I am not a professional photographer – just a (very) keen amateur.  I have no training in photography or in photo-editing software.

Having got that out of the way, I can’t believe how powerful and easy to use Lightroom (full name: Photoshop Lightroom 4) is, and I suspect that lots of people would have a much happier experience with their own photos, if they bought it (it’s very reasonable considering its quality and ease of use, $187 at the moment in Australia, and sometimes on sale for a bit less) and used it.  Also, it’s easy to download a trial version which is free to try for a few weeks, to see whether you like it.

Anyway, to encourage people to give it a go, I thought I would try this ‘editing guide’ to show how I made some fairly simple changes in LR4 to a photo which I shot.

Here it is before / after:

Before editing on the left, after editing on the right.

Now, you may prefer the original look. Each to their own; that’s not the point – if you can use LR4 then you can CHOOSE how you want it to look.

I won’t start with the basics of “How to Import” etc – I am sure you can figure that out yourselves (if not, just comment or message me).  I will assume you have found the photo you want to edit and have clicked ‘Develop’:

Here it is, unedited:

Unedited RAW pic open in Lightroom 4 Develop module

This photo was taken on a snowy, cloudy day, fairly late in the day as the sun was starting to go down.  These are difficult conditions for automatic exposure modes in cameras to judge, and (in my memory) the reality looked rather different to this.

The snow does not appear white, but has a bluish cast to it.  I could fix this in LR by adjusting ‘colour temperature’ but since it is part of what appeals to me in the photo, I will leave it alone.

The picture is quite dull overall with bright clouds but loss of appeal in the darker areas. Let’s start there.

Using the sliders in Basic:

…turn the Highlights and Blacks down a bit, and Shadows and Whites up a bit.

Subtle adjustments are best, unless you’re trying for something extreme-looking (generally, not my style).  If the adjustment gets too noticeable, you’ve probably gone too far.  Also, I increased Clarity and Vibrance a little.  The sliders now look like this:

I have not adjusted Saturation.  Changing Saturation is a very powerful effect and I  dislike over-saturated images.

The image now looks like this:

Image with Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, Clarity and Vibrance adjusted

It’s not dramatically different to the original – which is fine, they were meant to be subtle adjustments. I’d like it to be brighter overall so I will adjust the Basic: Exposure slider:

0.83 of an f/stop looks about right:

Exposure increased by nearly one whole f/ stop

– but now the sky is very bright and I’d like to fix that.  A graduated filter is a suitable way to do this:

Starting near the top left corner, click and drag the filter down, towards the treeline.  You can see the dot which marks the point where I stopped dragging.

Graduated filter applied – dragged from the top left to the treeline

Adjust the new sliders which have appeared in the ‘Mask’ section (where the Basic section used to display – it changes when the Graduated Filter is selected).  The ‘Graduated’ part of the filter means that it is applied gradually across the range of the filter, so you should not get any sharp demarcation lines showing.

I adjusted them to reduce the sky exposure (back to roughly where it was, before adjusting the overall exposure in the previous step).  I also turned up the Clarity to highlight the cloud detail.

Then click Close to finish with the filter:

Now, there is a red window trim on the otherwise plain house which I would like to make a highlight.  I will use the HSL / Color / B & W section, lower down the right hand side of the Develop module:

Because there are very few red hues in this photo, there is no need to restrict this adjustment to a particular area of the page.  I can just adjust the red to be a stronger and brighter version of itself, by turning up the Red Saturation (a lot) and the Luminance (by a moderate amount):

I also tweaked the Blue Saturation (+15) and Luminance (-20) by small amounts (not shown in the above pics) to try to get more interest in the sky and to bring out that blue cast which I mentioned earlier (hopefully without making it overpowering).

Here is the final, edited picture:

Important background points to note:

1.  Shoot in RAW when possible.  LR4 will handle other formats fine, but you will literally have more to work with in RAW.

2.  You will probably need a decent PC (or a lot of patience).  RAW files are big and chunky.  I have an Intel Core i7 @ 2Ghz with 8MB RAM and it struggles to export the files at times.

I have only touched on a small fraction of the uses and features of LR4 here.  There are many extra features of the Develop module which I may cover in future, if there is any interest.  I also find the Library module great for categorising and organising photos, the Print module for printing collages etc, and so on.

I hope this was helpful.  Happy to try to answer questions, if people have them.