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Inside Lightroom 5
(Pt. 3): global adjustments

October 2013

With two of Canon’s EOS DSLR cameras – the EOS 6D and the EOS 5D Mark III – now available with Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom 5 photo editing software bundled in the box, CPN is taking a closer look at what Lightroom offers photographers. During a five-part CPN series of articles and video tutorials Richard Curtis (a Principal Solutions Consultant in Digital Imaging for Adobe UK) will examine the key features of Lightroom 5 to give you a good understanding of how to get the most out of working with the software. In Part 3 of this series Richard Curtis explains all of the global adjustment options in Lightroom and, in a special video, he reveals how to edit using global adjustments. Please click on the play button in the window above to watch the video...

The editing process using global adjustments

The previous two articles in this series have been focused on importing images into Lightroom, as well as how to rank and fine-tune the selection of images that will be edited using the Develop module. Now it’s time to examine editing in Lightroom using global adjustments...

Editing in Lightroom

Lightroom was designed for RAW image processing, but it can also be used on other formats (i.e. JPG, PNG, TIFF, Photoshop PSD etc.). RAW files are special as they are just a collection of data or numbers and are not yet finalised into an image. To make an image out of a RAW file, a RAW image processor (Lightroom) is used. RAW files don’t have any effects (including colour, sharpness etc.), therefore they tend to look flat or lack impact out of the camera. The Development sliders in Lightroom are designed to add lift, excitement and drama to the image.

Canon bundles its own RAW image processing software, Digital Photo Professional (DPP), with every EOS DSLR and this is available as a free download from Canon Europe’s Download Centre.

Non-destructive editing

Lightroom supports non-destructive editing. This means that any adjustments you make to the picture using Lightroom will not be permanent and can be removed or reset at any time. You can remove previous adjustments sequentially by using the CMD key (on a Mac)/CTRL key (on a PC) +Z key and undo adjustments one at a time. You can also go back to the original state of images at any point in time by clicking on the adjustments in the History panel.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The History panel of Lightroom allows you to take the image you have worked on back to its original state at any time.

All of the adjustments made can be reset by pressing the key combination SHIFT+CMD (on a Mac)/CTRL key (on a PC) +R or via the menu option Settings/Reset all settings.

Non-linear editing

Lightroom does not enforce a particular sequence of steps in the editing process; adjustments can be made at any point in time - i.e. a crop can be applied, then the exposure adjusted, then the crop can be adjusted without affecting the exposure. This extremely effective and flexible workflow will allow for experimentation on your pictures, thus ensuring that the original file is not damaged and that your best work can be published.

Development module

Simple editing can be achieved within the Library module in Lightroom. However, more powerful editing is achieved in the Development module.

There are two types of development/editing processes:

  1. Enhancing the whole image using global adjustments.
  2. Using selective enhancements and applying local adjustments.

In this article I will look at editing pictures using global adjustments. To find out more about the process and some of the available options for making global adjustments in Lightroom just click on the section headings below OR simply click on the play button in the film window at the top of this article to view the video tutorial on editing your pictures using global adjustments in Lightroom 5.

Global adjustments

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Basic tab of Lightroom within the Develop module.

In Lightroom global adjustments are applied to the whole image, and the starting point to these enhancements is within the Basic tab in the Develop module. The Basic tab has a number of tools within it that allow you to adjust an image, including Temp, Tint, Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation. All of these are explained in more detail in this article.

Histogram and clipping points

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

A Histogram screen shot in Lightroom showing exposure information at the bottom.

Lightroom automatically calculates the histogram for you. The histogram will show how the pixels are arranged in the image. It is designed to show the shadows, highlights and mid-tones and will provide a guide to the image pixels when editing.

The left hand side of the histogram shows the shadow area of the picture, the middle area shows where the mid-tones are and to the right the highlights are represented.

In photography we are always after the perfect exposure, this is typically where all tones in the scene come in from both sides and create a ‘hill-type’ structure. You can see in the picture below there is an example of a good exposure. The shadow area (left) is snug to the edge and is not clipping in the scene, the highlights on the right are snug and are also not clipping; the mid-tones of the picture (centre) are nicely distributed.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

A Histogram screen shot in Lightroom showing good exposure. The clipping indicators are the two arrows in the histogram – they are off here.

Before you work on your pictures it is always good to look at the histogram in order to determine any issues, i.e. highlights and shadows may be clipping or the image appearance is a little flat.

To check the highlight and shadow clipping, turn on the highlight clipping indicators (pressing the ‘J’ key will turn on both indicators). The clipping indicators are the two arrows on the histogram (see image above) and are currently turned off; they will have white boxes around them when they are turned on.

