Using Photoshop Lightroom, Part 2

Part 1: Import and organize photos
Part 2: Edit photos
Part 3: Output images

In Part 1 of this series, I wrote about Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom beta 4 from the point of view of a Photoshop user. Lightroom’s approach to photography workflow is different from Photoshop’s and its companion file browser, Adobe Bridge. As you saw in part 1, Lightroom lets you store images in a library that’s fully searchable and sortable. This makes it easy to sort through your images at the end of a shoot and find the selects that you want to edit and pass through to the rest of your workflow.

Searching, sorting, and selecting is only part of your post-production process, of course. If you’re a Photoshop user, you’re probably loathe to give up its vast array of image editing and correction tools. But Lightroom has image-editing tools of its own, and depending on the types of edits you typically make, Lightroom’s tools may be all you need.

Before you start editing in Lightroom, it’s helpful to understand the types of edits you can’t make with the program. It doesn’t provide selection or masking tools, so you can’t make isolated, localized edits. It also doesn’t include painting and brush-based tools, so you can’t perform the types of retouchings you can execute with Photoshop’s brushes, Dodge and Burn, or Rubber Stamp tools. Lightroom doesn’t allow for any type of compositing operations, so if you’re used to creating effects using stacked layers and blending modes, you’ll need to stick with Photoshop. Furthermore, you can’t use Photoshop filters in Lightroom.

Lightroom’s purpose is to give you speedy, flexible tools that make it possible to perform the global edits most images need. For more refined edits, you can easily pass your images to Photoshop.

Non-destructive Editing
While Lightroom may not have all of Photoshop’s editing features, it scores off Photoshop in one important regard. Photoshop has a mix of destructive and non-destructive editing features — if you’ve used an Adjustment Layer in Photoshop, then you’re familiar with non-destructive editing. However, all the edits you make in Lightroom are non-destructive. A non-destructive edit doesn’t alter the original pixels in your image.

The advantages of non-destructive edits are that you can undo any edit at any time, and in any order, and you can go back and change the parameters of any edit at any time.

In a non-destructive editing system, your original master data file is stored alongside a list of the edits that you want made to the image. The image editor applies the list to the original master data on-the-fly, any time the image needs to be displayed, printed, or output to a file.

In Lightroom, this editing data is stored inside the application’s Managed Photos folder, whether you choose to import your images into the managed library or leave them in their original locations and import them as references. (You can change the default location of the Managed Photos folder using Lightroom’s Preferences dialog.) If you’re working with raw files, you can also choose to have the edits and metadata changes stored in sidecar XMP files, just as you do in Bridge. To activate this feature, go to Preferences > File Management, and check the “Automatically write changes into XMP sidecar files” option.

Once you get used to the flexibility of a non-destructive editing system, it can be hard to go back to a destructive system. However, bear in mind that if you make edits in Lightroom, and then want to give a copy of the edited image to someone else, you must export a rendered, processed version that includes your edits. Your original image is never adjusted, so Lightroom needs to create a new image with your changes.

Making Quick Edits
In last week’s column, I explored the Library “room” in Lightroom, where you can import, sort, and organize your images. You can also make rudimentary edits to your images while in the Library using the Quick Develop controls in the Right Module pane. If the right pane is not visible, toggle it on from the Window > Panels menu, or by pressing F8, or by clicking on the reveal arrow on the right side of the screen.

The Quick Develop pane (Figure 1) shows a histogram as well as simple push button controls for Lightroom’s main editing features.

Figure 1. The Quick Develop controls let you make simple edits to your images while still in the Library module.


Lightroom displays the same editing controls whether you’re working on a JPEG, TIFF, Photoshop, raw file, or any other supported format. One of the great advantages of working with raw files in Lightroom, as compared to Photoshop, is that there’s no separate raw conversion step. Photoshop requires you to apply your raw conversion settings in Camera Raw, but because Lightroom is non-destructive, you can adjust any raw conversion parameters at any time. This results in much greater editing flexibility.

For more editing control, though, you’ll want to switch to Lightroom’s Develop module.

To move an image into the Develop module, select it, then click on Develop at the top of the Lightroom window or press D.

The right-hand pane of the module contains expanded versions of the editing controls that you saw in the Library module, as well as a few additional editing tools.

There’s no toolbox in Lightroom as there is in Photoshop because Lightroom doesn’t have selection and brush tools. The edits that you apply in Lightroom affect the entire image. Your cursor, therefore, always functions as a magnifying glass. Click on an image to enlarge up to 100%, Option/Alt-click to fit in window.

You’ll perform the bulk of your image adjustments using the controls in the Basic pane (Figure 2).

