How I Edit Photos in Lightroom

how to edit photos in lightroom

Original post here

One of my absolute favorite hobbies is editing photos. I know: it doesn’t sound thrilling, but I can’t even tell you how much I enjoy it. :) Hand me a glass of Chardonnay, my headphones, and an SD card full of unedited photos, and I’m one very happy girl! So today, I thought I’d share my Lightroom editing process with you.

When I first started with DSLR photography, I edited every photo in Photoshop. Holy goodness, guys. It took me so long. I actually edited two full weddings on it, and each took me 80+ hours. Needless to say, it was the opposite of enjoyable.

Photoshop is for graphic design and large-scale photo editing jobs. It’s great for when you need to edit out an entire person, for example, or add a T-Rex to a bridal party shot. (And yes, I’ve received both these requests, haha.) And it’s fabulous for creating graphics like the one you see above. But it’s not for everyday photo editing.

For everyday photo editing, I use Lightroom, which is specifically designed for that purpose. Available for purchase or via subscription form, it’s the best photo editing software out there, in my opinion. It’s straightforward and affordable, and it helps you get the job done quickly.

Keep in mind that the title of this post isn’t “How to Edit Photos in Lightroom.” It’s “How I Edit Photos in Lightroom,” meaning that there’s no one right way to edit, and my style may not be your style. My best suggestion is edit and tinker with the program as often as you can, so you can determine and develop what you like.

Keep in mind that the title of this post isn’t “How to Edit Photos in Lightroom.” It’s “How I Edit Photos in Lightroom,” meaning that there’s no one right way to edit, and my style may not be your style. My best suggestion is edit and tinker with the program as often as you can, so you can determine and develop what you like. Something else to consider is that this blog post is simply an overview of what I do with most of my blog shoots. There’s so much more you can do with Lightroom, and I use these functions from time to time, too. Additionally, lots of my photographer friends use completely different settings than I do, and their results are phenomenal. :)

Also, I can’t stress this enough: it’s super important to get it right inside the camera first. Lightroom is an amazing tool, but it’s only as amazing as you allow it to be. Sure, it’s saved me on a few occasions when I messed up and desperately needed to revive a severely underexposed photo, but I can’t expect it to save every photo.

Oh, and two other little tips before we begin:

Shoot in RAW! RAW, like JPEG, is a type of image format. But unlike JPEG, RAW saves a lot of information that other file formats discard. RAW images are larger, and therefore you’ll need a bigger SD card to accommodate them. But you’ll be astounded by how much more vibrant and detailed your photos are when you make the switch. (“Switching” is easy, by the way. It’s a setting in your camera’s menu.) I love how “Cambridge in Color” describes RAW: “Digital photography’s equivalent of a negative in film photography. It contains untouched, ‘raw’ pixel information straight from the digital camera’s sensor.” And don’t worry: Lightroom converts RAW files so you can edit them. When you’re done editing, you simply export back into JPEG format–but this time you have all that detail!

Note: I should mention that when you shoot in RAW, things look a bit flatter than they do in real life, and RAW photos won’t pop as much as JPEGs will right out of the camera. This is because RAW files aren’t actually real photos. They’re just stored information, waiting for you to make decisions about what to do with it. RAW files require work, whereas JPEGs don’t — the camera compresses everything, and does that work for you. Shooting in RAW allows you do to a lot more in Lightroom, but if you don’t intend on editing your photos, your best bet would be to stick with shooting in JPEG.

Slightly underexpose your photos in-camera. Slightly underexposed photos retain more detail, whereas overexposed photos lose detail. As you can see from many of the below images, my photos are typically a little darker in-camera compared to the final product. That’s because I like working with as much RAW detail as possible while in Lightroom. (Also note that you might like your photos even brighter than my end results. In which case, don’t underexpose as much as I do!)

