For the second part of exploring the Develop module we finally get to the various tools you can use to process your images. And there are a lot of them, which get added to or tweaked every time Adobe updates Lightroom (assuming you’re using CC version of Lightroom, and not Lightroom 6 which Adobe has essentially stopped supporting). In this part we’ll be covering the HistogramTool StripBasicTone Curve and HSL/Colour panels.

But before we get to the tools (we’ll get there, honest) first a quick word about global and local adjustments. A global adjustment is one you apply across the whole of an image. White Balance and Tone Curve are good examples of global adjustments. A local adjustment is an adjustment you make to a specific part of an image, such as Spot Removal or Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush. Generally you apply global adjustments first before refining specific areas. However, the way that Lightroom works it sometimes makes sense to apply certain global adjustments at the very end. This helps to prevent Lightroom slowing down and avoid any feelings of frustration that may then arise. Generally – unless you’ve a high-performance PC – I’d consider leaving Noise Reduction and Sharpening on the Detail panel alone until you’ve tweaked every other aspect of an image and you’re close to exporting it.

And now – drum roll please! – the Histogram, which like all histograms shows you tonal range of an image, with the histogram changing as you make tonal adjustments (exposure etc.). You can also make tonal adjustments by dragging the histogram. Drag it to the left to darken you image, or to the right to lighten it. 

Click on the triangle in the top left corner and Lightroom will turn any area of an image that clips to black as blue. Click on the top right triangle and now any area of an image that clips to white will show as red. These are both useful indicators to show when detail will be lost as you work on your image.

Below the Histogram is the Tool Strip. Here you’ll find six tools that, with the exception of Crop and Straighten, are all options to make local adjustments. Aspect lets you reshape your images, either matching the Original Aspect Ratio (usually either 3:2 or 4:3, depending on your camera), by selecting a preset such as 16 x 9, or by selecting Enter Custom to create your own custom aspect ratio. To crop, drag the edges of the box overlaid on your image to decrease or increase its size (or move the box by dragging it from within its boundaries). You can also create a looser crop by clicking on the padlock icon to unlock it, and reshaping the box as needed. Cropping is one way to tweak the composition of an image.

If you need help visualising compositional techniques such as the Golden Ratio, you can change the overlay by selecting an option from Tools > Crop Guide Overlay.

The Angle tool lets you rotate your images. You can either do this by adjusting the Angle slider, by entering a specific angle, or by dragging the Straighten Tool onto your image and drawing the required angle by clicking and dragging your mouse to draw an angled line. Select Auto, and Lightroom will try to straighten your image automatically. This works best when there are distinctive lines in your shot, such as a horizon line or the edges of a building. (You can also rotate your shot by dragging the corners of the box overlay described above.)

Dust spots, thanks to camera sensor cleaning systems, are thankfully becoming more rare. The Spot Removal tool is there for those times when dust – or any blemish for that matter – makes its presence known. To use the tool you first click to place the Spot Removal circle over the dust. You can increase or decrease the size of the circle by using the Size slider, or by pressing [ to make circle smaller or ] to make it larger. You can also change Feather, which determines how hard or soft the edge of the Spot Removal is, or its Opacity

Select Visualise Spots and Lightroom adds a high contrast overlay to your photo, which can help to make dust spots more prominent and therefore easier to find.

Typically, you make the Spot Removal area larger than the dust spot you’re removing, particularly so when using a highish Feather value. When you first place the Spot Removal circle onto the image, Lightroom creates a second, similar-sized, circle from which the enclosed area is sampled to ‘patch’ the repair. Lightroom automatically places the second circle, but it doesn’t always get it right. Often you need to move the second circle to another point in the image to make a more satisfactory repair. If you select Clone, the sampled area is replicated exactly, whereas Healmatches the texture, tone and shading for a more subtle repair. To delete an applied Spot Removal tool, select the required one and then press backspace or delete.

Use on-camera flash too shoot a portrait and you run the risk of red-eye, which gives the subject a slightly demonic appearance. Lightroom’s Red Eye Correction tool is the tool you need to remove or reduce the effect. Lightroom can remove red-eye from both humans and animals. 