Figure 2. The Basic pane includes the workhorse adjustment tools you’ll use to make the majority of your edits.


The White Balance sliders let you adjust the white balance of your image using two simple controls, Temp and Tint. Temp adjusts the color from blue to yellow, while Tint adjusts from green to magenta. You can use these controls regardless of the file format you’re working on; however, they behave differently when you’re working on raw images. On a raw image, the white balance adjustments happen during the raw conversion and don’t result in any data loss in your image. With other image formats, white balance adjustments can result in a loss of data, and you’ll probably find that the white balance controls have less latitude.

From the As Shot popup menu, you can select from a standard selection of white balance presets. These controls work much like the white balance sliders in Camera Raw.

The Basic pane’s Exposure slider is analogous to the Exposure slider in Camera Raw. With it, you can change the white point to brighten or darken your image. In this way, it’s also like the white point adjustment in Photoshop’s Levels dialog. However, note that Lightroom’s Exposure slider moves the black point in your image, as well, thus changing the brightness of your entire image.

When you’re working on a raw image, you can often recover overexposed highlights by using the Exposure slider to darken your image. As shown in Figure 3, I was able to use Lightroom to restore lost highlight detail in the sky simply by dragging the Exposure slider to the left, just as I would in Camera Raw. Note that some parts of this sky are so overexposed that they can’t be recovered.

Figure 3. Using the Exposure slider, you can brighten or darken an image and, if it’s a raw file, recover overexposed highlights. Click on the image to see a larger version.


As you can see, in the process of recovering my highlights, I also severely darkened the foreground. I would normally use the Brightness adjustment in Camera Raw, or additional edits in Photoshop to restore the foreground elements. Lightroom provides a much better solution.

With the Recovery slider, you can restore clipped highlights without darkening the rest of an image. The Recovery slider is a bit like the Highlight slider in Photoshop’s Shadow/Highlight tool, which lets you darken only the highlight areas in an image. But Lightroom’s Recovery slider can perform highlight recovery while it darkens highlights (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Using the Recovery slider, I recovered highlights without darkening the foreground of this image.


After Recovery, the foreground of this image was still too dark. I could have used the Exposure slider to brighten the scene, but that would undo the highlight recovery. Instead, I used the Fill Light slider to brighten the shadowy areas of the scene (Figure 5).

Figure 5. The Fill Light slider lets you brighten only the darker areas of an image.


Fill Light is analogous to the Shadow slider in Photoshop’s Shadow/Highlight adjustment. If you’ve ever been frustrated by the lack of a Shadow/Highlight adjustment layer in Photoshop, you’ll love working with Lightroom’s non-destructive Fill Light slider.

After brightening the image’s foreground, I lost some contrast in the rocks. The histogram confirmed that the blacks in the image weren’t very strong. Fortunately, Lightroom provides a handy Blacks slider that lets you change the Black point in an image (Figure 6), just as you would with the Shadows slider in Camera Raw or the black point slider in a Levels dialog.

Figure 6. I used the Blacks slider to restore contrast to the foreground elements. Note that I also picked up a little darkening in the underside of the clouds.


In the Basic pane, you’ll also find Brightness and Contrast sliders. These work like the Brightness and Contrast sliders in Camera Raw, not like the Brightness/Contrast adjustment in Photoshop. Brightness makes a mid-point, or gamma adjustment, to your image (just like moving the midpoint slider in the Levels dialog), while Contrast adjusts the white and black points simultaneously to increase contrast in your scene. By default, the Brightness slider has a value of +50.

The Saturation slider at the bottom of the Basic pane does what you’d expect: It allows you to increase or decrease the saturation in your image, and is exactly the same as the Saturation slider in Camera Raw and in Photoshop’s Hue/Saturation dialog.

Lightroom’s Vibrance slider is a more selective version of the Saturation slider. Whereas the Saturation slider increases the saturation of all of the tones in your image, the Vibrance slider limits its saturation boost to primary colors, leaving skin tones and other secondary shades untouched (Figure 7). The result is an image that has what appears to be increased saturation, but without unsightly hue shifts.

Figure 7. To get the left-hand image, I applied a Saturation adjustment of +25, which added saturation to the entire image. The right-hand image has a Vibrancy adjustment of +25, with no Saturation adjustment. Vibrancy has increased the saturation of the blue, primary sky tones and left the pastel browns and greens untouched. Click on the image to see a larger version.


New! Improved! Curves!
With Photoshop’s Curves tool, you can selectively adjust the brightness of specific tonal regions within an image. Camera Raw has a similar curves tool. Lightroom provides another type of curves adjustment.

