FREE Roadmap to Create Your Next Favourite Photo
The 15-step process is involves four phases:
> Photographic intention
> Storytelling, narrative and composition
> Photo capture techniques
> Mobile photo editing to enhance the narrative
When it comes to smartphone photography, editing can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Editing a photo too much can make it lose its sense of realism, and too little editing can leave a picture looking amateurish. Today, I am going to go over all the tools you need to know to become a photography editing expert using Lightroom. Continue reading below to find out more and take your photography from so-so to superb.
Below, you will see three YouTube videos of the 30 tools split into a 3-Part playlist. You don't want to watch me talk for a whole hour in one sitting!!
Next, undeath the video are each tool explored in the written form... catering for your learning styles!
Cropping can make or break your photo. It is your opportunity to re-compose the photo to better communicate the photo intention, story and creativity. If you struggle with creativity as I did for so long, one of the biggest steps is composition guidelines. They help position different elements in the photo to change how a viewer's attention is directed through the photo.
Inside Lightroom mobile app, the first step is to swipe left and right to straighten the photo. After you tap on the tick checkmark you have several options; flip the photo to see how it changes the composition, rotate the photo or change the cropping aspect ratio.
Expert tip: My preference is to crop in a 16:9 aspect ratio allowing me to display my photos on a widescreen monitor for immediate enjoyment.
Presets are predetermined sets of adjustment actions that allow you to apply multiple editing tools at once, the exact same way, across multiple photos. In the Presets panel, you have access to free Presets listed in different categories, premium presets included with an Adobe subscription and your own! Yes, you can save all the editing steps you performed on a photo and save it in User Presets to use on other, similar photos.
A Lightroom Mobile preset is like painting your blank canvas with a premade stencil, an artist's palette, and a brush set! Unlike photo filters in other apps, all the adjustment steps involved in the Lightroom Preset can be tweaked as you see fit to best match the photo you are editing.
Expert tip: At any time while you are editing you are not sure what a tool does, tap on the ? icon at the top of the screen. Adobe has included very good hands-on interactive tutorials.
When you tap the I'm Feeling Lucky button, Lightroom assesses the photo without knowing your photographic intention, your storytelling efforts or individual photography style and attempts to make it look amazing... Can you tell I am not a big fan of Auto?
That said, it is a really good place to start. Similar to Presets, you can enter each of the edits it applied and tweak it to your taste and preference. Some photos that the app can easily recognize like a landscape or flower can produce a good result.
Expert tip: When you tap Auto or Presets, you will notice a dot next to each of the editing panels where an edit took place.
I am starting a little technical here! Bear with me, because understanding the histogram overlay in Lightroom mobile will help to visually demonstrate the below tools and how your adjustments will affect your photo.
The peaks in the histogram represent visual information within that dark (shadows), bright (highlights) and area in between (mid-tones) in your photo. Peaks on the left side of the graph represent information present in the shadows. Peaks on the right side indicate there are highlights present. Peaks in the middle represent the mid-tones.
A high contrast photo with predominantly very dark and very bright areas in the photo will have a trough in the middle of the histogram. A dark photo will have peaks on the left side and very little on the right side of the graph.
The white peaks are a combination of the primary colors red, green and blue (RGB). You also have peaks representing each of those primary colours.
Turn on your histogram in Adobe Lightroom mobile by tapping on the three-dot menu, View Options, Show Info Overlay and Show/Hide Histogram. Tap the three dots to return to your editor.
Expert tip: If you have the overlay selected and want to temporarily remove it, tap on the histogram with two fingers. Tap again to cycle through photo information, then histogram again.
Check out the Mobile Photo Editing 4-Step System - inside the Smartphone Photography Club - click here
Alright, you made it through the technical bit!
Located within the Light panel, the Exposure tool adjusts the brightness of the entire (global adjustment). It is like increasing the strength of a light source.
When you open the Light panel, you will notice sliders with a numeric number automatically preset at 0 and have a range of -100 (drag left) to +100 (drag right). At any time you can double-tap the slider to reset it back to 0. The adjustment value also appears at the top of the screen.
Note, that increasing the brightness will result in the existing brightest parts of your becoming brighter. There is also the potential to lose all details.
Expert tip: Are you using an iPhone? If you are, as you drag your finger along a slider, then place a finger on the screen to convert the photo display into a black image. As you increase the brightness, any colour that appears are sections that are losing details and become pure white. On an Android, holding the screen will display a before preview.
