Do you feel that you master the camera but your images come out dull and don’t look impressive? That your technical skills are much better then what the image shows? Are you asking yourself why your images don’t get the beautiful colors others show? Even though you photograph in perfect light, most of the time you need a final touch in post processing to get the image popping!

In this tutorial we will begin exploring the Develop Module and specifically the symbols shown below the histogram.

During the three previous parts of Lightroom 101 we have looked at what to do before installinghow to import images and the Library Module. If you haven’t read them, I recommend doing that before reading further.

The Develop Module

In the previous articles we have focused on how you can optimise Lightroom and use it as the main collection and folder structure of your images. While this itself a great feature and reason to use Lightroom, the second core module is many photographers favorite.

The main reason you bought Lightroom was probably because you wanted to edit images, not just organise them. Similar to the other modules the Develop Modules has a left-side panel, main window, filmstrip and right-side panel. The left-side panel is not especially much used, with exception for Presets that we will learn about in a later article. Since lightroom-developwe now are being introduced to processing images, we will work with the right-side panel where you find dozens of sliders and adjustments.

With all it’s options and information this panel might seem impossible to use after the first glance. Some of them are rather obvious, but some of the symbols and panels aren’t necessary that self-explanatory. Now, let’s take a look at the symbols beneath the ridiculously flashy numbers I inserted. Kind of hard not to notice them, right?

1. Crop Overlay

Shortcut: (R)
Clicking the first symbol will make a new box appear under the icons. The first adjustment is Aspect. Here Lightroom have given a set of standard crop/ratio options that are revealed by selecting the arrows next to the text Original. Besides choosing crop/ratio settings you can manually change the crop by dragging the edges back and forth.

Notice that next to the aspect ratio option there is a lock icon! Selecting this disables the options to crop the image. You might find this useful sometimes but I’ve been scratching my head wondering why I can’t crop then realising I’ve pressed the icon, more than once.

Personally I think that the next tool should come before aspect, as it’s used more. Quite often, especially with cameras that don’t have a spirit level, the horizon is not straight. It’s easy to fix this by using Angle. Select the ruler and drag a line following the horizon, and Lightroom will automatically straighten the image.

2. Spot Removal

Shortcut: (Q)
In newer versions of Lightroom the quality of Spot Removal has really impressed me. This is still something I prefer doing in Photoshop, as you have more flexibility. But I often do minor fixes such as removing the most visible dust spots, in Lightroom.

I won’t go to much into details with the sliders, as they are pretty straightforward. Adjust the size of the brush by selecting (… drumroll) size! Feather lets you to control the inner circle’s size. In other words, the lower the feather is the harder the brush is. By having feather at 100%, the brush will then be very soft and will affect more than just the area within the brush circle. Opacity tells how visible the effect of your change are. The lower it is, the more visible the original spot is. You will see that there’s two options you can work with. Clone and Heal. Lets start with Clone.


As the name implies this tools function is cloning spots. In the example I have covered a footstep with the use of clone. Since the sand is pretty similar in both places, the clone tool did a decent job. cloning in lightroomSelect a place as similar as possible to the place you want to clone to get the best result. If the foreground would be more messy foreground, or with many elements, the clone tool won’t be ideal.

A good tip to keep in mind when you are cloning, is to zoom in on the image as much as possible. I prefer working with 1:1 / 1:2 as the smaller details become more noticeable.

Healing Brush

Heal Brush Adobe LightroomLike I mentioned above, zooming in to 1:1 or 1:2 is ideal when working with spot removal. The Healing Brush works different from the Clone Brush but is used the same way. First select the area you’re fixing, known as the target area. When you’ve marked the target area, select your sample area; the place Lightroom clones from. Unlike the clone tool it calculates what pixels from the selected area it will use. In other words the brush only use the most similar pixels from the sample area to clone on the target area. As you can see in the example the sand is more correct to the surrounding sand of the target area than it was with Clone Brush.

