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How-to's Software Reviews

Howto use Lightroom Develop

Rick Walker (walkerr)

Keywords: lightroom, develop


When I'm working with photographers who are new to Lightroom or who haven't had a lot of time to use it, there are certain tips I end up mentioning frequently, and I thought I'd repeat a few of them here. I've oriented them to LR CC/LR 6, but most will work for the previous generations as well. Hopefully they'll help!

(This article has been posted in our Adobe Post Processing forum earlier).

1. Don't be afraid to change the default processing parameters. It's extremely easy to create your own default processing parameters for a given camera. While in the Develop module, you simply make adjustments to an image that align with how you want all images made with that camera to start and then select Develop>Set Default Settings>Update to Current Settings.

I don't make mine specific to a given ISO or serial number of body, but you can do that if you wish. This will save you time if you use certain settings the majority of the time. BTW, if you also have Photoshop on your computer, your defaults for Adobe Camera Raw will also be changed to the same amount - very handy.

2. The default sharpening amount is on the soft side; consider changing it using the method described above. No matter if you are photographing landscapes, sports, portraits, ...whatever, the default sharpening level is bit on the low side. LR5 comes with two sharpening presets (contained within Lightroom General Presets) that can be good starting points for your experimentation.

"Sharpen - Faces" is a medium intensity, higher radius sharpening that's good for portraits and for reasons I'll mention below, works pretty well for higher ISO shots as well. "Sharpen - Scenic" is a higher intensity, lower radius setting that will bring out fine detail and works well at lower ISOs. It's good for landscapes, architecture, anything where having more detail is a good thing. While LR will automatically adjust sharpening for your camera to some extent, feel free to adjust the intensity amount to your own tastes based on your camera and lens combinations. As an experiment on a landscape shot, take the radius down to around 0.6 or so, take the intensity up to 50-70, use a detail setting of 40-50 and then be amazed at how much more detail you see in your image. You want to adjust this variety of sharpening until your image looks clean and clear at 100% on your monitor. Don't overdo it!

3. I'm not going to dwell on it too much here since this is a Nikon-oriented site, but the settings values above, as well as most of what you'll read about on the internet, are for cameras that use sensors with a Bayer array of red, green and blue pixels. Bayer arrays are used on the vast majority of digital cameras, including all Nikons.

If you're using a Fuji camera with an X-Trans array, you'll want to use a much higher Detail setting, coupled with a much lower Amount. If you don't, you won't get as much fine detail as you might normally expect. Detail settings of 60-100, coupled with Amounts of 15-30 are common. NOTE: I don't think this applies anymore with the release of LR CC 15.1 (ACR 9.1 version). I'm getting better detail now with more of my traditional settings (Amount 4-50, Radius 0.7, Detail 35, and Masking 10). These settings are for landscape type images with fine detail - not your wife or girlfriend! Try it yourself.

4. The default contrast amount is also a bit low, principally because Adobe assumes you might want maximum flexibility for adjustments in Photoshop later. When you're working with an image, don't forget to consider changing this parameter - extra contrast will make an image look sharper and will increase color separation. You'll really see the latter with yellows, oranges and reds during autumn. For some portraits, you might want to go in the opposite direction and reduce contrast. The bottom line: give this some active thought.

5. Lightroom CC/6 has some very powerful automatic lens correction tools; if you're always using them, make them part of your default settings. To enable them, go into the Lens Correction section in the development slider area and place a check mark beside Enable Profile Corrections and one next to Remove Chromatic Aberration. Provided that your lens has a supporting profile (and most do these days), distortion and light fall-off will be corrected.

The removal of chromatic aberration isn't dependent on a lens profile, so an unsupported lens will get fixed just as well as a supported one. If you're not familiar with chromatic aberration, this is the color fringing you can sometimes see around edges in photos. This tool specifically fixes the lateral CA variety. One important point: if you are using a fisheye lens, realize that the default setting when you apply lens correction removes distortion or "defishes" your lens. That's probably not what you normally want, so you'll want to manually override the distortion correction and take it for 100 to zero.

6. If you don't like the LR white balance presets (I find them a bit warm), make your own. For example, I often shoot in daylight with my camera set to a white balance of Direct Sunlight + A1 or A0.5. That's slightly warmer than a Direct Sunlight setting, but noticeably less warm than the LR Daylight setting. If you want to have that setting available as a preset, take an image where you used that white balance and then create a new preset where you place a checkmark only beside white balance.

Do similar things for cloudy and shady conditions, and you're set. This won't appear in the white balance pull-down menu, but over on the left under Presets. Realize that a white balance preset you create for one camera model won't necessarily be accurate for a different model. There can be differences of several hundred degrees Kelvin between camera models for the same actual white balance setting. This isn't unique to LR.

7. Before using noise reduction, try using the masking slider in the sharpening controls. Taking the masking level up to 30-60 will eliminate sharpening in areas without detail (like a sky or a blank wall) and that by itself may be enough to deal with moderately high ISO images. You'll get the side benefit of not losing detail in important parts of your image. If you do need additional noise reduction, add it after you've adjusted the masking value.

8. Take full advantage of LR's controls for syncing settings across multiple images, whether you adjust one image and then copy settings to others (you can do this with a huge number of images) or use Auto Sync to select a number of images, and then have all adjusted simultaneously when you change one of them. Think global first - what do you want changed with a number of images, followed by increasingly smaller subsets of images.

9. Virtual copies are a great way to experiment with an image. You can create a virtual copy, do radical experiments and when you're finished, either copy the settings back to the original file or throw it away. Virtual copies take up almost no space at all since they're just instruction sets - you don't copy the original file.

