This was originally written and published for Digital Photo Mentor. The article is republished here with search engines blocked and canonical set to the original published article. It is here for archival purposes and so my community can find it too.
Lightroom is an amazing piece of software. It can manage your digital assets, hence why it’s called a Digital Asset Manager (DAM), but also provide you with editing tools.
Like so many, I have my issues with the software. Like performance, for example. However, to this day I still use Lightroom as my main DAM and editing tool. I then go into ON1 Photo RAW whenever I need to do further editing I don’t trust Lightroom for.
Whenever I edit a photograph in Lightroom, I always start with six things. In the rest of this article, you’re going to see what I believe in as the most important things you can do to a photo in Lightroom. More importantly, what I believe you should do to every photo in Lightroom out of the gate.
I don’t care how you organize your photos in Lightroom, or what you name your files. But what I do care about you doing is adding a copyright. You own your photographs. But if you don’t include a copyright metadata you increase the risk of having a photograph stolen. So first and foremost, be sure to add your copyright during import. If you forget to do it during import (using a metadata preset), then add it afterward.
Next is to adjust the white balance of your photos. So many photographers forget or do not care to manually adjust their white balance in-camera. They commonly rely on the camera’s ability to determine white balance. But Auto White Balance (AWB) is not that great. So doing it in post is an essential task.
When it comes to portraits or in-studio work, I use the ColorChecker Passport from X-Rite. But for landscapes and street photography I use a neutral tone in an image when available, or use the preset white balance options in Lightroom. In this photo example of my nephew, Eli, it was in a hospital room under tungsten light.
Changing the White Balance to tungsten instantly fixes the color of his skin.
Whites, Blacks, Highlights, Shadows
Next up are the details found in the highlights and shadows. However, I prefer starting with the Whites and Blacks sliders. I do this so much so that I wish Lightroom reversed the order of the sliders. Currently, the four sliders are like so:
I start with Whites because sometimes I want the whitest areas to clip and sometimes I do not. Same with the Blacks slider. For example, if I am planning to print the photo I will often let the Whites or Blacks clip a little more than I would on a digital-only photo.
I then move onto the Highlights and Shadows where I fine-tune the photo to ensure that specific tones look pleasing to the eye. For example, I often find myself bringing highlights down on bright, fresh skin, like in my baby nephew’s photo.
The next task is one that could be kept simple or more advanced, depending on your skill level and the photo being edited.
At a bare minimum, I adjust my tone curve to Medium Contrast. I find I like the tone curve contrast over the standard contract slider. It also offers more control if you need to fine-tune the contrast of the highlights and shadows or by red, green and blue channels individually.
Lightroom also offers an adjustment point curve tool which allows you to drag up and down on various areas on a photo to automate the adjustment of the tone curve.
Next up is the HSL section, which offers fine control over hue, saturation, and luminance. This is one of my favorite sections in the Lightroom develop module. On a photo with a person in it, I often find myself in the Saturation tab, and use the adjust tool to drag up and down on skin to remove the saturation of reds. Depending on the drastic color shift, I might also wind up in Hue to take away some red tones.
On landscape photos, I’m often in the Luminance tab to bring down the brightness of a sky, or bring up the darkness of greens.
Last, but definitely not least is the automatic Lens Correction tool in Lightroom. This has been one of my favorite things Lightroom added for years. It allows the ability to adjust for lens distortion from almost every lens, including fisheye and super wide lenses.
But it also allows for manual control over the adjustments as well as removing chromatic aberration caused by some lenses combined with some sensors.
Here’s the Thing
I know that some of these tasks sound daunting to do on photo after photo. But that’s why I created a preset bundle called Developer Bath Fixer. It contains all of what I consider the essential things (with some bonus things) in Lightroom’s develop module. With the presets you can quickly apply everything I mentioned above (except copyright) and then some.
And the best part, Developer Bath Fixer is part of my entire Lightroom preset collection. So you can pick them up along with all of my other Lightroom presets, at one low price. You can pick those up here.
Now there is no excuse for dropping the ball on important Lightroom tasks.