The Graduated Filter tool works in a similar way to physical graduate filters in that it lets you adjust the exposure in a strip across an image. However, Lightroom’s Graduated Filter tool goes further in that you can apply a wide range of effects, not just exposure; you can adjust Contrast, Highlights, Shadows and Clarity to name just a few. There are also a number of presets you can select by clicking on the Effect pop-up menu. These include such portraiture-related items as Teeth Whitening and Soften Skin. You can also create and save your own presets once you create an effect you like.  

To start using Graduated Filter, click on its icon and set the sliders as needed. (You can also adjust them after you’ve added the Graduated Filter.) With the mouse pointer over the image, drag-click to apply the tool. The tool displays three lines. The more you drag-click the further the two outer lines are pulled apart and the more subtle the filter effect will be. Where you initially clicked is a pin. This is the centre point of the tool. If you drag the centre line that runs through the pin you can rotate the tool around the pin. You can also move the pin around the image once it has been placed down. You can apply multiple Graduated Filters to an image, each with its own pin. The currently selected Graduate Filter pin has a black centre, unselected pins have a grey centre. 

You can add to a Graduate Filter – or remove areas from it – by using the Brush, found top right of the panel. However, by default it is difficult to see where the Graduate Filter is affecting a photo. However, if you press o you can toggle a green Mask Overlay on and off that shows the affected area of a shot. 

The Radial Filter tool works in a very similar way to the Graduate Filter tool, only this is a round shape rather than a strip. 

The final tool on the Tool Strip is the Adjustment Brush that lets you ‘paint’ local adjustments on to your images. As with the Graduate and Radial Filters you first select a preset or the required slider positions to apply a particular affect.

Next is the Basic panel that, as the name suggests, includes the basic adjustments you can make to an image. The first of which is White Balance, which can either be altered using a preset, a slider or using a colour picker. When processing a Raw file, White Balance defaults to the WB option selected in-camera. If your image includes something that you know to be neutral in colour (grey or something just slighter than white) you can use the colour picker to create the right white balance. A particularly useful technique is to shoot a close-up of a grey card at the start of an image sequence (with the card illuminated by the same light as your subject). Use this as a reference shot, applying the WB setting to all the subsequent photos having created a custom WB from the grey card with the colour picker.

The Tone adjustments on the Basic panel all affect exposure. If you click on Auto, Lightroom analyses your photo and applies what it thinks are the required tonal adjustments. Sometimes it gets it close to being right and sometimes it er, doesn’t. Lightroom has no knowledge of your intent for a shot. Auto works well if you want a shot normalised to a standard looking exposure. It does less well if you want a moody dark shot or lighter, high key effect. Use Auto to quickly process shots if you’ve a deadline but tweak your more precious images by hand. 

The Presence tools affect the apparent sharpness and colour saturation of your images. TextureClarity and Dehazeall affect local contrast to one degree or another. Negative values tend to soften images, positive values tend to make images look sharper, with more contrast. However, these tools should be used carefully. It’s all too easy to make an image look unnatural.

Vibrance and Saturation may seem similar tools – they both affect the vividness of colours in an image. However, low values of Vibrance affects only colours low in saturation – typically greens or blues – without affecting colours that are already vivid. Saturation affects all colours equally.

The Tone Curve lets you apply a contrast curve to an image. There are essentially two options: Parametric and Point Curve. If you’ve come from using Photoshop you’ll find Point Curve the most intuitive. The latest update to Lightroom lets you now adjust the three channels (red, green and blue) separately. 

Finally, for today, we come to the HSL/Colour panel. On the panel are three separate tabs: HueSaturation, and Luminance. On each tab are a set of sliders corresponding to specific colours across the spectrum; moving a slider only affects similar colours in an image. Saturation is the tab to use if you want to increase or decrease the vividness of colours in an image. Hue sliders lets you shift one colour to another. Luminance alters the brightness of colours.

If you’re editing a black and white image, selected by clicking on Black & White on the Basics panel, the HSL tabs will disappear to be replaced by a single Black & White Mix tab. The sliders now act like coloured filters, letting you change the way colours are converted to a shade of grey. So, for example, moving the Red slider value to the right as well as moving the Blue to the right, mimics using a red filter.

Next week, in the final part of the series, we’ll cover everything from Split Toning down to Calibration.

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