In simple terms, contrast is the difference between two things. If you increase contrast, you are increasing that difference. Contrast will increase the difference between the dark and bright areas of the photo. Adjustments to contrast either increase or decrease the brightness of both the shadows (darks) and highlights (lights) at the same time. Any increase, in contrast, should consider that it makes blacks darker and existing bright areas like the sky even brighter. You can very quickly lose any details in the dark bright areas... also know as clipping.
Expert tip: If you want to increase contrast and minimize the darks and lights clipping, you can make an adjustment to Black and Whites inside the same Light panel.
I have mentioned these terms already. Highlights are the brighter areas and shadows are the darker areas. Most photo editing processes involve increasing the brightness of the shadows (swiping right) and swiping left on the highlights slider to reduce the brighter areas. This brings back details in clouds and other bright areas.
Expert tip: There is no right and wrong with photo editing. My personal preference is to reduce the shadows, going against the popular approach to shadows. This difference is part of my editing style that makes my photo editing process my own.
The white point and black point are the areas of the photo that are pure white and black. An adjustment increases and decreases the amount of the photo that becomes completely white or black. Some photos are meant to be pure white and black. The sun in the backlit flower photo needs to be completely white to look natural. A photo having lots of pure blacks can be used to add drama and a compositional technique to direct the viewer attention. If you are using an iPhone, don't forget to use that trick of holding the photo after you start swiping the slider to see what areas become pure black and white.
Expert tip: Some photos at the time of capture have already clipped the highlights making them impossible to replace. At the time of capture on your smartphone, my recommendation is to tap the subject on the area you want to focus then swipe on the screen to use the brightness slider. Under-exposing (darkening) the photo retains details in the brightest areas like the sky.
In Lightroom, the tone curve uses a linear line over a histogram representing shadows, mid-tones, and highlights, from left to right. In the bottom far right corner of the tone curve panel, Your tone curve allows you to work within four channels: RGB (the default setting), Red, Green, and Blue.
The RGB channel adjusts red, green, and blue tones simultaneously, whereas the other channels only allow manipulation of one color tone at a time.
There is also an Expert adjustment on the right... luminance. The luminance curve allows you to control the range of tones without a color shift. When you control colors, the brightness changes because each color has a perceived brightness. Blue is less bright than yellow! If you make RGB adjustments and are not happy with how it affected the tonal range of the overall photo, you can make a correction adjustment to the luminance curve to increase/decrease the tonal range that the color affected.
Expert tip: You can learn more about using Curve tools here >> Curves tool enhances color and tones
You may have noticed that oftentimes, the terms color correction and color grading are used interchangeably. Unfortunately, this is a common mistake. Color correction is the process of adjusting colors for realness, with the goal being to make the colors appear as they do to the human eye naturally.
My preference is to correct colour first making them look realistic using white balance (temperature and tint) controls before applying a desired creative look using vibrance and saturation, then pushing it further using the color mix and color grading tools.
White balancing is the process of correcting pictures for temperature and tint caused by lighting. All light sources have a color temperature that ranges from warmer tones (reds and yellows) to colder tones (whites and blues). In addition to temperature, light has a tint ranging from green to magenta. The effects of tint and temperature are known as a color cast, and both are integral components of white balancing.
In Lightroom, you can use the temperature and tint color editing tools to remove color casts manually. Or, you can use the master white balance tool, the white balance eyedropper. Tap on the eyedropper icon then drag your finger across the scene. When you lift your finger, Lightroom will use that area as a reference to balance or introduce a color casts.
Expert tip: You cannot drag the eyedropper onto pure white. You will receive the message to select a darker, more neutral area.
Our next step is to start editing for tone and color. To do this, we're going to be using two different color editing tools: vibrance and saturation. You can find the saturation and vibrance slider tools in the Color panel. My preference is to use the vibrance tool to achieve the desired balance of colours before adjusting all colors together using saturation.
The vibrance tool is more selective and will only increase or decrease the intensity of the less saturated colors existing in the photo.
The saturation slider to increase or decrease the intensity (magnitude or strength) of all color tones: shadows, highlights, and mid-tones of every existing colors in the photo.
Expert tip: An interesting fact, a negative adjustment to the vibrance tool mutes the more saturated colors first.
The next steps in the color editing process adjust for hue, saturation, and luminance collectively referred to as HSL. To locate the HSL color editing tools in Lightroom mobile, tap on the Mix icon containing a color wheel.