The clipping indicators show where in the picture and pixel data is potentially being lost and is just pure white (in the highlights) or pure black (in the shadows). You can also turn the clipping indicators on or off individually by clicking on them. Within the picture, highlights that are clipping are represented as red and shadows are represented as blue.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

A screen showing a histogram with clipping indicators on (top right) – the red area in the sky indicates that highlights are clipping.

The histogram is vital in helping to make sure that we have an amazing image to publish.

Solo mode

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

A screen showing Solo Mode selected in the right hand control panel in the Develop module of Lightroom.

The way in which Lightroom has been designed and the layout of the tabs are logical to the photographic workflow. However, sometimes, if you have more than one tab open, the slider bar down the right hand side becomes long and cumbersome and this can slow down the development/editing process. There is a special feature that allows you to have only one panel open at a time; this is called Solo mode. Solo mode is available by right clicking on any tab name and choosing ‘Solo Mode’ from the fly-out menu.

Lightroom process version

There are many tabs in Lightroom and they are all designed for a particular part of the editing process. The processing mathematics within Lightroom are controlled by the Lightroom process version. To check the process version is set to 2012, open the tool bar menu and choose Settings/Process, this tutorial assumes that you are using 2012. If the 2012 process version is available and is not selected then please select it; if it is not available then you are probably not using Lightroom 4 or 5.

Basic Tab

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

A screen showing the Basic tab and its adjustment options (highlighted in the red box on the right hand side).

The Basic tab in Lightroom contains some very powerful adjustment sliders for enhancing the original image – elements such as Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation can be modified here. The Basic tab appears on the right hand of the screen within Lightroom and the required adjustments can be simply made by dragging the selected sliders to the left or right to change settings for the elements of the image that you wish to change.


The Treatment option enables your photo to be converted into colour or black and white. You can try both, by just by clicking on either option. Any adjustments can be removed, by using Undo or by resetting the picture back to the original import by pressing the SHIFT+CMD (on a Mac)/CTRL (on a PC) + R (or Settings/Reset all settings).

Colour & White Balance

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

A screen showing the White Balance – WB – option in the Develop module of Lightroom. This shows an image ‘As Shot’ which means white balance is as originally shot in-camera.

Most of today’s cameras have an automatic white balance, which is extremely accurate and shouldn’t need to be changed. However, a more accurate method is to use a grey card (not covered in this tutorial) or white balance card to correct white balance when taking your pictures.

The White Balance (WB) option in Lightroom will show the white balance that was used when the picture was taken. The image’s white balance below is ‘As Shot’, which means that it was created in the camera. There are other values in the drop-down box that represent specific lighting conditions. You can manually alter the white balance and tint in Lightroom by changing the Temp and Tint values using the slider controls (NB: this can be a challenging process, so using the presets may be a safer option).

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the loupe option in Lightroom which can be used to set white balance when the R, G and B values are similar in the bottom of the panel.

You can also use the white balance eyedropper tool to create a custom white balance. When using this tool to set the white balance, a patch of 18% grey is desirable (a grey card is designed for 18% grey). An alternative approach to setting the white balance is to move the eyedropper loupe around the picture and look at the base of the loupe (shown below). When the three figures read roughly the same value, then click on that point to set the white balance.


© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Exposure slider option (highlighted in the red box on the right hand side) in Lightroom – sliding it to the right increases exposure and moving it to the left will reduce exposure in the selected image.

This Exposure slider will adjust the overall exposure of the image and will be measured in stops: +/-0.3 is equal to a third of a stop and +/-1 is a full stop (- is under, + is over the original exposure). Stops are a photographic measurement and are also referred to as f-stops. Moving this slider to the right will increase the overall exposure of the scene (as if more light is being applied to the image), whilst moving it to the left will reduce the exposure.


© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Contrast slider option (highlighted in the red box on the right hand side) in Lightroom – sliding it allows you to increase or decrease the differences between the light and dark parts of the selected image.

Contrast adds interest to the picture by increasing or decreasing the difference between the light and the dark parts of a scene. Adjustments to contrast can be made via the Contrast slider tool in Basic tab that is contained within the Develop module of Lightroom.

Highlights and Shadows recovery

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the separate Highlights and Shadows slider options (highlighted in the red box on the right hand side) in Lightroom.

In Lightroom 4 the separate Shadows and Highlights recovery sliders were new additions and these have been designed to work independently of each other. They are used to extract as much information as possible from highlight or shadow areas in an image and potentially recover any lost information from the areas that are shown as clipping.

Black and White points

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Blacks and Whites slider options (highlighted in the red box on the right hand side) in Lightroom.

