Add impact to your RAW files with basic Lightroom tweaks

Not sure where to start when it comes to editing your landscapes? Here are a few essential adjustments in Lightroom that will give your images the edge.

Straight out of camera, most images have a tendency to look slightly bland and lifeless, often lacking the vivid colours,  punchy contrast and precise exposure of shots that have been retouched in post-processing software. This is why in the age of digital imaging, knowing how to get the very best from a RAW file in programs such as Photoshop and Lightroom has become one of the most core photographic skills.

The good news is, you don’t need to be an editing whizz-kid to get impressive results. In fact, you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve with a few simple global adjustments. In this tutorial, we’ll be checking out the Basic settings panel in Lightroom, and learning how to modify exposure, contrast, vibrance, clarity and white balance. We’ll also be looking at highlight and shadow control, which will enable you bring out image detail you didn’t even know was there. Not only will you be amazed at how easy it is to bring your images to life, you’ll be able to do the whole thing in minutes.


1. Enter the Develop module
Once you’ve imported your images, by default you’ll be in the Library module of Lightroom, which you’ll see highlighted in the tabs at the top of the screen. In the Library module, you can see all the shots you’ve imported into Lightroom and where they’re stored on your computer. To process an image, you need to switch to the Develop module. To do this, either click the Develop tab at the top or press D.

2. Adjust Exposure and Contrast
Once in the Develop module, you’ll be able to see basic adjustments panels on the right of the screen. In this tutorial we’re only dealing with the top panel, labelled Basic. To start with, tweak the Exposure slider to lighten or darken your image as desired. Immediately underneath this is the Contrast slider. Increasing this slider can give your image more impact by forcing some midtones towards white or black.

3. Adjust Highlights and Shadows
To bring out more detail in the darker areas of your image, move the Shadows slider to the right. Similarly, you can pull back detail in the lighter areas by moving the Highlights slider to the left. This will give your image the appearance of having a higher dynamic range. In my shot I have increased detail in both the bright sky and darker land. You may occasionally want to adjust the sliders in the opposite direction.

4. Modify white clipping and black clipping
The Whites and Blacks sliders only control the brightest and darkest areas of your image. Ideally, you don’t want pure whites or blacks in most images, as this means all image info is lost in this area. Grab the Whites slider and hold down the Alt key. Drag the slider to the right and stop at the point where colours other than black start to appear. Do the same for the Blacks slider but instead drag it to the left.

5. Set White Balance
The two white balance sliders appear right at the top of the Basics panel. The first one, Temperature, controls how warm or cold the image looks. The other, Tint, controls the level of magenta and green. By default the white balance is set to ‘As shot’, which is what the camera deemed correct, but you can choose other presets from the drop-down list, or experiment by setting the sliders yourself.

6. Change Vibrance, Saturation and Clarity
To boost the colour in your image, use the Vibrance and Saturation sliders. The Saturation slider affects all pixels equally, whereas Vibrance is more subtle, affecting less vibrant pixels more than those that are already saturated. For most shots, Vibrance is the preferred choice. The Clarity slider affects local contrast, giving a soft, dreamy look when moved left, and a gritty, detailed look when moved right.

This article was first published in the November 2014 issue of Practical Photography magazine - download back issues here.