The Hue, Saturation, and Luminance color editing tools consist of eight sliders each and have individual tabs within the HSL panel. Use the hue slider to replace specific colors with adjacent hues on the color wheel. To heighten and lessen the strength (intensity) of colors in your photography, swipe on the saturation slider. The last slider luminance, allows you to brighten and darken colors in a photo and directly affect color saturation.
Expert tip: An easy way to achieve selective colour is to desaturate all color channel except one and make that one more saturated to pop and stand out.
The Target icon in the centre above the individual colors is a powerful tool. Tap on the icon then tap and hold anywhere on the photo. The two colour combinations that make up that area you have selected will be highlighted. Next, select Hue, Saturation or Luminance to adjust. Swiping left and right on the screen with increase and decrease that adjustment. This tool is so cool... you have to try it out!
Expert tip: This tool is a very quick way to create a cinematic look by changing the hues in any existing cool and warm colors in the photo.
Color grading is the process of enhancing colors for stylistic, artistic, or aesthetic reasons. Color grading includes adjusting color to promote the mood or atmosphere of a photo with the exposure, contrast, vibrance, and tone curve color editing tools.
To use the grading tool on Lightroom Mobile, first, open the color grading tool. There, swipe on the color wheel to discover four separate color wheels for Shadows, Mid-tones, Highlights and Global control. The Global control applies luminance and color tint adjustments across all three tone ranges.
When you tap on the color wheel, two numeric values appear; Hue and Saturation.
The Hue value is the is the position of the color on the color wheel. The circle is made up of 360 degrees. The color red is 0 degrees. Going around the wheel, yellow is 60 degrees, green 120 degrees, cyan 180 degrees, blue 240 degrees and magenta 360 degrees.
The saturation value from 0 to 100 is the intensity of the color cast of that particular wheel; shadows, mid-tone, highlights or global.
Adjust the luminance using the sliders under each color wheel. To adjust how much your highlights, mid-tones, and shadows overlap, you can use the blending slider located underneath the color wheel(s). The balance slider, also located beneath the color wheel(s), allows you to switch the range between highlights and shadows by sliding left to right and vice versa.
Expert tip: Tap on the down arrow to reveal a slider for Hue and Saturation to achieve more precise control over tapping on the color wheel.
You can easily convert your photo to a black and white version by tapping on B&W or swiping left on Saturation to -100. Both results look comparable, although the reduced saturation does appear to still have some color remaining in the photo.
When you compare the Histogram of tapping the B&W and reducing the saturation to zero there is a slight difference in overall contrast in the photo. When reducing the saturation -100, the tonal range reduces with the white and black point moving toward each other and overall darks and lights (contrast).
Expert tip: If you want to learn more about black and white photos click here >> When to capture and convert a black and white photo
The texture tool was added to Lightroom mobile in 2015. It is one of my absolute favourite tools because we can add detail without affecting tones or luminance of colors. The texture tool was originally designed to intelligently smooth skin in portraits, softening skin while maintaining fine details like skin pores.
When adjusted to a positive value, the Textures tool adds definition to existing medium details in the photo. Most sharpening tools concentrate on the larger details in edges and accentuate the difference between both sides of an edge. The brightening and darkening of either side of an edge can create that dreaded halo effect where you have a bright outline around trees or structures against the sky.
Texture performs similar to a combination of clarity, sharpening and even noise reduction. Like all tools, a combination of selective (area-specific) adjustments of positive value and negative values can be really powerful.
Expert tip: Texture can be cranked up for black and white photos to extract as much texture as you can without affecting the tonal range.
Clarity works differently to Contrast affecting the whole photo. Clarity is an amazing tool to bring back depth and make your photos pop. Adjustments only affect the mid-tones and can make the photo look softer or increase the perception of sharpness adding more definition and texture.
Expert tip: Using the Selective Tool on a paid Adobe plan, you can apply a negative value to soften skin and backgrounds and a positive value to enhance the mid-tones exactly where you select using the brush, radial or gradient masking tool.
If you imagine a foggy morning. The scene in front of you has muted colours and very little contrast. The Dehaze tool inside Lightroom mobile quickly adds both contrast and saturation together.
My preference for editing a hazy photo is to add a little Dehaze, then increase a combination of Clarity found in the Effects section and Black levels in the Light section and/or Curves. Inside the Curves tool, select the RGB channel (on the left next to red) and drag the existing pin in the bottom left corner across the bottom of the graph toward the right slightly.
If you drag the dehaze slider to the left, you can also add the appearance of haze for that late afternoon effect in combination with warming the color temperature!