So, without further ado, my extremely easy editing process, in this order:

Note: Click on the photos to enlarge them.

how to edit in lightroom

1. Import RAW files into Lightroom.

To do this, I go to “File,” select “Import photos and videos,” and click on my SD card. Once the photos have been imported, I click “Develop” on the black bar, located on the upper right-hand side of the screen. After that, I weed through the photos, delete the ones in which I look like a lunatic, and straighten the ones I want to keep. Straightening is located on the right-hand toolbar under “Histogram.” It’s the rectangle shape all the way to the left.

sharpening in lightroom

2. I sharpen.

Again, this might not be for you, but I love sharp photos. Not too sharp, though. I’ve found that once I head into the 80+ range, things start to look a little off. Typically, I’m in the 50 to 75 range. Sharpening is located on the right-hand toolbar under “Detail.”

blacks in lightroom

3. I drag the “Blacks” setting down.

As I mentioned in this recent post, I can’t get enough of photos that pop, and I love the effect that the “Blacks” setting can make. Generally, I drag my blacks down to -50 as a starting point, but I almost always drag it down further later on. In the above photo, for example, I end up with a -64 setting in the end. The “Blacks” setting is located on the right-hand toolbar under “Basic.”

exposure in lightroom

4. I jump to Exposure, and hike it up.

More often than not, I’m in the +.05 to +1.50 range, but sometimes I misjudge and need to go higher. With the above photo, I end up having to hike it up to +1.05. Exposure is located on the right-hand toolbar under “Basic.”

vibrance in lightroom

5. I up Vibrance.

I’m usually in the +20 to +40 range. Once in a while, I’ll up the saturation, which is located right below “Vibrance,” somewhere between +1 and +5. But I’m careful about making sure the colors don’t look fake. In the above photo, I end up going with +38 for Vibrance, and 0 for Saturation.  Vibrance and Saturation are located on the right-hand toolbar under “Basic.”

Temperature in Lightroom

6. I adjust Temperature if necessary.

I usually don’t do this, but once in a while, it’s needed. For example, perhaps I didn’t get my white balance completely right in-camera, and my photo is a little too cool or a little too warm. Other times, I’m looking for a certain “feel” that can be achieved by warming up or cooling down a photo. The Temperature setting helps with this. For reference, I’m usually between -5 and +5. Temperature is located on the right-hand toolbar under “Basic.”

Spot removal in Lightroom

7. I use the “Spot Removal” Tool to Fix Problems.

This thing is a lifesaver, especially if you’re wearing black and have lint problems. Go to “Tools,” select “Spot Removal,” adjust the size of the spot you’re selecting via the right-hand toolbar, and click on the problem area. It requires a little tinkering, but IT’S MAGIC. Note that you can either select “Heal” or “Clone.” (I should also mention that I think Photoshop does a better job of this with its Clone tool, but exporting and reopening photo after photo in another program takes a lot of time. Lightroom’s tool is good enough!)

copy paste lightroom

8. I copy and paste.

I copy (Command +C) my settings just as I would copy text, and paste (Command +V) my settings onto the next photo. I then slightly adjust the settings if necessary. You can also “batch edit” your photos, but I really enjoy editing, haha, and like to have a little more control over each individual photo.

export photos in lightroom

9. I export.

This is actually a bit more complicated than one would think, but once you have it down, it’s quick and easy.

  • I rename the files for SEO optimization.
  • I jump to “File Settings,” and select “JPEG” for “Format.” I also limit my file size to 1,500K, because I don’t want oversized photos to slow down my blog.
  • I go “Image Sizing” and check “Resize to Fit: Width and Height” and enter my width value only. This is SO IMPORTANT. My blog’s main column (where the photos show up) is 630 pixels wide, so I double it, and put in 1,260 pixels so my photos are crisp and clear on retina displays. (Going with 630 pixels shows up nicely on regular screens, but blurry on retinas… and so many people are making the switch to retina!) If I don’t resize my photos at all, they’ll be crisp and clear but their enormity will also slow my site down.
  • I go to “Output Sharpening” and select “Sharpening for Screen”/”Amount: Standard.”
  • Finally, I go to “Metadata,” and select “Include: Copyright Only.” This is because an image can store tons of information, like when and where the photo was taken, what camera and lens were used, and what settings were selected. CREEPY. Protect yourself and don’t include your metadata.

