A Viewfinder Darkly

Photography tips and tutorials

Photograph Editing in Adobe Lightroom Basic Panel

May 25 2016

by Philip Northeast

The essential photography editing tools in Adobe Lightroom, make it  more than a manager of photography collections.

Using Lightroom’s editing  tools  photographers can quickly make minor adjustments in the same  application they use to manage their photographic library. Lightroom adjustments  are non-destructive, leaving  the original image file unaltered as  Lightroom only applies the adjustments when the photograph is used.  Lightroom offers a variety  of output options for; print,web, book, slide show or  you can create a new file using the  Export module.

edited photo

The photograph looking brighter after minor adjustments in Lightroom

Like any good photo editing application Lightroom works best on raw unprocessed files straight from the camera, although Lightroom can manage and edit a range of image file formats. The raw photo file contains all the information from the camera,  giving a  greater range to Lightroom’s adjustments.

In this article we are going to start with the  most commonly used adjustment tools and leave the advanced tools for other articles.  Many photographs only need small adjustments to compensate for scenes that do not fit the average the engineers used to program your camera.  The photograph may have more dark or light areas than expected and this is where Lightroom’s Basic adjustments can help.

unedited photo

The photograph straight from the camera looks a little dull

The adjustment control panels are part of  the Develop module to the right of the Lightroom window. The Develop name references the ever-present role of post-processing in photography and reassures users that adjustments are part of the normal photographic process.


This panel sits at the top of the Develop module. In the histogram’s vertical direction it shows the number of pixels at each of the brightness values. These are displayed in the horizontal direction, ranging from black on the left to pure white on the right.


The Histogram display from Adobe Lightroom Develop module


The histogram offers a graphical view of the exposure levels and gives an immediate indication of the effect of  the adjustments. It includes clipping alarms indicate  when the image exposure is over or under exposed.

Its main use is ensuring that no highlight or shadow detail is lost due to clipping. While the histogram is a useful guide for average scenes. But when the scene has more dark or light areas than usual then the photograph’s appearance should take precedence.


The crop  tool has two uses.  The first is  fine tuning  the composition by selecting a smaller portion of the image. This effectively allows you to move the main area of interest within the picture. The second  is to crop the image  for different aspect ratios to suit different display formats.

straighten the photo

Using the Crop box to straighten an image in Adobe Lightroom


This tool uses a standard dotted line box where the sides are dragged to set the crop boundaries.  The crop box can be moved around the image to finalise the crop. The crop can be free form or you can choose a specific aspect ratio, either a standard one or create a custom aspect ratio. This in the menu associated with the padlock icon. The padlock signifies if the aspect ratio is locked or is free form.


The Straighten tools are part of Lightroom’s  Crop function and can rotate  a crop box inside the photo to correct  any unintended tilt of the camera and offers a number of options

The disadvantage of the Straighten tool is the loss of image area in the corners and the more correction required the more of the image you lose.

Basic Panel

The Lightroom Basic panel is a collection of essential tools for photographs that only need simple changes.  The adjustments are made using horizontal  sliders to apply more or less of  each attribute. The values can also be set by entering a number.

basic panel

The essential photo editing adjustments in Adobe Lightroom


There a number of ways of undoing individual or all  adjustments associated with a photograph. So you can try something and if it doesn’t work it is easy to start again. This is an advantage of non-destructive editing in Lightroom. An individual adjustment is returned to zero, which is the default value, by double-clicking on  its name in the basic panel.

Command-Z or Control-Z is the normal undo for the last operation, so a slight change to an adjustment can be undone without completely resetting the adjustment.

The Reset  button at the bottom of the Develop module returns all the Develop module adjustments to their default value.  If you have a photo with edits from an older version of Lightroom clicking on the reset button changes the basic panel to show the newest adjustment tools.

Colour temperature 

The Automatic White Balance (AWB) of modern digital cameras sometimes needs help, especially in scenes with mixed light sources. It  has the normal slider adjustments and there are  standard colour temperature options available from a drop  down menu. If the photo file is in raw format there are more colour temperature options in the drop down menu than for a JPEG file.
The options include an automatic setting where Lightroom estimates the colour temperature based on an analysis of the image. There are some fixed colour temperature options for standard values for common lighting conditions, such as normal daylight, shade and cloud as well as for different artificial light sources.

