Adobe Lightroom – Post Processing Workflow

In this article, I will cover a typical post-processing workflow using the Adobe Lightroom software. Adobe Lightroom is packed with so many features, that it can be a little daunting; particularly if you are just starting out.

However, there are a standard set of processes that you typically go through to give you a well-balanced image. I think of these as a baseline for anything else that you might want to do in Lightroom. This baseline also gives you a workable image that you can use either online or for printing.


Setting up our Workspace

For our starting image, I am using a picture of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, photographed at sunset. But, because I didn’t use a graduated filter to balance the exposure, the resultant image is somewhat dull. Fortunately, the image was photographed in RAW, so there will be a lot of detail in there that we can draw out.

To get started, I opened the image up in Lightroom Classic, and left-clicked the Develop Module.

Adobe Lightroom
Figure 1: Starting Image

One of the main things I look at when post-processing an image is the histogram. An optimum histogram tends to look like a bell shape and means there is a good distribution of pixels from white to black, and everything in-between. We can see from this image that the histogram peaks at the right-hand side, indicating the image is a little bright – whites and highlights. The peaks on the left-hand side indicating too many blacks and shadows.

Adobe Lightroom
Figure 2: Histogram

Here is an example of an optimal bell-shaped histogram from another image. We are unlikely going to be able to get to something like this with our example image because we are not starting from a correct exposure. But, we will be able to make some improvements. I typically start my work-flow by correcting the white balance.

Correcting the White Balance

Adobe Lightroom
Figure 3: White Balance

We correct the white balance by left-clicking the white balance slider in the Basic Panel. The Basic Panel is located at the top of the Develop Module. There is a little know technique that I use for setting the white balance, and is my first top-tip:

Press and hold the ALT key before left-clicking the Whites slider.

What this does is temporarily replace your image with a black mask. You then move the Whites slider until you just see white pixels peeking through the mask. Then just dial that back very slightly so you can’t see any pixels peeking through. I have seen For our example, this was +37.

Correcting the Black Balance

Adobe Lightroom
Figure 4: Black Balance

We correct the black balance in much the same way as whites, by pressing and holding ALT whilst left-clicking the Blacks slider.

This time, however, we get a white mask and slide the slider until we can just see black pixels. But rather than dialling back slightly, I leave the setting there. For our example, I increased the blacks to +13.

Now we have the black and white pixel balance set correctly, we can take a look at the highlights and shadows. Unfortunately, there is no semi-automated way to do to the highlights and shadows, it needs to be done by eye.

Correcting the Highlights & Shadows

I started with the shadows. The foreground in the image was still quite dark, so I lightened the tone by left-clicking the shadows slider and bringing the up to +41. I then did the reverse for the highlights, as the sky was too bright. I lowered the highlights right down to -91.

You can see from Figure 5 (below), that we have a more tonally balanced image, and the colours from the sunset are starting to shine through. Also, take a look at the small histogram, you can see that our edits have pulled the tones away from the extremes. There is more work to do though, as the image is still a little flat.

Tone Balance
Figure 5: Tone Balanced

Image Presence

Image Presence
Figure 6: Image Presence

Still in the basics panel, there is a section called Presence, it consists of Texture, Clarity, Dehaze, Vibrance & Saturation.

  • Texture helps to enhance or smooth textures in images and does it in a way that doesn’t destroy details or add noise. It’s great for nature photography for adding detail to feather, or for architecture to add details buildings. It’s also good to smooth skin. For our example image, there is enough texture in the architecture so I left the dial at datum.
  • Clarity is another contrast slider but focusses purely on the mid-tones of an image, rather than the whole image. It’s great sharpening the midtones but also adds a little texture. Because our image needs a boost in the mid-tones I increased this to +27. Any more than this and the texture started to be too noisy.
  • Dehaze is essentially another contrast slider, but the focus is on the highlights. The idea is that it replicates the removal of water particle haze in your skies. Kind of like a polariser filter. I increased this to +16. You need to be careful with dehaze, a little goes a long way, and a lot of dehaze adds noise to your image.
  • Saturation is used to adjust all of the colours in the photo. I added a little saturation +13. This is another effect that you want to use sparingly though, as it can make your images look radioactive.
  • Vibrance is essentially a saturation slider, but only affects the colours in the image that are unsaturated, and protects those that are already saturated. I personally find Vibrance better suited to portraits, I therefore left this at zero.

Tone Curve

Tone Curve
Figure 7 S-Curve

One of the final edits I typically perform is in the Tone Curve Panel. The Tone Curve Panel sits underneath the Basic Panel. You can use this panel make further adjustments to the whites, blacks, mid-tones, and highlights. You can in fact make radical changes to your image in this small little panel.

For a standard work-flow however, I typically add a little S-Curve to the histogram. This has the effect of further tightening the Whites and Blacks and pushing up the mid-tones and highlights. It gives your images a little more punch to make them stand out.

You do this by left-clicking on the line, and then dragging the curve.

Adobe Lightroom – Final Edits

As a final edit, I will typically zoom into the image and check whether we introduced any noise during the post-processing workflow. If there is, then I scroll down to the Detail panel and add a little Colour and Luminance denoise.

Adobe Lightroom - Final Image
Figure 8 Final Image

If you enjoyed our this article, please check out some of our other articles and how-to guides.

If you don’t have a copy of Lightroom and are thinking of getting one, head over to their Website

Here are some other Lightroom articles that may be of interest to you:

Lightroom Articles


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