Let's move on to the dehaze and texture color editing tools. Use the texture slider to subtly create local color sharpness across mid to high tone areas of contrast. For photos that need atmospheric touch-ups, try the dehaze slider to increase or decrease color casts and washed-out contrasts.
Expert tip: Avoid Dehaze when you have skin tones – the Expert contrast and saturation can very quickly look unnatural and unflattering!
The Vignette either darkens or brightens the edges of the photo to bring the viewer's attention to the centre of the frame. My process involves swiping to the left on the Vignette slider so that you can see exactly what happens when you make adjustments to midpoint, feather, roundness and highlights. Then, bring the vignette slider back to where I want.
Expert tip: If the main subject is on one of the edges, you can manually create a vignette around the three other edges using the selective editing masking tools (brush, radial and gradient) available on a paid Adobe subscription.
Lightroom mobile is an amazing app to extract hidden details and naturally sharpen your photos to look like a far more superior camera. Nail these tools and you can hold off on upgrading your smartphone saving you a lot of money... you can thank me by buying me a coffee!
Sharpening - adjusts the amount of sharpening applied to the whole image.
Radius – is the actual number of pixels (dots) from the edge the contrast will be increased.
Detail - is the specified radius around the edges, this adjustment will determine what areas are affected. Values closer to 0 affect the larger edges and 100 adjusts all the finer edges. This is the difference between sharpening the edges of a leaf and sharpening the finer textures in the leaf. My preference is to start at 40.
Masking - This is one of the best tools and the amount depends on your image! At 0, the above adjustments are applied to the whole image. As you slide to the right toward 100, only the strongest and most prominent lines in the image will be affected. I typically start at 80. If you have an iPhone, you can place a second finger on the screen after you start to swipe on the slider to reveal a black and white mask. The areas in white are the only areas that the sharpening will be applied minimizing Expert noise and unnecessary over-sharpening of smooth areas like interior walls or clouds in landscape images.
Expert tip: My preference with Radius is to leave it at the default 1.0. If you have a blurry or worse yet and out of focus image, bump this to 2.0. If you notice the halo effect around the edges, reduce the radius to bring the sharpening closer to the edges.
I have three children and live in a very noisy house! Noise reduction in photos is the process of reducing the digital artefacts captured in the photo. Incorrect reduction smooths the dots of colour and tone in your image, reducing sharpness. The goal is to reduce noise and retain as much sharpness as you can in the image.
Prior to increasing the Noise Reduction, pinch and zoom in to the dark areas where noise is more evident to see the effect of the adjustment. The Contrast slider protects the contrast in the edges of the objects in the photo. Details are adjusted to bring back details lost when adjusting the Noise Reduction slider. Again, it is a balancing act.
My editing process typically involves colour noise first. You can see this when the blotchiness has random colour. A more technical term is mottling artifacts. First, move the smoothness to the right then adjust the Detail slider to recover any details (fine lines) lost. It is a real balancing act between the two sliders. You will rarely need to go above 25 in Smoothness.
Expert tip: Tap on the preview window outside of the actual image to fill the screen without distracting menus. Pinch and zoom to preview the image and swipe to navigate to another area of the photo that may have noise evident.
There are two options to turn on and off inside Optics; Remove Chromatic Aberration and Enable Lens Corrections.
Chromatic Aberration is also known as color fringing, purple fringing and chromatic distortion! It is essentially an optical lens imperfection when light travels at different speeds through the camera lens and does not focus together.
Expert tip: The result is noticeable colors on the edges in high contrast areas of the photo.
Paid subscription tool
We have already covered straightening your photo in the Cropping section at the start of this article. Now, we are going to fix one of the most common distortion issues with smartphone cameras that has a wide-angle lens. Once you tap on Geometry, you will find individual controls to correct or introduce perspective distortions from fish-eye, distance to camera, tilt, aspect, scale and even offset the photo. Not sure why you need the offset option... anyway, moving on!
My favourite tool is the Upright tool. You have several options to fix the distortion. Auto does a very good job identifying vertical and horizontal lines in the photo. My preference is to select Guided and draw along vertical and horizontal lines that I want. The app then cleverly bends and warps the photo to align perfectly with those reference lines. It is magical to see it in action.
Expert tip: To learn all about photo distortion, click here >> photo distortion in smartphone photography
Also known as LUTs basically transform your photo from one state to another. Lost you yet? Unlike Presets, a Profile is a look or style that is placed over your photo without any sliders or control other than an opacity slider to control how strong you want to apply the Profile. This will likely be the preferred option for professional photographers selling Presets because the end-user cannot tweak the result and sell it off as their own. I know, there are some dishonest people out there!
