Lightroom workflow

Full Lightroom workflow

Here is my start to finish full Lightroom workflow, as requested by so many people on Instagram!

I had been awake for 22 hours at this point, the edit is not my best. But its not terrible… I had finished an edit on Photoshop a while earlier and made this video of edited the same photo, but in Lightroom!

Talked about a lot in this video while very tired so Ill type up a quick overview of the video!

The shot

24mm 1/3200 f/2.8 iso 100

Katie Lawler trying hard on Evilution in the Buttermilks. This was the 5th or so angle I checked out while shooting the climb and am stoked with how it came out! Coulda been better though… I had to stand on some stacked pads AND my camera over my head, a staggering 9 (ish) feet above my feet. This is why i need to haul around a little ladder in my car. I wish I could have been slightly closer and in towards the wall to separate her off the wall a bit more. Not bad though, I’m happy with it!


White balance

You want your shadows to be cool and highlights to be warm, but sometimes it’s hard to see how to fix an off white balance. Just for kicks ill select the auto white balance to see what it thinks, and sometimes it does surprisingly well! But Ill always dial it in with this simple trick:

Pull your vibrance and saturation up to 100. This is the part I hate to have people looking over my shoulder during. I know its too colorful, yeah it is perfect thank you. By turning the color up so much we can see what color is predominately in a spot. Ill adjust my blue-yellow slider to have just a bit of noticeable blue show up in my shadows, and from there my highlights should be decently cool looking as well. For the green-magenta slider it should be decently obvious to adjust. Do you see a lot of magenta? Drag it towards green! Too much green? Back towards magenta! Also notice how the green effects your sky and the magenta effects skin tones and land. You won’t need that now… but its good to know how your colors interact to make more in depth color corrections easier! Now, set vibrance and saturation back to 0 to see how your photo looks! Do a quick eyeballed adjustment for warmth (yellow-blue) if it looks noticeably off.

Basic panel

Next we turn the photo black and white, and I’ll tell you why; I cant tell you how many times i’ve been editing a photo and couldn’t figure out why it looked muggy or lacking contrast or so many other problems. A huge factor in these problems I noticed was the color. The photo wasn’t too desaturated, it was too bright! Once the exposure was pulled down the colors were deeper and the photo looked way better. Colors are confusing so I edit anything that involves the tones of the photo in black and white!

Look at your histogram. If you shot it correctly in camera it shouldn’t be touching the right side of the histogram, or at least not very much! And the left side should be barely clipping at the most. My first step with most photos (most of my photos are typically higher dynamic range shots with the subject in the shadowed area so keep this in mind and adapt to your own images) is to lower my highlights a decent amount and increase the exposure. From here I go to my shadow slider. Pull it up and down to see how its going to effect this image and set it to where the detail starts coming out of the shadows but is still decently dark. Next grab the blacks slider and drag that up as well. Quick note, my blacks almost always stay lower than my shadows, I personally like the way that looks! Bring the blacks up until the image is a little too flat but still dark and then increase the contrast of the image.


There are just so many ways to mess with contrast that it’ll get its own section in this writeup!

Typically, use the contrast slider to increase or decrease contrast, but… is your photo a little hazy looking? Use the dehaze slider to bring in a sharper contrast! Photo lacks much of the “sharp” look? Use the clarity slider! But be careful with this one, most people overdo it. Its noticeable!! Bumping your clarity up to 20 may give that super sharp contrasty epic look you think you like, but a good edit is subtle and clarity is the least subtle tool I use. If you’re just starting, id stay away from clarity for a sec.

You can also plan ahead in the basic panel and setup a good low contrast photo to then fine tune in the tone curve tool later. If im doing a lightroom only edit on a crazy high dynamic range photo I will take highlights way down, whites down a little, shadows way up followed by a bit less blacks and then negative contrast. It’ll look terrible here, but once you’re done with curves it’ll look BANGER


Curves are confusing and easy to change way too much, way to easily. Hang in there, they’re really great when you get to know them! Since we were ealing with tones and not colors here make sure your photo is still in black and white!