The Tone Curve in the Lightroom editing pane lets you work as you would in Photoshop’s Curves dialog: You can click and drag points to reshape the curve. But Lightroom’s Curves tool also includes sliders with which you can easily reshape specific parts of the curve. Using the Highlights, Lights, Darks, and Shadows sliders, you can raise or lower specific parts of the curve as if you were clicking and dragging a point.

The sliders beneath the curve let you specify which parts of the curve the Dark, Lights, and Highlights sliders are centered around. Note too that when you hover the mouse over each slider, it shows a faded preview region that indicates how the curve will re-shape as you drag it (Figure 8).

Figure 8. When you hover your mouse over one of the tone curve sliders, Lightroom shows you a ghosted preview of how the curve will be reshaped when you drag the slider.


The ACR Curve pop-up menu lets you apply pre-defined contrast curves, like those found in Camera Raw.

Cropping and Color Adjustment
You can crop in Lightroom by clicking the Show Crop Overlay checkbox. A rectangle is then superimposed over your image, and you can drag control handles to resize the crop (Figure 9). The Straighten settings allow you to straighten and crop your image simultaneously. When you’re done adjusting the crop, press Return, or uncheck the Show Crop Overlays checkbox to apply the crop.

Figure 9. Lightroom provides excellent, non-destructive straighten and crop tools that let you go back and adjust your croppings and straightenings at any time.


Unlike Photoshop, cropping and straightening is not a one-way trip in Lightroom. Because Lightroom is non-destructive, you can go back at any time and alter your crop and straightening operations by checking “Show Crop Overlay.”

The Color Adjustment sliders work like the Hue Saturation dialog box in Photoshop, letting you adjust the hue, saturation, and luminance of the primary and secondary color ranges. While Lightroom lacks selection and masking tools, its Color Adjustment sliders, Curve, and basic exposure controls make it easy to adjust very specific tone and color ranges.

Split Toning lets you apply separate hue and saturation adjustments to the highlight and shadow areas of your image, while the Detail adjustment gives you sharpening and de-noising sliders like those found in Camera Raw.

For you raw shooters, the Camera Calibration controls let you build a profile for your camera’s raw images.

Moving Your Edits
Because edits are stored as metadata, you can copy them from one image to another. After editing an image, switch back to Library view and use the Copy Settings and Paste Settings buttons to transfer edits from one image to another. Paste Previous pastes the adjustments that you made to the last image, while Synchronize lets you synchronize the settings of a range of images. Change one, and the others automatically adjust. If you’ve used these features in Camera Raw, you’ll have no trouble with Lightroom.

And if that’s Not Enough…
While Lightroom lacks selection and masking tools, Adobe has done a very good job of supplying tools that let you selectively alter color and tone. Nevertheless, there will be times when you need to make edits Lightroom can’t achieve. For example, Lightroom beta 4 doesn’t have any selective sharpening tools.

For these instances, Lightroom provides a simple mechanism for transferring an image into Photoshop for editing (assuming you have Photoshop installed). With the image selected in Lightroom, choose Photo > Edit in Adobe Photoshop CS2, or press Command-E. Lightroom will then present the dialog box you see in Figure 10.

Figure 10. Lightroom presents this dialog box when you select Edit in Adobe Photoshop CS2.


Because it’s a non-destructive editor, Lightroom doesn’t have a “baked” image that includes the edits you’ve made in Lightroom. You need to select Edit a Copy With Lightroom Adjustments to force Lightroom to render a finished image. It will automatically add this new image to your Lightroom library and then open it in Photoshop.

After making your desired edits, close and save the image, and it will automatically be updated in Photoshop.

Be warned that in the current beta, Edit a Copy With Lightroom is a little flaky. You may find big color shifts in your images after they’re moved from Lightroom to Photoshop. If this happens, close the image without saving and return to Lightroom. Hopefully, this glitch will be corrected in a future update.

If you don’t want to edit in Photoshop, you can use Lightroom’s Photo > Edit Image in Other Application command to move your image into the editor of your choice.

What About Output?
Lightroom provides plenty of powerful controls for adjusting and correcting your images, but these edits are somewhat meaningless if you can’t show your images to other people. In part 3 of this series, I’ll look at Lightroom’s output capabilities.


Posted on: October 25, 2006

2 Comments on Using Photoshop Lightroom, Part 2

  1. Thanks a ton for info, if you would have asked me why i choose Lightroom then i would say – Lightroom 2 creates polished and professional level slideshows as well as web-based albums in HTML or Flash. Again, the controls are very easy to use and do not require a lot of technical knowledge to create beautiful results.

  2. Hi, I am doing a photography assignment and my model does not want any head shots. How do I crop a raw file permanently but keep it as a raw file. David

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