Expert tip: If you intend to save your edits as a preset for future use, avoid including a Profile. Adobe can remove these and your preset will display an error message.
This is a great feature that autosaves and you can manually save versions of your edit. If you want to experiment with a new editing style and not sure how it will look. Before you go down the rabbit hole and get really funky and mess it up, you can save a version and even give it a name. If you forget, the app creates autosave versions. It like hitting a progress station in your game!
Expert tip: Creating named versions is a great way to quickly compare two different edits of the same photo.
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This is where you start to take your photos to the next stage. Every photo has parts of the photo that needs adjustment independent of the rest of the photo. After you tap on the Selective panel you have three options; brush, radial gradient and linear gradient.
Starting with the brush tool, you also have additional options to change the brush size, feather the edges of the brush to assist blending and flow (similar to opacity). The red overlay displays where you have brushed to use the eraser to clean up where you may have finger painted outside the lines!
Next, perform a single or combination of edits to the selected area. This is particularly helpful when you want to apply negative values of an adjustment to one part of the photo and a positive value adjustment of the same tool to another part of an area. An example is the saturation of color or brightness of the subject and desaturation and darkness of parts of the background.
Expert tip: At any time, you can tap on Selective and locate a marker on the screen to tap on and make any changes to the original adjustment.
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This is real magic! We all know that one of the secrets to a great photo is simplification. Removing distracting elements in the photo can make it more aesthetically pleasing to the viewer and make it easier for them to interpret the visual cues you left them in the photo.
Before you get excited and start tapping on everything, reduce the size of the brush. The default size is too big! You can change the feathering of the edges that you replace to help blend the edit. My preference is to generally change the opacity to help blend and match the colors and tones.
The Cloning Brush underneath lets you replace a target area with an area that you sample from.
Expert tip: To get the most out of the Lightroom Mobile App, make sure to update it regularly and stay up-to-date on new editing tools as they're incorporated into the app.
Tap the Share icon and select Export As. You then have a toggle on/off option to include a Watermark. Tap on Customize to select either a Text watermark or a graphic watermark. There are many additional options to adjust location, size and opacity.
Expert tip: To learn more about adding a watermark, check out my video on YouTube here
As much as I would love for me to be your only resource to learn Lightroom mobile, the app itself has a wonderful interactive set of tutorials.
This is an amazing inclusion in the app in mid-2019. Instead of simply watching a video or reading the steps involved, this app has you do them! As you work through the steps, the tutorial prompts you to tap the different tools as you edit the photo yourself. This is perfect for us who like to be hands-on and interactive implementing what we are learning straight away.
Browse your desired skill level, select a topic that interests you then start the tutorial. Most tutorials display commentary by the educator throughout the edit, providing further insight into what they are doing in the edit and most importantly why they are selecting these tools.
These tutorials are a far better way of learning than applying a Preset to your images without really having a strategy behind the workflow. You will be able to adapt to the intention behind your image, be confident in which tools to use and enjoy the creative process.
By default, the app will display the most recent tutorials. Tap on Browse to search for tutorials based on skill level and genre of your interest.
Expert tip: If you find an educator that explains the tutorial in a way that resonates or want to learn more from them, tap on their profile photo (avatar) to locate their tutorials, edits and learn more about them. Check out the Adobe article here
Tap on the Discovery icon to enter the Adobe community of creators who have shared the workflow of their edits. Select from featured, new or a genre of your choice.
Tap on Discover, then select a cover image to open the gif-like video that plays in a loop of each step in the edit from start to finish.
Tap on Edits to access each step. Scroll to beginning image at the top and slowly swipe your finger upwards over the steps to reveal each step. The editing tool and value will be displayed for each edit. In real-time, the image preview changes showing the effect taking place. Unfortunately, you cannot zoom in or swipe on the sliders to see extremes of the effect - as some adjustments are very subtle.
Discovery is a great way to get inspired and quickly learn some new creative processes. Unlike Adobe selected educators in Tutorials, the Discovery image workflows are shared by anyone in the Adobe community having a Premium account.
At the end of the editing workflow, you can save the editing steps as a Preset. This is automatically sent to your saved Presets. Avoid presets that have selective edits, as they are only relevant to positioning of elements in the example.
All these Adobe Lightroom mobile editing tools may seem like a daunting task at first. Still, if you can break it down into small chunks, as we've done above, it truly can make the difference between being feeling overwhelmed and enjoying the process. As with most skills, the more you practice using Lightroom Mobile, the easier it will become.
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