In photography, your camera is just the first tool you use to produce a good photo. Don’t overlook the power of photo editing software, which allows you to enhance that photo to tell a particular story or convey your unique style. 

Adobe Lightroom photo editing software gives you the tools you need to transform your photos, with adjustments for exposure, color, and more. Below, learn more about Lightroom editing capabilities, and then dive into a step-by-step Lightroom photo editing tutorial. 

All About Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom is a cloud-based photo organization and editing software. Because Lightroom is cloud-based, you can access it on any device, and any edits you make on one device will be applied everywhere else. That makes it ideal for photo editing on the go. 

Beyond editing, Lightroom makes it easy to organize and sort through your photos. Adobe Sensei machine learning identifies people and themes in your photos, so you can search for “beach” or “baby” and quickly find the images you’re looking for. 

There are two versions of Lightroom: Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Lightroom Classic. Lightroom Classic is optimized for desktop use, including storing photographs and files on your local hard drive. Lightroom, on the other hand, can be used on desktop, mobile, and the web, and all photos and files are stored in the cloud. Lightroom Classic offers a few additional features, such as the ability to add presets when importing photos. Lightroom, however, is more intuitive and easy to learn for beginners. 

Both versions of Adobe Lightroom editing software are part of the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription suite. You can access Adobe Lightroom software, as well as 1TB of cloud storage, for $9.99 per month. Or, for the same price, you can choose the “Photography” subscription package, which includes Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, and 20GB of storage.

moody images
Adobe Lightroom photo editing software gives you tools to enhance your photos to reflect your unique artistic style. 

How to Edit Photos Using Adobe Lightroom

Because Adobe Lightroom is cloud-based, you can edit photos on any of your devices. But as smartphone camera use continues to rise among both hobbyists and professional photographers, it’s helpful to know how to edit photos on your phone. This tutorial walks you through Adobe Lightroom photo editing on an iPhone. 

Do Your Photos Stand Out? 

Adobe Lightroom: Finding Your Unique Editing Style

Step 1: Prep Your Photos 

First, access the photo you want to edit by launching the Lightroom app, navigating to All Photos, and selecting the image. Then, make any necessary minor edits to the photo—like cropping and rotating—to get it ready for the more substantial edits, like color and exposure adjustments. You may also choose to use the healing brush at this point, especially if you are editing portraits in Lightroom. This enables you to hide blemishes or dust spots within the photo. 

photo editing
Use the Lightroom Crop & Rotate tool to frame your photo before moving on to more substantial edits. 

Step 2: Edit Exposure 

Next, access the exposure editing tools using the Light tab in Adobe Lightroom. Now, you’ll see several sliders that you can use to adjust the light in your photo: 

  • Exposure: This tab adjusts the overall exposure of the photo. If your photo is a little too dark, for example, you can slide this to the right to lighten the photo.
  • Contrast: This slider increases the difference between the dark areas and light areas of the photo—so the darker areas will become darker, and the lighter areas will become lighter.
  • Highlights: The highlights slider focuses just on the light areas of the photo. Increasing the highlights makes the bright areas brighter, and decreasing the highlights makes those areas darker. Decreasing the highlights also removes some detail and softens the overall photo.
  • Shadows: The shadows adjuster does the opposite of the highlights slider—it affects the dark areas of the photo. Lightening the dark areas of a photo can reveal more detail within the image. 
photo editing
The highlights slider adjusts the lightest areas of the image, making them either darker or lighter. 

Step 3: Edit Color 

To edit the color within the image, navigate to the Color tab on the bottom of the screen. From here, you can make your photo black and white using the B&W button on the left of the screen, or edit the color mix using the color wheel on the right side of the screen. With the Color Mix tool, you can edit the hue, saturation, and luminance of each color within the photo. So if you select yellow, for example, you can individually adjust the yellow tones within the photo. 

Below that, you’ll see the controls for white balance, which affects the “true white” within your image. If you prefer not to adjust each slider individually, use the drop-down menu to choose from several white balance presets. 

Skillshare student Anna Kozyreva enhanced the red in this photo to highlight the bridge.

Step 4: Edit Effects and Details 

Beyond the basic edits for exposure and color, Adobe Lightroom offers a wide range of other effects and detail adjustments, including: 

  • Clarity: This slider essentially adjusts contrast, but on a smaller scale. Moving this slider to the right can add sharpness and detail to the image.
  • Dehaze: This tool affects the haze within an image. Sliding it to the right removes haze, while sliding it to the right increases the haze and softens the image.
  • Vignette: This adjustment mimics older camera lenses, which produced photos with dark edges. (The following slider, Feather, changes the severity of the vignette effect.)
  • Grain: If you want to give your digital image the look of film, you can use the Grain slider to add that texture and detail. There are also sliders that change the size and roughness of the grain.
  • Detail: If you find that an element of your image isn’t quite in focus, you can use the Detail slider to add sharpness to the photo. 
The photo on the right has been edited to showcase more details in the mountains and trees, as well as a more saturated blue sky.

Step 5: Fine-Tune the Photo 

So far, the adjustments and edits you’ve made have affected the entire photo. You can, however, use Selective Edits to make the same type of adjustments on a smaller scale. Rather than applying the edit to the entire photo, you can use a brush to “paint” that adjustment on a select part of the image. For example, by using the Light tool as a brush, you can darken even small areas of the photo (also called “burning” the image), creating more contrast. 

photo editor
Using the Light tool in Selective Edits, you can darken or lighten small areas of an image. The red in this image shows where the brush is applying the edits.

Step 6: Save and Share

Once you’ve adjusted the photo to your liking, you are ready to save and share. Click the Share icon on the top right of the app, which will bring up the option to save to your camera roll. Then, you’re ready to post to Instagram, add to your portfolio, or send to friends. 

How to Apply Presets in Lightroom 

Presets are a powerful and time-saving tool, especially if you’re batch editing in Lightroom. If you’re new to this tool, a preset is essentially a saved set of photo edits. Once you edit a photo to your liking—including all of the exposure, color, and effects adjustments—you can save those edits and apply them to other photos. This can be helpful if you have a particular style or color scheme that you generally apply to all your photos. Rather than editing each photo from scratch, you can immediately apply your custom edits. Then, once you apply the preset, you can make further, individualized adjustments. 

You also don’t have to create presets yourself. Many photographers sell packages of presets, so you can choose a style you like, purchase the presets, and apply them to your own photos. Presets can also be targeted toward the type of photo you want to edit—so for example, if you primarily take photos of people, you can buy presets specifically made for editing portraits in Lightroom. If you dabble in video, you can also download presets for editing video in Lightroom. 

Batch editing in Lightroom is easy with presets that you can create or purchase. 

Adobe Lightroom provides an easy way to edit photos from anywhere, whether you’re on your laptop or your smartphone. With just a few adjustments, you can take an everyday photo and make it extraordinary. 

Edit Photos On the Go

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Written by:

Katie Wolf