Lilly-Pulitzer-Red-Light-Return-Maxi-67

10. I celebrate, and pour myself another glass of wine.

Kidding. Kind of. (I just needed a #10.)

how to edit photos in lightroom-18 how to edit photos in lightroom-19

Original post here

Settings:

Temp: 0
Exposure: +1.05
Blacks: -64
Vibrance: +38
Sharpening: +61

Questions? Leave them in the below comment section or email me at kelly@kellyinthecity.com! I’ll be responding pretty quickly today. :)

More Before + After Examples:

how to edit photos in lightroom-3 how to edit photos in lightroom-4

(That’s Maya from Charmingly Styled!)

Settings:

Temp: +4
Exposure: +0.80
Blacks: -71
Vibrance: +37
Sharpening: +78

how to edit photos in lightroom-5 how to edit photos in lightroom-6

Original post here

Settings:

Temp: 0
Exposure: +1.45
Blacks: -80
Vibrance: +29
Sharpening: +74

how to edit photos in lightroom-35 how to edit photos in lightroom-36

Original post here

Settings:

Temp: 0
Exposure: +0.40
Blacks: -57
Vibrance: +31
Sharpening: +63

how to edit photos in lightroom-40 how to edit photos in lightroom-41

Original post here

Settings:

Temp: 0
Exposure: +0.70
Blacks: -82
Vibrance: +31
Saturation: +5
Sharpening: +65

 how to edit photos in lightroom-33 how to edit photos in lightroom-34

Original post here

Settings:

Temp: 0
Exposure: +0.70
Blacks: -58
Vibrance: +37
Saturation: 0
Sharpening: +78

how to edit photos in lightroom-7 how to edit photos in lightroom-8

Original post here

Settings:

Temp: +12
Exposure: +0.40
Blacks: -70
Vibrance: +32
Saturation: 0
Sharpening: +73

how to edit photos in lightroom-26 how to edit photos in lightroom-27

Original post here

Settings:

Temp: +1
Exposure: +0.98
Blacks: -58
Vibrance: +30
Saturation: 0
Sharpening: +71

Questions? Leave them in the below comment section or email me at kelly@kellyinthecity.com! I’ll be responding pretty quickly today. :)

Also: Take a look at what’s inside my camera bag here, and read why every blogger needs a prime lens here.

  • dianeinmyownstyle

    Hi Kelly – Great post! Your photos are amazing, so bright clear and vivid. Thank you for sharing your editing workflow. I do have a question. When you save your photos at double the width for retina, when you go to upload it to your blog that is not that width, how do they fit into the blog width. Is there something you do in WP?

    • Hi Diane,

      Such a good question! I should have mentioned that WordPress automatically resizes “double-width” photos, so you’d never notice a difference. :) So easy!

      • dianeinmyownstyle

        Thanks Kelly. I have been blogging for 7 + years and never knew that about WP. Will try it on my next post.

        • Of course!! Also, I didn’t know this until about a year ago. Retina displays are a new thing! :)

          • dianeinmyownstyle

            I have a Retina display and always wondered how photos that I edited on a Retina display show up on regular screens. Always new things to learn. :-)

  • Mary Kate

    Kelly, I’m so impressed! I’m definitely not any good at editing photos, but I’m hoping once I get enough time I can figure out how to do all this- thanks for the tips!

    Mary Kate
    http://www.mynewchicagolife.com

  • great tutorial kelly! love seeing the before and afters!

  • miranda brahja

    Perfect job Kelly.

  • miranda brahja

    Perfect job Kelly.

  • Susan

    Interesting Post – I was wondering – do you try and make adjustments such that the photo moves toward what you eye actually saw (as opposed to what the camera picked up) or make adjustments such that the photos end up being what you wish your camera and your eye saw? I ask because in some of the examples above the color of the garments are so dramatically different between original pic and edited pic. If its the case of the second situation above (wishing it was what you saw) could you not then say that you are misrepresenting the garments on your sight?