Even though this adjustment is on top of the basic panel  adjust the overall exposure first. The  overall colour can change if the image is over or under exposed.


This is the starting point for exposure adjustments. The aim is to get an even spread of pixels across the histogram for a normal daylight scene. The Exposure adjustment mainly alters the mid-tones, but it does influence the black and white extremities.

Whites and Blacks

Next step is to use these two sliders set  the upper limit for white pixels and the lower limit for black pixels in the exposure range.  In the top corners of the histogram there are triangular clipping indicators, one for the Whites and the other for the Blacks. If the black clipping indicator is lit move, the black slider to the right until the indicator just disappears. This means there are no clipped pixels in the black area and no detail has been lost. Similarly, move the White slider so there are no clipped white pixels.

That procedure is for  an average daylight scene with elements ranging reasonably evenly from pure black through to pure white, with mostly mid-tone details. For scenes without  pure black or pure white areas, the histogram is less useful and setting the white and black is a matter of visual judgement.


The next step is adjusting the lighter areas of the photograph using the Highlights slider.  This will change the shape in the histogram and can push the white limit to the right.  This changes the amount clipping of detail in the light areas.  It is a matter of juggling the compromise between the Highlights and the Whites adjustment.

Clipping areas on image

The Lightroom clipping indicators show as the red areas on the all white boat


A helpful feature is Lightroom’s clipping indicators in the Histogram.  Click on the clipping indicator area in the histogram and it enables the indicator in the image. Here the  areas of the  image that are losing detail due to clipping are shown in red for light areas and blue for dark areas.

Photographers can allow some clipping if the area losing detail is not important in the overall composition. Some things are naturally far too bright for the human eye such as reflections  from shiny surfaces or  light bulbs. These will show as being clipped in the histogram, but any loss of detail in these ultra bright areas is a normal view.


This is the same as the  highlights adjustment, only for the shadow areas of the image.


This is the normal global contrast adjustment, that is the difference in brightness between  the dark areas and the light areas of the photograph. It should be used with  care and in conjunction with the clarity adjustment. The white and black limits alters the contrast, so check these before applying any contrast adjustment.


This provides local contrast. This works mainly on the mid-tones in the image and adjusts the contrast of the edge of objects. Increasing clarity makes the image  appear sharper.  The amount required often varies with the lens used for the photograph.  There is no set amount and it is a matter of judgement. Start with the default position of the slider and slowly move it to the right increasing the local contrast until a change in the apparent sharpness appears and then stop. Depending upon the appearance then slightly reduce the amount of clarity.

In some cases, the reverse adjustment is useful, particularly with portraits to soften the appearance of skin. Unfortunately, modern digital cameras can capture a great deal of detail about  skin texture that  can be unflattering,  particularly in more mature subjects. A more flattering result is to reduce the clarity setting.


This is a selective saturation control.  Vibrance increases the saturation in areas of the image that the algorithm considers lacking saturation. Colourful areas that are already saturated are left alone, so they are not oversaturated.


If you used the vibrance adjuster then probably this one is not necessary. I am not a fan of highly saturated photographs where the colours seem unnaturally bright.


The History panel is in the Navigation module on the left side of the Lightroom window. It  plays an important part in the adjustment process, despite not being in the Develop module. The History panel shows a drop down list of adjustments applied to the image with the latest on top. Simply selecting an adjustment from the list takes the adjustments back to that stage. So it is easy to experiment with adjustments and then undo them.

Lightroom history panel

The latest adjustment are on top of the list, click on one below and all those above that operation are undone in Lightroom


I find it very useful for producing versions of the pictures with aspect ratios to suit different requirements. The crop can be set to widescreen aspect ratio to suit my widescreen monitor, I  export a copy, and then use the History list to return to the  crop setting for the original standard aspect ratio and size.


Applies all the same adjustments to the next photo you select for the Develop module. This includes any area specific adjustments such as cropping, so this may not suit every photo. But photographs requiring similar basic exposure adjustments may benefit in this time saver.

Before and After Preview 

To compare the effect of the edits use  the “\” key to toggle the view between the current adjusted version and the  untouched original.


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