata. The Library module also allows for editing of the EXIF metadata. The great bonus on this is that Lightroom allows you to edit and sync the metadata across multiple images at once.

3. Develop

This is the main editing module of the Lightroom, aka where the magic happens.

It consists of the following major toolsets:

  • Histogram
  • Adjustment and Crop Icons
  • Basic
  • Tone Curve
  • HSL
  • Split Toning
  • Detail
  • Lens Corrections
  • Effects
  • Camera Calibration

Let’s now break down each one of these tools and see what they’re all about. Of course, some are more often used than others while developing, and some are intended for advanced users. However, it’s good to know what each one is meant for, even if you don’t ever end up needing it in your development.

3.1 Histogram

The Histogram gives us an overview of the tonal distribution on the image. It’s often used for checking if there’s any highlights or shadows clipping. It can also be used directly to edit shadows, blacks, highlight, or white areas by clicking and dragging the mouse across the graph. For a more definite, and visual, representation of the clippings, hover over the triangles on the top corners to see the dark and light clippings overlayed on the image.

Following the Histogram, there are various icons related to cropping, filtering and spot correction. These are quick-use tools that are quite handy when you need them.

  • Crop – to crop, rotate, scale image etc. Great for quickly cropping your image in a non-destructive way.
  • Spot Removal – used to fix specific spots, scars, etc. on the image quickly.
  • Radial Filter, Adjustment Brush, Graduated Filter – these help in selectively changing some of the settings of the image like exposure, whites, blacks, saturation, etc.
  • Red-eye Correction – a quick-fix tool to fix red-eye issues that occurs due to flash photography.

3.2 Basic Editing

Basic Editing includes settings to fix white balance, exposure, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks, clarity, vibrance, and saturation of an image. All these parameters are used to fix the tonality of the image in terms of light and color. They are fairly self-explanatory, but I highly recommend you to play around with them experiencing the different effects yourself. Be sure to always check back on the histogram for possible clippings when adjusting these settings.

3.3 Tone Curve

Tone Curve is an advanced control of the contrast of the image by using the sliders for highlights, shadows, whites, blacks. Essentially it is a more granual approach to treaking the lighting of the image at different spectrums of the histogram.

3.4 HSL – Hue/Saturation/Lighting

The custom color control of an image majorly happens in this section. You can do monochrome, selective coloring, color tone change, etc. using this module. Hue and Saturation correction are a great way to completely change the mood of an image with just a bit of tweaking. Remember to use this tool wisely to avoid having your photos looking completely unrealistic.

3.5 Split Toning

The Split Toning tool helps in toning the highlights and the shadow part of the image separately – giving the image a cinematic look. This is in essence a more granular approach to modifying the tone of the image for achieving a wider color spectrum.

3.6 Details

This portion helps sharpen the details and reduce noise which can be a result of various factors. Lightroom allows for an easy control over these factors. If you’ve shot photos with a high ISO setting or generally see blurriness or graininess at 100% scale, this tool will help you minimize them and result in a much smoother looking image. This is without a doubt one of the more finicky tools in Lightroom and you will need to spend some time playing around with the levers to achieve good results.

3.7 Lens Corrections

As the name suggests, the Lens Correction tool help in fixing lens distortion, fringing, and other errors by using either the lens profile embedded in the image metadata, or by manually adjusting the values yourself. Option of de-haze also happens to be in the same settings.

3.8 Effects

Definitely one of the lesser used tools by photographers, the Effects toolset allows for vignetting, adding grains, and adjusting the size and opacity of the image. I personally stay away from these effects as they tend to make the end result look ‘cheap’. However, that’s completely subjective and I’m open to being proven wrong.

3.9 Camera Calibration

This is used by advanced users to determine the correct color profile and calibration. Much like for the Lens Correction portion, the Camera Calibration settings are also imported into Lightroom via the image metadata, given that the camera provides it.

Lightroom is a photographer’s best friend when understood properly. It is without a doubt an industry standard for post-production and development. There is a lot to learn within the application (there are books and courses on the subject) but as you can tell, it doesn’t take much to get started. Thankfully, it was designed in a way to work for amateurs and professional photographers alike.

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