The First Three Things to Learn in Lightroom

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NOTE: This article pertains to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4. Version 5 is also available, and the steps will be similar though may not match exactly.

Lightroom is a very powerful tool for viewing, organizing, retouching and sharing your photos. At first glance, it may seem that the program is too complex to be mastered quickly. It is true that Lightroom has many capabilities – some of which you may use often, others that you may never use. Here are the first three things that I recommend that you become familiar with – each are relatively simple to learn and remember, and all are building blocks upon which more complex functions are built.

One: “Previous” versus “Reset”

It helps to know that nothing you do in Lightroom is permanent. Until you export the photo you can make as many changes and adjustments to it as you want, and you can always step backwards. Once you export the photo it becomes a separate file (typically JPEG), and the original RAW file is always available for further editing or to return back to its original state.

During post processing, you will usually make a series of adjustments. In the “Develop” module you can step back to undo just the last change you made by clicking on the “Previous” button. To return the photo to its original state simply click on the “Reset” button. This is a fantastic way to safely experiment with the various capabilities available in Lightroom – just start clicking around and playing with the various sliders and see how they change your photo. Export to keep the effects you like, and hit “Previous” or “Reset” to start over.


Two: White Balance

Budding photographers will tackle white balance and exposure correction as they practice their newfound skills. I wrote about tone and exposure settings in this recent article, so let’s talk about white balance.

We’ll often shoot in “Auto” white balance mode to make things easier on us, since we know we can always correct it in post-processing. Colors, shadows, saturation, brightness and tone can all be impacted by white balance. In Lighroom, the white balance menu has eight settings to choose from, plus a setting for custom white balance.


Consider the photo collage below. I chose it for demonstration because of the multitude of colors present within the shot. This gives you the opportunity to really see how the appearance is impacted depending on the white balance setting you select. Click to view a larger image in a new window.


Left to right is As Shot WB, Auto WB, Daylight WB, Cloudy WB, Shade WB, Tungsten WB, Fluorescent WB, and Flash WB. Once you choose the white balance that most closely suits what you want, you can perform additional tweaks with the sliders for Temperature and Tint.

Three: Cropping

We all try to get the composition right when we shoot the photo, but sometimes a little cropping is in order. The great thing about cropping in Lightroom is that you can see the “Rule of Thirds” gridlines and move the borders of the crop around until the shot is positioned in an appealing way. Take, for instance, this shot of a truly delicious cappuccino I had one beautiful morning in Santa Fe (click for larger version):


In order to view the gridlines, I clicked on the crop overlay tool (the dotted rectangle underneath the histogram). As you can see, the focus of the shot (the foam, and the handle) are smack dab in the middle of the shot. Kind of boring, right? Well, not that a cup of coffee really gets all that exciting, but I can add interest by performing a simple crop:


All I did was grab the edges of the crop overlay and dragged the left and the top toward the center. This realigned the guiding lines into a more appealing composition in keeping with the rule of thirds. Note how the left side and top of the photo are grayed out. Hit enter, and the crop is complete.


I hope you found this tutorial to be helpful. Here are some additional articles that touch upon the concepts of this post:

- Correcting White Balance
- Composition Rule of Thirds
- Tone Adjustments in Lightroom

What was the first thing you learned in Lightroom? Would you have emphasized something different? Feel free to participate in the conversation here in the comments, on our Facebook Page, in our Google Plus Community, and in our Flickr Group.

Photos copyright Tiffany Joyce.

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  • laptopforphotography

    Great article, very helpful thanks! I often have problems with white balance and wanted to fix it. I always want photo before post-processing but every time I need to fix thing I always use image-editing tool like photoshop to correct the errors.

  • Photographer Malaysia

    Nice article. Continue writing article like this. Thanks for sharing with us.

  • colorlabindia

    This post is one of the reasons I’ve bookmarked The Tiffany Joyce!