    • Hi Susan,

      Great question! When you shoot in RAW, things look a bit flatter than they do in real life, and the photos won’t pop as much as a JPEGs will. This is because RAW files aren’t actually real photos. They’re just stored information, waiting for you to make decisions about what to do with it. RAW files require work, whereas JPEGs don’t — The camera does that work for you.

      Because of this, and the fact that I purposefully underexpose most photos in-camera, I think my edited, “final products” are a better representation of reality. I think the coat photo is a great example of this. It’s a SUPER bright color, but when I shot the photo in RAW, it came out looking not-so-bright. Editing helped me convey its actual color. :)

      That said, I think you should only shoot in RAW if you want to use editing software afterward. Otherwise, go JPEG for more accurate portrayals in-camera!

      • Also, YES — I always try to “move toward what my eye actually saw,” as you put it. If I didn’t, the photos would come out VERY fake looking. Sometimes you can see this with photos in which the vibrance and saturation has been messed with too much. It’s super important to stay within a reasonable range! This is why I typically don’t touch saturation too much, and never go above +40 for vibrance.

  • This is so helpful, Kelly! You did a great job of making the process seem simple and fun. Hey, I bet you were a great teacher! :)
    Alicia O’Connor – http://www.LakeshoreMag.com

  • Thanks so much for this post! I use Photoshop for work, but would like something for personal use (and as you said, Photoshop can be time consuming). It’s helpful to see how someone else does things! Thanks for the tips. :)

  • Kelly, such a fab post! There is nothing – I mean NOTHING – in the world more satisfying than before and after pictures. I’ve always loved your photography! I have two questions – 1. do you recommend purchasing presets for Lightroom or do you find yourself doing your own editing every time? and 2. Do you typically set the white balance on your camera before taking photos or you use auto? This is my next thing to master on my list of photography skills! Thanks so much for sharing your process. Love, loved, loved it!

    • Awww thank you, Nicole!

      1. I think presets can be amazing! While I tend to stick with this method, I’ve recently played around with them on a few occasions:

      http://kellyinthecity.com/pink-suede-pumps-kendra-scott-rayne/
      http://kellyinthecity.com/banana-republic-mixed-stitch-turtleneck-sweater/
      http://kellyinthecity.com/jcrew-white-toothpick/

      I think it’s totally a personal thing!

      2. I set the white balance in-camera, but lots of times, auto does the trick. I just make sure to take a look at my first photo in-camera, and determine whether it needs some adjusting. However, if I mess up or need a little something extra, I turn to the “Temperature” setting in Lightroom. :)

      WE MISSSS YOUUUUU!

      • You are the best Miss Kelly! Thanks so much for taking the time to pull these examples. Those photos rock! I wasn’t sure if presets were as awesome as they appear to be, only because (as you mentioned) it starts with the original photos. Also, great feedback on the white balance. Can’t wait to play with that more and be more conscience of this upfront, versus on the editing side.

        Lastly, I miss you guys too! I’m going to be in the city tomorrow for a lunch w/ Loft. Will you be there?? It’s the first time I’ve been down in awhile, so my fingers are crossed some of my old pals will be there! If not, I need to see you gals soon! xoxo

        • YES! I will be there… I stopped going to events for a while there, too, and this is my first in a long time. Can’t WAIT to see you!! XOXO!

  • I love watching my pictures evolve from something that looks dingy to professional portraits. I’m a big fan of playing with exposure, temperature and saturation.

    http://jerseygypsy.com/

  • This might be a bit dramatic but I think you just changed my life haha! I’ve been blogging for a year but didn’t have a ton of time to really sit down and learn everything (I know, I know) but I’ve been trying to learn Lightroom and this post made it all SOOO much easier. Thank youuu! Your photos are stunning and I cannot wait to half photos even a quarter as good as yours!