10. Working from top to bottom on the development controls usually results in the fewest iterations to settings, but it's not uncommon to cycle through the sliders a bit. An exception is if you use white and black sliders to establish the lightest and darkest points in an image (easy to do while holding down the Option/Alt key and dragging the sliders).

In this case, you'll probably want to adjust exposure first, followed by the white and black sliders and then circle back to the contrast slider for fine tuning. If you haven't tried working this way, give it a shot. It works really well for images where you want absolutely white or black points (which is probably the majority for most photos); exceptions include many high or low key shots or ones where you want the contrast level lower.

11. If you've spent a lot of time working with a certain image, take a break for a while and then use a fresh set of eyes to look at it again. It can be easy to do too much or too little to an image if you've looked at it for too long and a break will often help you identify when that's happened.

12. Try alternate color profiles. For most Nikon cameras, Lightroom comes with a set of color profiles that will give different looks. Experiment a bit with these. You can also create your own using tools like the X-Rite Color Checker Passport or the DNG Profile Editor (which creates profiles that work for NEFs as well as DNGs). Different profiles can change the brightness of the image. For example, most of the LR color profiles that emulate Nikon in-camera profiles are a touch darker than the Adobe Standard one or ones that are created with the Color Checker Passport. If you do create your own profiles with the Color Checker Passport, realize that while its intended purpose is create perfect color under a wide range of circumstances, it actually doesn't. It works well in certain lighting and with certain subjects, but less so in others.

Three problems that I see when using it with every brand of camera: skies that are too saturated and shifted to cyan, colors that shift dramatically under some artificial lights (fluorescent are notable, with oranges that go very yellow), and a starting contrast point that's a bit high if you plan to do much in the way of post-processing in Photoshop. When you start fixing these problems, you often end up in a place similar to one of provided profiles. Furthermore, you have a logistical challenge if you make a number of custom profiles over time: they all end up in a single directory and a single pick list in LR/ACR. Still, they can be useful at times.

13. If you're always darkening or lightening images made with a given camera, include an exposure adjustment as part of your default settings. For example, if you almost always dial down the exposure slider in LR by a third of a stop, make that part of your default settings. It'll save you time. There are reasons why this can be the case with certain cameras and certain color profiles, but I'll skip over that. The important point is to make it part of your default settings if you're constantly doing it.

14. The clarity slider can be wonderful for certain images, especially those with textures you want to accentuate and metallic items. Clouds can look nice, too. Be careful about overdoing it, as the results can turn ugly in a hurry, especially if you're following up on an image in Photoshop. I almost never use Clarity on portraits of women (in fact, I'll often use negative Clarity amounts that diffuse the photo slightly). For landscapes, I use light amounts at most (5-20).

(24 Votes )

Originally written on April 17, 2016

Last updated on April 25, 2016

Rick Walker Rick Walker (walkerr)

Awarded for his con tributed articles published at the Resources Awarded for his in-depth knowledge in multiple areas Master Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art and science of photography   Donor Ribbon awarded for his most generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015

Colorado Springs, USA
Silver, 17638 posts


Edward King Jr. (Indiana Ed) on September 4, 2016

Thank you, Rick You walked me through my transition from NX-D to Lightroom 6 and I am finally starting to feel a little more comfortable with the new software. Your tips on how to use “Develop” will significantly reduce my time spent on experimenting. My “Lens Correction” was set on “Manual” and a case of tunnel-vision kept the profile check-boxes a secret. Masking, high and low ISO sharpening, contrast, white balance adjustments and noise reduction are Lightroom features that I have been struggling with. Your suggestions and starting points are greatly appreciated -- and you have answered some questions that I had not yet asked. Thanks again, Ed King

Carman Pagano (the diewrecktor) on July 8, 2016

Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015

Thanks Rick. There is always something new to learn. This is a great mini tutorial to get someone up and running in LR very quickly, as well as a great fallback to those all important and often forgotten "basics".

Roger Kocken (Roger Kocken) on May 21, 2016

Good article! I have been playing around with changing default settings and applying to a large number of photos, this is certainly a time saver. The choice of sharpening methodology is difficult for me - it is easy to "overcook" the image if you are not careful. the camera calibration section of lightroom is another high impact area. I noticed changing from adobe standard to one of the camera options has a big effect on the color. which option I choose depends on the lighting and subjects. I now include that in my "default" settings.

Rick Spehn (PSAGuy) on May 14, 2016

Rick.... Good article. I always use SYNC for basic adjustments over a large group of images from the same shoot. I always double check the settings make sure I am not "syncing" adjustments that need to be made individually. Sync is great for white balance, noise, and exposure tho !! Also CLARITY can be a nice adjustment for sports.....but it's like asking a woman unknown to you if she is pregnant.....never ever a good idea with the ladies ! Thanks for the article....very informative.

Bo Stahlbrandt (bgs) on April 17, 2016

One of the two c-founders, expert in several areas Awarded for his valuable Nikon product reviews at the Resources

"Almost never use clarity on women". Also a good hint.

Ernesto Santos (esantos) on April 17, 2016

Nikonians Resources Writer. Recognized for his outstanding reviews on printers and printing articles. Awarded for his high level of expertise in various areas, including Landscape Photography Awarded for his extraordinary accomplishments in Landscape Photography. His work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian. Winner of the Best of Nikonians Images 2018 Annual Photo Contest

Great tips Rick! A lot of time savers, especially when working on a large group of images in a particular shoot.