File Under: Multimedia, Software

Lightroom Tutorial Lesson 3

Welcome back to our Lightroom tutorial. In our previous lesson, we learned how Lightroom works and how you can use it to organize, sort and search your images.

Now it’s time to get down to the real work — developing your photos. To do that, we’ll turn to Develop Module, which is the real workhorse of Lightroom.

Select a RAW image from your library and click on the Develop module to get set up.


  1. Overview
  2. Developing
    1. Basic Panel
    2. Tone Curve Panel
  3. Local Adjustments
    1. Adjustments Brush
    2. Graduated Filters
  4. Conclusion


Before we actually make any changes, let’s take a quick tour of the Develop Module.

In the left hand panel you’ll notice that organizational tools of the Library module have been replaced by a different set of options.

The left-hand panel of the Develop module
The left-hand panel of the Develop module

The Navigator window remains the same, but now you have three new sub-panels: Presets, Snapshots and History. The Presets panel holds a set of factory-installed, pre-defined presets for various effects as well as space for any presets you define yourself.

Presets allow you to quickly and easily apply a set of effects to multiple photos. If, for instance, you have a whole series of photos of the beach, you might adjust one, save your settings as a preset, and then apply those settings to the whole batch.

To save your current adjustments as a preset, just click the plus button at the top of the sub-panel. That will bring up a dialog that allows you to save some, or all of the adjustments you’ve made to the current file.

Below Presets is the Snapshots list. Like its cousin in Photoshop, the snapshot feature offers a way to save your photo at various stages of development. However, it’s not quite as useful here as it is in Photoshop because your entire history panel is persistent — it shows all of the changes you’ve ever made to your image. In Photoshop, the History palette starts afresh each time you open an image. Not so with Lightroom.

Which brings us the the last sub-panel, the History list. In Lightroom any adjustments you make to an image are always infinitely undoable. That’s one of the reasons Lightrooms and apps like it are called non-destructive editors — you can always go back to any stage along the way with a single click.

And that holds true even when you quit the application. If ten years from now you decided to undo an adjustment you made today, it won’t be any harder than it is right now. Provided you’re still using Lightroom, that is.

Now that we’re in the Develop module and all of our disk browsing panels are gone, how to we jump from image to image? The answer is the filmstrip that runs along the bottom edge of the work area. The filmstrip will automatically show the contents of the currently selected Library folder. Right-clicking on the top part of the filmstrip will bring up a list of recently visited folders. Just select the one you want and those photos will load in the filmstrip.

Those are the left hand panel components. As we covered in Lesson 1′s overview, the left hand panel of the Develop module is essentially offering a glimpse into the past — it holds all the things you’ve already done to an image.

To see the future, look to the right.


The real work of developing happens in the right hand panel of the Develop module. This is where you apply your adjustments and tweak your image to suit your liking.


You’ll notice from the screenshot that there are quite a few sub-panels in the right hand panel of the Develop module. Here’s a quick overview of what each one does:

  • Histogram – Shows a map of the tonal/temperature range of your image. You can actually make adjusts by clicking and dragging within the histogram window, but it’s a bit awkward and hard to control.
  • Toolbar – The toolbar just below the histogram has five tools: Crop, Spot, Red Eye, Graduated Filter and the Adjustment Brush. We’ll go over these in more detail below.
  • Basic – The workhorse panel of the Develop module, this is where you can adjust your global image settings — everything from white balance to contrast.
  • Tone Curve – As you might suspect, this is very similar to the Curves tool in Photoshop, allowing you to adjust to tones in your image with either the graph or a set of adjustment sliders.
  • HSL / Color / Grayscale – Adjust the global image Hue, Saturation and Luminance of an image, as well as individual color ranges. This can also convert an image to Grayscale and adjust the tones used in the conversion.
  • Split toning – Useful for coloring grayscale images.
  • Detail – Provides a nice zoom window that’s useful on its own, but the main adjustments here are sharpening, noise reduction and chromatic aberration.
  • Vignettes – Used to control image vignetting. Note that Lightroom 2.0 enables a “post crop” vignette option so that even if you crop away from the actual edges of the image, you can still apply an even vignette.
  • Camera Calibration – Adjust the default profile and color temperatures for your particular camera. If you images are all leaning toward purple for instance, this would be the place to change the camera profile to something more accurate.

Obviously there’s a lot in here and we aren’t going to cover all of it in detail, but here are the main things you’ll probably want to tweak.