    • Hahaha — Susie, you made my day. Believe me, I feel like there are always a zillion tasks on my to-do list, so I totally understand where you’re coming from! So many people recommended Lightroom to me before I actually sat down and figured it out… and then I was like “OH MY GOODNESS. THIS is what I’ve been missing?!” ;) And thank you so much for your sweet words… you made my day! xoxo

      • Hi Kelly! Okay so I’ve been trying out your tips and they’re great thank you! I figured I’d also give it a try and ask you an issue I’ve been having. The pictures look so good in my camera and in lightroom and then when I put them on the blog they’re no longer crisp, bright or super focused. Did this ever happen to you? Hope your Thursday was TGIT perfect!

        • Hi Susie,

          YAY! I’m so glad. :) Here’s one idea:

          When you upload a photo to WordPress, sometimes it automatically uploads it into the “Large,” meaning compressed, size. This makes your photos blurry.

          Do you change it over to “Full Size”?

          Here’s what I’m talking about:

          • I currently was using custom but I’ll try full-size! Thank you so much Kelly! Love this outfit by the way!

          • “Custom” also compresses photos, making them blurry. So yes — that should be the problem! :)

            Use “Full Size,” and you should be in the clear. :)

            Thanks, Girl! xoxo!

          • I currently was using custom but I’ll try full-size! Thank you so much Kelly! Love this outfit by the way!

  • This might be a bit dramatic but I think you just changed my life haha! I’ve been blogging for a year but didn’t have a ton of time to really sit down and learn everything (I know, I know) but I’ve been trying to learn Lightroom and this post made it all SOOO much easier. Thank youuu! Your photos are stunning and I cannot wait to half photos even a quarter as good as yours!

  • So helpful Kelly! I’ve been seeing quite a few lightroom tutorials on different blogs recently and each are uniquely helpful! I always appreciate your photography tips!
    -Maggie http://www.thatgirlmags.com

  • Esraa Bassiouny

    First I just needed to tell you that you look like Caroline Forbes from the The Vampire Diaries so much. Second, do you recommend this program to photoshop? I am just a fashion blogger so nothing serious is done except editing pictures. Third can you talk a little bit about what does the exposure do?
    http://dressmecasual.blogspot.com.eg/

    • Hahaha — Esraa, I just looked up Caroline Forbes and THANK YOU. I wiiiish. ;) Hehe.

      Anyway, yes! For everyday photo editing, I think Lightroom is much better than Photoshop. It’s faster to use, and it’s much more affordable.

      Exposure brightens or darkens your photos. :)

      • Esraa Bassiouny

        Thanks so much for your replay.

  • Stephanie

    Great tips! I currently have photoshop but I have been wanting Lightroom to edit my photos.

    http://www.citybelleblog.com

  • Great post, thank you for sharing. I love Lightroom for how easy yet professional it is. I say easy now, but it took me a couple of month to learn it. I used to overdo it before but I think I’ve been able to strike a good balance now :)
    Ana
    http://www.champagnegirlsabouttown.co.uk

    • Ana,

      I used to overdo it, too. I think it just takes some practice! :)

  • Kayanne Savage

    Absolutely love this post! I just got Lightroom. Perfect timing! Thank you!!!!

  • Kelllllllly! This. This is the post I’ve needed for the past few months! Thank you so much for taking the time to write this up and provide physical examples! I’ve always loved your bright and crisp photos, and I can’t wait to “steal” your tips and tricks! I’d love to see this become a series on Kelly in the City! You could share tips and tricks on how Jess/Mitch shoots your photos, etc.

    Thanks again!
    Katie @ Style On Target
    http://www.styleontarget.com

    • Kaaaaaatie! You are the cutest. :) Thank you so much for your kind words, and I’ll definitely write more posts like this… thank you for the suggestion! xoxo

  • Kelllllllly! This. This is the post I’ve needed for the past few months! Thank you so much for taking the time to write this up and provide physical examples! I’ve always loved your bright and crisp photos, and I can’t wait to “steal” your tips and tricks! I’d love to see this become a series on Kelly in the City! You could share tips and tricks on how Jess/Mitch shoots your photos, etc.

    Thanks again!
    Katie @ Style On Target
    http://www.styleontarget.com

  • Awesome tutorial, Kelly! Another reason why you’re my fav blogger :)

  • Ashley Harding

    So helpful! I use LR as well for my photo editing and have had a basic class, but love hearing tips and advice from others. I never adjust the sharpening much, but will definitely try that on my next post. Thanks!!!

