Tech & Work

How to get started using Adobe Lightroom for your photo editing

Adobe Lightroom is a great application for certain kinds of photo enhancements. Here's an introduction to its tools and capabilities.

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Image: Ant Pruitt

There are tons of photo editors available—so many that it can sometimes be overwhelming when deciding on which one to use. For me, the editor of choice is Adobe Lightroom, and I'd gladly suggest that photo enthusiasts use it. Unfortunately, opening Lightroom for the first time can induce anxiety. So allow me to walk you through using Lightroom and its many tools.

Why use Adobe Lightroom?

Lightroom is an awesome app, but it's not for all of your photography touch-up needs. If you're trying to bring out the beautiful color of the sky, use Lightroom. If you're trying to composite an additional tree into your landscape photo, use something else.

Lightroom is more for enhancing an image and making "simple" edits. Adjusting exposure, contrast, and cropping, as well as other fine tuning aspects of photo editing. This is not Photoshop. You can't take advantage of adjustment layers and totally manipulate images in Lightroom as you can in Photoshop. Before we go any further, I know that discussing photo editing options can spark a war similar to that of Windows versus Linux. I'm quite aware that there are several photo editing options available. I'm also aware that the "war" between Photoshop users and Lightroom users go back many years.

SEE: How to get started with drone photography

Importing images

After you snap your images, you have to bring them into Lightroom by clicking the Import button. This will give you a dialog prompting where Lightroom should look for your images. Once the images are imported, you can begin your editing process. Easy, right?

The Lightroom workflow

After you import your images, select your first photo to edit and click the Develop button to open the Develop Module. This is where all your editing will happen. Now don't be afraid—there are a bunch of different sliders and buttons on the right side of the Develop Module in Lightroom, but it's an intuitive interface. Just start from the top of the menu and work your way down.

First there are the white balance adjustments. Next, the image tonal adjustments. Then, the presence of the image, which deals with color saturation and overall clarity. That encompasses the basics of photo editing to enhance the image you've snapped. This workflow can make it easy for beginners. Just starting from the top and working your way down is a brilliant way to edit. Not everyone will know what exactly the Shadows adjustment will do offhand, but if you adjust it after adjusting the Highlights as the UI suggests, you'll gain a better understanding of how the Shadows adjustment creates fill lighting and shows lower level details of your image, such as blades of grass and tree leaves.

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As you progress down the Develop Module, you'll see more granular adjustment options, such as Sharpness, Noise Reduction, and the HSL panel (Hue, Saturation, Luminance). These are all handled with sliders that make it easy to see what you're adjusting. I suggest pressing Ctrl + to zoom in while you're working on the more granular adjustments. Zooming in allows you to get a better view of noisy or blurred areas of your image.

Once you've completed your edit workflow, you can export your final product to your hard drive or even publish it to the web with built-in plugins, like Facebook, Flickr, and SmugMug with a simple right-click.

SEE: How to use histograms to improve your photography

But wait, there's more!

After you've gone through your touch-up in Lightroom, you may find the image is still not quite ready. You may want to get into manipulation or even compositing. In addition to the previous tools mentioned, Adobe Lightroom allows you to install plugins to work in a harmonious partnership between its editing tools.

First, you can work with with Adobe Photoshop. There are some things Lightroom does really well, and some things that are best handled in Photoshop—especially when it comes to manipulation of a photo, such as adding sun rays. To dynamically link from Lightroom to Photoshop, just right-click on the image and select Edit In, then select Edit In Adobe Photoshop.

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Photoshop will open and allow you to continue your workflow. When you're done, click Save and close Photoshop. The newly saved edits will now appear in Lightroom where you left off.

Not only is Photoshop available, but you can also install the Nik Collection photo editing package as a plugin. This package comes with more specialized options, including Color Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro, and my favorite, Silver Efex Pro. So whether you're looking to do more creative work with color or step up your black and white imagery, the Nik plugin has you covered. Just right-click on your image in Lightroom and go through the Edit In menu to select the app that best fits your process.

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Conclusion

Lightroom isn't the only photo editor available, so it's safe to assume it's not the "best" option. Like most software, it has advantages and disadvantages. For me, the application fits perfectly in my workflow, because I focus on landscape and street photography. You can license Lightroom in addition to Photoshop via the Adobe Creative Cloud for $9.99 per month, but feel free to give it a free trial before committing to the monthly fee. What photo editors are you using? Tag me on Instagram with some of your favorite photos you've edited and share your advice in the discussion below.

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Your take

Have you worked with Lightroom to improve your photographs? Share your tips and opinions with fellow TechRepublic members.

About Ant Pruitt

Ant Pruitt is an IT Support Professional with a passion for showing the non-geek how great technology can be. He writes for a variety of tech publications and hosts his own podcast. Ant is also an avid photographer and weight lifter.

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