Basic Panel

The place to start (generally speaking) is with the “basic” panel. Find a white balance that works for your image, adjust the exposure, fill light, black point, brightness, contrast and so on. All the settings can be controlled with the adjustment sliders, or, to pull out a certain area of the image, just use the eyedropper tool.

And remember, feel free to experiment — all your changes are non-destructive. If you get a little crazy the first time through and then when you reopen your images you’re horrified at what you’ve done, don’t worry — just jump over to history panel and go back to the last sane adjustment you made.

Handy tip: Keyboard junkies will want to learn a couple of shortcuts here. The + and – (plus/minus) keys can be used to increase/decrease the adjustments. The , and . keys move between the various adjustment types — use the comma key to go up and the period key to go down. The currently selected tool will appear in white, while the rest will appear grayed out.

Tone Curve Panel

Moving down the line, the Tone Curve sub-panel is probably the next logical step for most images. Here you can adjust the tonal range of your image to open up shadows, tone down highlights and more.

To focus on a specific region of the image, click the little point icon at the top of this panel and then move your cursor over the image. The tonal region of what’s under your cursor will be highlighted on the graph allowing you to see which part of the graph to adjust.

The other sub-panels should be fairly self explanatory, so we’re going to jump over to what’s probably the most powerful feature in Lightroom — local adjustments.

Local Adjustments

So far all the editing we’ve done effects the entire image, but what if we want to just lighten a certain part, say something hidden in shadow, without affecting the rest of the image?

If you’ve got Lightroom 1.x, it’s off to Photoshop for you. But later versions of Lightroom (starting with 2.0) added a new tool to apply adjustments to only one portion of an image. It’s the magical “adjustment brush.”

Adjustments Brush

If you’ve ever used masks in Photoshop, this will sound familiar. If not, don’t worry, we’ll walk you through the basics.

To make local adjustments, head back up to the toolbar section of the right hand side panel. It’s just underneath the histogram. Now click the brush icon. You’ll notice that new set of options appears below it. What this brush does is allow you to take most of the same adjustments we just covered, but only apply them to selected areas.

Just use the drop-down menu to select which adjustment you want to apply and then paint that adjustment onto the image using the brush.

If you use the auto-mask option, Lightroom will constrain your mask based on edges — obviously it’s not going to work in every case, but it’s actually pretty smart about guessing where you want to mask and where to avoid.

If you mess up, just switch the brush to erase mode and pain over the area where you want to remove the effect.

As with any brush tool in an Adobe app, there are sliders to set the size, feather and fill of your brush.

Once you have the area masked off, you can start playing the amount and other adjustment sliders to control the strength of the effect. Remember, everything in Lightroom is non-destructive and the adjustment brush is no exception. So if you overdo it, just click the little pin on your image and back off using the Amount slider.

Hints: To show and hide the pin markers, hit “h”. To see the actual mask, hover over a pin with your cursor and Lightroom will display the masked area in red.

Also note that if you’ve applied multiple adjustments to a single brush stroke, you can adjust both the individual adjustments and the overall effect of all of them.

A before and after view of an image with both global and local adjustments. The adjustment brush tool was used to brighten the exposure on the underside of the bell and darken the sky slightly.
A before and after view of an image with both global and local adjustments. The adjustment brush tool was used to brighten the exposure on the underside of the bell and darken the sky slightly.

Graduated Filters

The other very nice tool in this section is the graduated filter tool. The graduated filter works much like the real world filters you might own that screw onto the business end of your camera lens — a graduated neutral density filter, for example. The difference is that in Lightroom your can choose what effect to apply to your graduated filter.

The graduated filter covers the same set of effects and adjustments as the adjustment brush, it just applies them as a gradient mask rather than a brush.

If you’re thinking your can do the same thing by hand using the brush tool, you’re right, it’s just going to take a lot longer.


Obviously, there’s no way we can cover everything the Develop module allows you to do in this brief tutorial. There are in fact some really thick books on Lightroom that spend most of their time discussing the develop module. But hopefully this overview has helped you understand how to get started.

Keep in mind that Lightroom’s non-destructive editing means that you can feel free to get as wild and crazy as you want with adjustments — you’ll always be able to roll your images back later. So if you have Photoshop-induced phobia of radical image effects, try to let it go a little when you’re in Lightroom.

Once you’ve got an image adjusted just the way you want it, head over to Lesson 4 of our series where we’ll take a look at the various export and print module options.