  • This is a great post Kelly! I have a question…we recently started shooting in RAW and ever since then all of my Lightroom settings went from 0 {unedited} to these random numbers? Have you experienced this at all?

    Heidi || Wishes & Reality

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  • I definitely need to save this tutorial for future reading. My boyfriend got me the full Photoshop 2015 and OMG it was so damn confusing. I tried editing photos but it took freaking forever and was seriously giving me heartburn just trying to figure anything out. I may make the jump and get Lightroom instead; would you recommend the subscription or just go get the whole thing for $142?

    coffeeslag

    COFFEESLAG Winter Coat OOTD

    • Hey Girl! :)

      If you don’t own Photoshop, I would get the subscription, as it comes with both Lightroom and Photoshop, I believe. I already owned Photoshop, though, which is why I ended up buying Lightroom.

      But yes: Lightroom is SO much easier than Photoshop, and specifically designed for photo editing… unlike Photoshop, which is really for graphic design and MAJOR alterations. :)

      Hope this is helpful!!

  • This was so helpful and exactly what I’ve been looking for for so long. Thank you for such an easy to follow tutorial. I’ve been thinking about purchasing light room for a while. It really makes such a difference in photos.

  • Oh Kelly you have no idea what a god-send this post is! I’ve recently (three weeks ago) made the switch from GIMP to Lightroom. GIMP works just as well as Photoshop but it TAKES FOREVER. And I’ve been struggling with finding the right “look” with my lightroom settings — I kept playing with contrast but I love your technique of adjusting the blacks and exposure to create your own contrast instead.

    Also shocked you don’t saturate — must be the power of luminosity because your shots are always so colorful.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

    Xoxo,

    Ashley || Sed Bona

    • Hi Ash!!

      Wait I know this is crazy but I don’t think I know about GIMP! So interesting!

      You are the sweetest… thank you so much! I tend to find that saturation makes my photos look fake, which is why I typically just pump vibrance up to +30 and call it a day. ;)

      Hope to see you soon, and thank you so much for your kind words!!

      xx

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  • Wow! Thanks for this very detailed post on how you edit in Lightroom! Very helpful!
    http://www.joinmein.miami

  • what a great post, awesome post!

    xo
    PinkSole

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  • FINALLY getting around to reading this post. I got Lightroom when I got my DSLR and tried using it one day and failed miserably, haha! This is incredibly helpful. :) I’d love to know about your photo storage situation. I definitely want to use LR now but my external hard drive doesn’t have enough space for me to shoot photos in RAW, so I’m looking at buying another… How much storage do you need for your blog photos? Do you save copies of the original unedited version of every photo as well as the edited versions? Would love to hear more about that! Thank you for sharing this!

    cottoncashmerecathair.com

    • Kimi,

      AH! I wish I could be more help. I actually do not keep copies of my photos once I’ve uploaded them to the blog, as I back up my blog automatically every day through my hosting service. (I used to, but I almost never found the need to go back and retrieve photos that weren’t already uploaded to the blog.)

      However, I DO back up my personal (more meaningful) photos with a private Flickr account. (And *some* blog photos, which I use again and again for press kits and stuff like that.)

      Many of my friends use Dropbox, and my Dad swears by cloud services, though. I’m going home next week and he’d supposed to set it up for me, so I’ll let you know whether I find it to be helpful! :)

      xoxo!

      • Haha, no worries! :) Thanks so much for responding! I feel slightly like a hoarder because I keep copies of the original and the edited versions on my main computer hard drive, and then my Photos library with every single original photo I’ve taken ever is on an external. I wonder if Squarespace saves the photos I include in blog posts… That would be something to look into! I think I’m filling up my hard drive really quick by having doubles, haha.

  • Thank you so much for posting this! I couldn’t even figure out how to upload photos and almost gave up on LR. This was SO helpful and made a huge difference in the quality of my photos. Thanks again and congrats on your little girl!!

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