3. Red Eye Correction

Shortcut: none
You guessed right! This is Lightroom’s tool for removing Red Eye. Be sure that you have zoomed in on the eye then simply drag the tool from it’s centre. Then say “abracadabra” and the red eyes should be gone!

4. Graduated Filter

Shortcut: (M)
The Graduated Filter can make or break an image. By pulling slightly too much on the sliders you may quickly end up with a bad color balance.

Lightroom+Graduated+ToolIt’s most common use is to add color or contrast to the sky. The image to the left shows a typical example of this. I have deliberately pulled the sliders a little too much on this image from Barrika Beach in Northern Spain so you can see how it works.

This tool can easily turn an overexposed image into a properly exposed image. This effect can also be made by using a Graduated ND Filter in front of your lens when photographing. However the Graduated Filter tool in Lightroom lets you make more changes than an actual filter can do, such as changing exposure, tonal balance, sharpness and much more.

Let’s take a look at how this works. When you have chosen the Graduated Filter tool, start by clicking at the part where you want the effect to take place and pull the handle down until you have the most natural transition. In the image example above, you can see that I have a pretty hard transition. I did this because I wanted the change to appear strong on the sun as well as above it. The bottom line is where the effect ends, between this point and the centre line the effect gradually fades out.

Using such a short difference between the two bottom lines means that the effects transition will be short. In an example as the one above, this works fine since the horizon is straight. Other images might not have a horizon as even as this, so a longer distance might be more ideal then.

Lightroom Graduated Filter

Now that you got an understanding on how it works, let’s view the sliders you can adjust to get different effects.

Just like in the Basic panel, you have various adjustments to control. We will be going more into detail about each of these when we look at that section of the Develop Module in the next part of this tutorial.

These adjustments will only be applied on the area marked by the Graduated Filter. Use this adjustment with a bit of caution as it is very easy to get a unrealistic result. The options are many for this tool and it doesn’t necessarily need to be applied only in the sky. If you have a image where the foreground is to bright you can use the Graduated Filter to pull down the exposure of only that area. Maybe you just need a little bit more color in the right side of the image, this will work too. Be creative and try it in all ways!

5. Radial Tool

Shortcut: (Shitf+M)

Similar to the graduated filter the Radial Filter lets you make adjustments on specific areas of an image. Start by creating a circle around the area you wish to affect. Radial Filter Adobe LightroomThe standard settings makes adjustments outside the selected area but by choosing invert mask you make adjustments inside the selected area only. There’s no different adjustment sliders from Graduated Filter.

This tool works great for shifting focus to specific areas. In the example to the right I’ve again exaggerated to show the effect this tool can have, but it shows how I have darkened the outer areas to give focus to the path.

6. Adjustment Brush

The Adjustment Brush let’s you do the same adjustments as the two previous tools, but you are more free to select where the adjustments will apply. Instead of retouching only the areas within a circle or square you manually paint the parts you wish to change.

Again the opportunities are countless; you can sharpen eyes or smoothen skin in a portrait, decrease the exposure of a bright tree in your landscape photo, increase the saturation of grass and so much more.

Adjustment Brush Adobe LightroomSelect Show Selected Mask Overlay to see the area you have brushed. In the example above I wanted to brighten water without affecting the rest of the image. All I did was to choose brush size and density before using it.

I advice you to paint with care as this method is very likely to give halos (bright edges around a subject) if you’re not careful. A method to these types of localised adjustments risking halos is the use of Luminosity Masking in Photoshop. See our “Introduction to Luminosity Masks” for information more information on this technique.

Words of Wisdom

As with any type of editing it’s always smart to use the software with care. It’s easy to pull too much in the sliders or not paint carefully enough. If you ask yourself “Is it too much?” it normally is. While lot of this is personal preferences it’s good to be aware of the pros and cons.

After you’ve been using Lightroom for a while you will start understanding when, and when not, to use the different tools. As an example it’s not the best idea to use Graduated Filter on a picture with mountains when you want to adjust the sky as it will also affect the mountains.

I challenge you now to test these tools on an image you like and see how the adjustments work. It would be great to see the results of your processing, so share the image with us in the comment section