Last time we looked at the Library module. Now it’s the turn of the Develop module. This is the module where you roll up your sleeves and get down to polishing and refining your photos. 

If you can cast your mind back a few weeks to the first article in this short series (or click here) you’ll recall that I mentioned that Lightroom was a non-destructive editor. Well, today is the day when I explain exactly what that means. 

Adobe Photoshop is the one editing app that virtually everyone has heard of. To Photoshop something is now a recognisable verb, for example. But Photoshop has a small problem. Every time you edit a picture you lose something. Each change you make takes you further and further from the original. Eventually, with enough editing, the picture may be completely unrecognisable. Now, there are ways around this. You could make a copy of the original for instance and edit the copy, leaving the original intact. You could also use tools such as adjustment layers, that are less destructive but which require the use of file types such as PSD or TIFF.

Lightroom, never actually touches a pixel of your images. Any alteration you make to an image – and this applies to file types such as JPEG as well as Raw – is stored as a sequence of adjustments in Lightroom’s Catalog. This means that you can go back to an image days, weeks, even years after altering it, and step back through the sequence to unpick any changes you made. You can even reset your changes completely, to return the image to its original state. 

The sequence list can be seen on the History panel to the left of the image view. As you make adjustments you’ll see the list expand, with the earliest adjustments at the bottom of the sequence. To step back to a particular point just click on the required adjustment in the list. When you start editing again, any adjustments higher in the list will be lost so it’s a good idea to think carefully before doing this. (Like most apps, you can quickly undo the last adjustment by pressing Ctrl Z [PC] or Cmd Z [Mac].)

The History list becomes particularly useful when combined with Lightroom’s Snapshots function. A snapshot is essentially a bookmark added to the list of adjustments. You can either create a Snapshot by right-clicking on a particular adjustment in the History list and selecting Create Snapshot, or by clicking on the + symbol on the Snapshots panel. Whichever option you choose you can either select the name suggested by Lightroom or create your own. All the Snapshots for an image are shown in the Snapshots panel.

You can create as many Snapshots as you need to create a variety of effects or styles for a photo.

One way to use Snapshots is to create multiple interpretations of an image, swapping between each interpretation by selecting the relevant Snapshot. As an example, you could fettle an image in colour. Once done you would then create a Snapshot at the final adjustment – perhaps calling it Colour to make it easy to recognise later. Then you could continue and convert the image to black and white, which will probably require a number of adjustments to get the tone and contrast right. Once done you would then create a Shapshot at this final adjustment – this one called (you’ve guessed it!) Black and White. Now, by swapping between the two Snapshots,  you can toggle between your two styles for your photo – exporting either one as the polished shot.

Of course, this now means starting to make adjustments to an image. But, if you’re like me, you want to see results immediately. After all, time spent processing is time that isn’t spent shooting. (Though I’m happy to acknowledge that for some it’s the other way round!) Fortunately, you can apply Presets to your images that can get you very close to a final edit. Presets are essentially recipes of adjustments that have been saved for future use. Adobe supply a good number by default, which cover a wide range of different styles and effects. You can also create your own and save those for another day. (Going back briefly to the Library panel, you can also apply Presets to images at the Import stage, which can really help to speed things up – particularly when you have a large number of images.) To create your own Preset start with an adjusted image, click on the + symbol on the Preset panel and select Create Preset. Select all the adjustment you want to record in the preset and give it a useful name. You can collect Presetsinto Groups, either by selecting a pre-existing Group or creating a new one.

Hover over a preset and Lightroom will show you a preview of the effect in the main image display.

It’s possible to overwork images so occasionally it’s useful to take a look back at an image before adjustment. You could of course click on the first entry in the History list. This is not ideal though. A more cunning, and less permanent way, to see how your image has changed is to use the Before and After views, found below the image display. These split the display into two, letting you see how the image looked before adjustment compared to the its current state. The two views are synchronised so that they pan or zoom together. 

The Before/After display helps you see how far an image has come along, and whether it needs any further work.

There are several ways to view Before/AfterBefore/After Left/Right – the two displays are shown side by side as separate images; Before/After Left/Right Split – this splits the image vertically down the middle, with one half showing the ‘before’ view, the other the ‘after’ view; Before/After Top/Bottom – the two displays are shown as separate images, this time one on top of the other; and Before/After Top/Bottom Split – the image is split horizontally across the middle, one half showing ‘before’, the other ‘after’. There are options to swap the relative positions of the two images too, so there’s no excuse for not finding a setting that doesn’t suit. To return to single view, just click on the Loupe View button.

Finally, for today at least (there will be more next week) you can Copy the adjustments you’ve made to one image and then Paste it to another. To do this, once you’ve made a few adjustments, simple click on Copy and then tick all the adjustments you want to copy – unticking those that you don’t want to apply to another photo. Then, select another photo from your Catalog and, back in Develop, click on Paste. You can also do something similar to multiple images in the Library module by right-clicking on an adjusted image and selecting Develop Settings > Copy Settings – selecting all the adjustments you want to copy again. Then simply select one or more photos from the Catalog, right-click once more this time selecting Paste Settings. Voila! Lots of photos done and dusted, or at least a few steps closer to being ready for export…

Only check the options that you really want to apply to other photos. I often use Copy to make sure that all the photos for one session have exactly the same White Balance if they don’t already.

Next time, we’ll take a look at the actual adjustments you can make to a photo, as well as covering one or two tips and tricks along the way.

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