When you look at the curves adjustment tool you’ll see a square with a line going from the bottom left to the top right. Behind that line the tool will tell you where all the tones of your photo are! It’ll look like a hill, or two. Left to right on the tone curve grid is where all the dark to light points in your photo lay. Up and down on the tone curve represents the brightness. If you make a point on the diagonal line in the shadow area and pull up, the shadows will increase in brightness. The main hump of it is generally where my subject is, the hump on the far right usually spikes a bit and is my sky. Thankfully to make it really easy to learn to read a curve Lightroom has a selector tool for the histogram! On the histogram panel, look at the top left for a dot with an up and down arrow and click it. Now, drag your cursor over the image. Did a dot appear on the upward sloping diagonal line on the histogram? Does this dot move around as you move the cursor over your image? Good! If not, you did not click the tool. So for your first dot you’re going to want to click on a brighter point of a shadow on your subject, usually a brighter point on their face or arm. This will place a point on your histogram right at the tone you want to edit. Pull that point up a little till their face looks to be a good exposure. Keep in mind, as you drag this point up every tone in the image will brighten! Don’t be alarmed, we’ll fix them later. For your second point, click on another part of your subject in a shadowed are but this time in a dark shadow. Drag that point down just a tad. The contrast will ramp quickly so be careful! Quick tip, with the selector tool, drag the cursor over a part of your image that matches a tone curve point you’ve made and you can use up and down arrows on your keyboard to move the dot up and down on the tone curve. Now to fix our highlights, select another point is the darker area of a highlight and drag it down to be properly exposed again. Make one last point in a brighter highlight and pull it up a bit to add contrast or down a bit to subtract contrast depending on what look you like!

We’ll get into color curves later, its more confusing so it’ll have its own lesson!


The calibration tool can be very powerful for cleaning up the colors in an image quickly! Here we have three ways to effect the hue of the image and three ways to effect the saturation of our image. This will all be personal preference on how you want your image to look and how you want to influence your colors but I’ll talk a bit about my preferences!

I start with the bottom slider, the blue slider. With this I take it a bit to the left to turn my blues towards cyan and my oranges towards red. Next the green slider the right to take away some magenta from the newly added reds. And finally the red slider to the left to turn our reds more magenta and boom now we have the way I like my colors. Each slider balances the others, play around with it and see what you like! Next the saturation side of things; Ill lessen the saturation on my blue slider, up on the green slider, and a little down on the red saturation to balance it in the way I like.


Hue, saturation, luminance. Another crazy powerful tool! In the hue section, focus on perfecting skin tones with the red and yellow sliders. Perfect skies and land with blue, cyan, red, and yellow sliders. Make trees pop with the green slider, you can even make a summer aspen grove into a fall wonderland with this tool! I use the saturation to take the orange out of skin tones, make skies a little less deep, and weirdly often desaturating yellows to clean up my colors! With the Lightness sliders you can make a subject stand out more by increasing the orange and red sliders to brighten skin, make a sky deeper by lowering the luminance on a sky, or just make different areas brighter or darker by color!

Brush tool and filters

So useful! But I will probably struggle to type it out, so please watch the video for this part at least. Overall, you can brush and edit what you just brushed with the full basic panel. You also have the ability to make a luminance mask or color mask on your brushed area which is crazy useful.

Split toning

Another way to clean up the colors in your photo! Sometimes I’ll have a photo that just doesn’t look quite right… But once I split tone, the colors clean up while also adding some contrast through opposing colors that makes it look way better. Yellow highlights can make it look warmer, contrast that with some blue shadows for that warm/cool look. Experiment and find what you like most, I use magenta and cyan!

Highlight priority vignette

I rarely use it but I remember it being extremely useful in some of my older photos! Vignettes are typically noticeable and off looking, but check this out: Highlight priority vignette, it is exactly what its name says it is. A vignette, but it won’t show up in your highlights! Play around with it, it’s pretty simple. Lots of tweaks you can make to setup the vignette, just play with it.

More videos coming soon to breakdown the tools in Photoshop!