08. July 2015 · Comments Off on ‘…Lightroom is not difficult’, but …. · Categories: Composition, How to, processing photos · Tags: ,

PL20050430-Hakone-Gardens-2819I came across a blog posting to the affect that Lightroom was not difficult to use.  The title got me to thinking, that it is correct in so far as it goes, but there are things that are difficult.  First off, for those who don’t know, Lightroom (LR) is an Adobe application for photographers to work with photos.  It has a number of capabilities that meet the needs of different folks.  Adobe has done a pretty good job of making the program user friendly and powerful.  Although, by name, Adobe’s Photoshop sounds like it is for photos, it is really a graphic artist’s tool for a power user, and is difficult to learn to use well.  Lightroom by contrast is much easier to learn, and generally photographers are much more productive using Lightroom than Photoshop.  There are still a few things that Photoshop is better for, although that shrinks with each release of Lightroom.

So, what then is difficult in working with a photo, if Lightroom is not difficult?  This is the question that I started pondering when I saw the post title.  Think of the various Lightroom courses that I have taught, what was the area(s) that cause folks the most problem(s)?  It wasn’t the mechanical manipulation, or the use of the various Lightroom features, it was rather trying to determine what needed to be done to a photo to improve it.  This was the most common problem, and the most difficult for students to learn.  The student questions were often ‘I like this photo, what do I need to do to improve it?’  There are a lot of ways to answer this question, and it should be answered from at least several directions.

Humming Bird

Humming Bird

  • How does someone develop a better ‘eye’ so that they can know what needs to be done to a photo?
  • What needs to be done with this specific photo?
  • How do I do something with this specific photo?
  • Are there any rules of thumb that I can use for guidance when working with a photo?

Each of these is important at least in honoring the student’s process of inquiry. Part of the difficulty is that there are so many answers that trying to hold all of them as a gestalt takes time.  Let’s take each of these in turn.




Humming Bird

Humming Bird



  1. Before Lightroom

    Before Lightroom

    How to develop a better eye?

    1. Look at pictures in magazines (particularly for people shots), and identify what works in the picture,
      After Lightroom

      Waking grizzly

      and what does not in terms of catching your eye, or why you like it.

    2. Join a site like 500Px and write reviews of photos.  This will force you to think about what works and does not work in each photo.  If you write 100 reviews, your photos will become much better.  Writing a 100 reviews is surprisingly difficult in terms of emotional effort.
    3. Look at your own photos (Lightroom is great for this), and decide what works to make one photo more desirable than another.
  2. What needs to be done to a specific photo?  I like it, but feel it should be stronger. What are the rules of thumb to improve the photo?

    1. Oak barrels in vault

      Oak barrels in vault

      I have combined two of the above because I don’t have ‘the photo’ in front of me to comment on.

    2. General Rules of Thumb
      Oak barrels in vault

      Oak barrels in vault

      1. Work from the biggest things to the smallest things. From global for the whole picture to specific parts of the picture
        1. Usually this is cropping and straightening the photo.  Lightroom has some hints about how to crop and will auto rotate the photo a bit if you want it to.  Using the built in guides in LR to find thirds, or golden mean, or spiral is very helpful and usually makes a significant improvement in any photo.
        2. Sometimes correcting the color or the exposure  takes precedence over cropping, but whether first or second getting the exposure correct and the color balance correct also make big improvements in the photo.  I suggest using ‘Auto’ for the color balance if you are a newbe until you have a better understanding.  Although there is an exposure slider, try sliding the highlights and shadow sliders to achieve what you want.  If you need bigger guns try the black and white sliders.
        3. Try adding some Clarity slider, and some Vibrance slider to the photo to taste (kind of like salt and pepper).
      2. For specific areas in the photo
        1. Get rid of the spots in the photo, LR has a great tool for this with the spot remover.  Try checking the box at the bottom of the photo, after the spotting tool is selected in the Develop Module.
        2. How are the faces of the people in your photos? Are they slightly dark, do they convey the right mood? In particular how are the eyes and eye sockets?  LR has a ‘Radial Filter, that does wonders with faces and eyes.  It take a few minutes to learn, but easy to use after learning.  It can lighten faces and eyes, and bring the attention to faces.   One of the things that you may have noticed from looking at lots of pictures is that the faces are almost always intentionally lit.
        3. Is the sky washed out, does it need to be a bit bluer?  There is a gradient filter that will help with this, very easy to use.
    3. Finally, use LR to create a virtual copy or clone of the photo you have been working on and reset it to original and compare the edited results with the original.  If you don’t like the results, do it again, although I have found that this is fairly rare.
  3. How do I do something with this photo?

    1. Although this sounds somewhat like ‘what are the rules of thumb’ I am treating this slightly differently to deal with the mechanics of using Lightroom.
    2. There are hundreds of tutorials online, usually as short videos that make it very easy and quick to use Lightroom.   Lightroom is not a difficult program to master (unlike Photoshop).   There are courses offered at camera stores, by camera clubs, and by friends.  If you are interested there is a way.

Scattered throughout this post are before and after images.  Visit  my website to see more images.