Adobe Lightroom is the go-to photo editing software for photographers because it has everything you need to edit your images professionally and quickly. It comes loaded with useful presets and can accommodate extra presets that can be purchased and downloaded for your specific needs.

Although it can seem a little overwhelming at first, Lightroom is actually easy to use. Many Lightroom presets are simple one-click edits that apply a series of adjustments to your photos instantly.

How to Use Lightroom to Edit Photos: The Basics

  • Who Should Use Lightroom?
  • Importing Photos
  • Organizing and Managing Photos
  • How to Use Presets in Lightroom
  • Basic Panel
  • Adjusting Tone Curves
  • How to Use Spot Removal
  • Lens Correction
  • Saving Images
  • Lightroom vs Photoshop
  • Practice Makes Perfect

With a few basic tips, you can get started with Lightroom and begin editing your photos like a pro. If you have used Photoshop in the past, then Lightroom will be a breeze because you already have the Adobe user interface knowledge and probably some basic photo editing skills as well.

Lightroom creates a catalog of all your original photographs. You make adjustments to your images while in Lightroom, then export them in your desired format, but the original remains untouched.

Don’t worry if you have never used Adobe software. You will have a small learning curve to climb, and then learning the basics of Lightroom will come easy.

Who Should Use Lightroom?

Do you want professional-looking photos that people will admire and make you feel proud? You need to start using professional tools, and Lightroom is the photo editor you’ll want in order to achieve that level.

Using Lightroom

Anyone who has a digital camera and who wants to make adjustments to their final images can use Lightroom. Professional photographers and amateurs alike use Lightroom to correct and tweak certain aspects of their work. Lightroom lets you make big and small adjustments like changing photos to black and white, correcting white balance, adjusting curves and exposure, fixing lens distortion, adding effects, plus so much more.

If you shoot in RAW files, Lightroom will enable you to edit your images while keeping the original shots intact, and then give you the choice to export them in a variety of formats and sizes.

Importing Photos

Upon your first use of Lightroom, you will be prompted to create a Lightroom catalog. Choose a location on your computer and not an external hard drive.

When you insert your SD card, a grid will appear with all the photos that are on the card for you to choose. At the top of the screen, you will notice import choices. Choose “copy” and then give your photos a destination folder within the options that are on the right side of the screen.

It will also give you the option to rename your photos at this point, and apply presets and keywords while importing. This is a great time-saving tool, and it’s important to become accustomed to using it.

Useful hints:

If you shot a wedding, add the keyword wedding to your photos so that they may be easily found in the future. You will simply do a search in your computer for the word “wedding” and all photos with the keyword will show.

Applying your watermark and running actions like lens correction while importing are also great time-saving ideas!

Organizing and Managing Photos

Lightroom is an excellent tool for photo management. You can create collections and add keywords so that photos are easily found later. Create a filing system that works for you so you stay organized and never lose track of your photos.

It’s very similar to creating music playlists on Spotify or iTunes. Choose to collect them by mood, by genre, by color, or however you wish. Organize your photos as you see fit.

It may not seem as important when you are a budding photographer, but years from now you will be thankful you created a filing system for managing thousands of photos.

How to Use Presets in Lightroom

Lightroom comes packed with a variety of presets that will let you make easy tweaks and fixes to your photos in a few simple clicks. As you get more comfortable with Lightroom, you may start importing presets that you can download and purchase from other photographers online (we suggest you start with some of the Lightroom presets available in the Cole’s Classroom shop), and you can even start to create your own.

You will often repeat the same adjustments to your photos, which make using presets so convenient.  Becoming familiarized with presets will not only save you time but also minimize editing errors.

How to Use Lightroom

On the left-hand side of the screen in the develop module, you will have access to the basic presets that come with Lightroom, such as black and white filters, tone options, some color tones, effects, and a few other categories. Play around within the categories and notice what the presets do to your images. You will soon build a collection of your favorite presets that are the most helpful and convenient.

Once you become familiar with using presets, you may want to experiment more by downloading some specific sets of presets available online. Installing and using them is quite easy, and you will love how these presets cut down your editing time. For example, some of the available presets adjust softness and create romantic moods–perfect for wedding photography.

You can even create your own presets by clicking the “+” sign at the top right-hand corner and instructing it to apply whatever adjustments you want. Save your presets and name them so that you can remember exactly what they do.


Basic Panel

Presets are quite handy, but sometimes you will need to adjust photos manually. Learning to use some of the more basic elements of photo editing is essential if you want total control of your final images.

In the basic panel on the right-hand side in the develop module, you will see tools for modifying the white balance of your photos, adjusting the exposure, and a few other simple changes.

How to Use Lightroom

Adjusting the white balance is a very important skill to learn when photo editing. Nobody enjoys looking at those extremely yellow or excessively blue photos. Play around with the drop-down menu and the eyedropper to get the perfect white balance.

Adjusting Tone Curves

This is another great skill to learn when enhancing your photo editing knowledge. Learning to precisely adjust the tones in your photos will give you more power over the final images.

How to Use Lightroom

In the develop module, on the right-hand side right under the basic panel, you will find the tone curve option. You can add points on the curve line to increase highlights, darks, and mid-tones.  You can begin experimenting and finding your own style. This is a great way to punch up your photos, but be sure to use some restraint. Your photos can start to look unreal if you go overboard with highlights or create too many contrasts. Take it slow at first, and you’ll get the hang of it.

How to Use Spot Removal

Lightroom comes equipped with an easy and simple-to-use spot removal tool. You may have a perfect shot that has a small object that you wish was not there. With the click of a button, you can make it disappear!

Right below the histogram on the right-hand side in the develop module, you will find the spot removal tool along with the crop, mask, and red-eye removal tools.

You can either clone a part of the photo onto the spot you want to remove, or you can choose to heal it. The slider will let you adjust the size of the brush and the opacity.

Lens Correction

Lightroom gives you the option to correct the lens distortion that may be present with certain lenses. On the right-hand side in the develop module you will find the lens correction panel where you will be able to correct the lens and also remove chromatic aberration.

Chromatic aberration is present when you see red or green outlines around objects in photographs. This is especially a concern when the photograph is for print.

How to Use Lightroom

Saving Images

After applying corrections, fixes, and adjustments to your photos, you will want to export them in the appropriate format.

In the file drop-down menu, click export and the dialogue box will pop open. From there you have all the options to save your photos in a format that is suitable for your needs. You can export them for print or for sharing on the web.

During this process, you can also add watermarks and other metadata to your final images.

Lightroom vs Photoshop

You may be wondering about the difference between Lightroom and Photoshop. For general photo editing, the go-to editor for professional photographers is Lightroom. Lightroom has everything you need to do the necessary adjustments to your pictures. It can also batch edit with presets and organize your photos neatly.

Photoshop has all of the same features plus a lot more that you will hardly, if ever, use. Lightroom is designed for photographers only, while Photoshop is primarily used by graphic artists, designers, architects, and many other visual artists.

Practice Makes Perfect

How to Use Lightroom

Learning to use Lightroom takes time and patience, but it’s definitely worth it.

Lightroom is the most popular editor for professional photographers. It has everything you need to get the job done. You can find Lightroom tutorials online when you encounter a specific issue with your photos. You can also join the Cole’s Classroom free membership program and we can help you get up and running with Lightroom in no time. You will even have access to Lightroom presets personally created by Cole.

The best way to learn and get comfortable with the Lightroom software is to get in there and practice. Play around in the panels and try the variety of tools available.

Along with the valuable knowledge, you will acquire in Cole’s classroom, your practice is what will take your photography skills to the next level.