Setting the black and white points will create a good foundation for the image. When the Whites slider is moved to the right or the Blacks slider is moved to the left, any clipping parts of the scene will be displayed (clipping means that there is a possible loss of data and highlights are displayed as pure white and shadows as pure black).

If the clipping indicators are turned on, you will see red patches (highlights) or blue patches (shadows) appearing in the picture. If the clipping indicators are not turned on, press the ALT key at the same time as moving the sliders and the areas of clipping (using same colours as described above) will show on a black background. You may decide that the image needs a little bit of clipping to give it drama (as part of my workflow, I tend to place a small amount of clipping in the shadows to provide impact).

A combination of setting the white and black clipping points as well as adjusting the exposure slider will give the image a good starting point for further enhancement.


© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Clarity slider option (highlighted in the red box on the right hand side) in Lightroom.

A positive amount of clarity is used to add mid-tone contrast to the image; a small amount can add dimension and impact. A negative amount of clarity can be used to smooth and soften the image. The image shown here demonstrates a positive amount of clarity (+35 to be exact) added to the image, meaning that mid-tone contrast has been added.


© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Vibrance slider option (highlighted in the red box on the right hand side) in Lightroom.

The Vibrance option in Lightroom is designed to increase saturation but is careful about what it affects. Vibrance is kind to skin tones and won’t affect them as much as altering the Saturation setting will, so if you wish to increase saturation within an image without having a huge effect on any skin tones then Vibrance is the better option. In the image shown here Vibrance has been set to a positive value of +27.


© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Saturation slider option (highlighted in the red box on the right hand side) in Lightroom.

The Saturation slider increases global saturation and will brighten and deepen the colours within the picture. In the image shown here you can clearly see that the selected positive value for Saturation (+43) has affected the skin tones of the cowboy and warmed them up.

Before & After

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Before & After viewing options (highlighted in the red box on the bottom) in Lightroom.

Showing the Before & After adjustments in Lightroom can be useful in order to see the difference and compare between the start and current image. In order to make a clear comparison Lightroom allows you to choose to split the screen to view a Before and After (Left/Right split) or view a split screen as Before and After (Top/Bottom split). The screen shot here shows a split screen with half of the Before image on the left and half of the After image on the right.


© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Before & After viewing options (highlighted in the red box on the bottom) in Lightroom. This image shows a split screen with Before on the left and After on the right.

The Detail slider of Lightroom is used for adding sharpness to the picture. There are four different sliders within the Detail panel – Amount, Radius, Detail and Masking – and these four options do the following:

  • Amount – this is the amount of sharpening that will be applied to the image. A zero value will turn off sharpening. A lower amount can also result in a cleaner image.
  • Radius – this controls the size of the edges that are affected by the Amount slider. A smaller number here will reduce the number of pixels that the Amount slider is working on (i.e subtle sharpening); a higher value means that more pixels will be included and the edges of sharpening will be thicker (the ALT key can be pressed to see what areas of the picture will be affected).
  • Detail – this controls the amount of fine details that will be included in the sharpening process. Fine details can include pores of skin etc. and in this case you would want to use a smaller value. For larger areas with less fine detail, a larger details value may be required (the ALT key can be pressed to see what areas of the picture will be affected).
  • Masking – this controls how many pixels at the edges receive sharpening; a zero value means everything receives the same amount of sharpening, a larger value moves towards just the edges and creates mask over the image to restrict the sharpness (the ALT key is used to display the mask): white areas are affected, black are not.

Sharpness is always a subjective issue and requires careful consideration for every image. An amount of trial and error will be required to find the combination that suits each picture.

Lens correction

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing some of the dozens of Canon EF lens profiles that are supported in Lightroom.

Adobe works directly with a selection of lens manufacturers to make sure that any natural vignetting and distortion of the lens is corrected. If the lens has been calibrated, then Lightroom should pick up it up from the metadata that is brought in from the import process. If no lens profile is found, then it is likely that the lens is not supported by the version of Lightroom that is being used.

Lens profiles are typically added in a full release (i.e 5.0) or a .dot (i.e 5.2) of the application.


© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Effects panel options (shown in the highlighted red box on the right hand side) in Lightroom for adding vignettes to images.

The Effects panel is used to add a vignette to the picture, much in the way you would have burnt in the edges of an image in a traditional darkroom. Adding a vignette is a classic darkroom technique to keep the viewer’s eyes within the picture. Within the Effects panel there are a number of Post-Crop Vignetting slider controls including Amount, Midpoint, Roundness, Feather and Highlights. Post-Crop Vignetting means that Lightroom will always adjust to any cropping you have done to an image.


© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Grain setting options (shown in highlighted red box on the right hand side) – Amount, Size and Roughness – in Lightroom.

The Grain option within the Develop module of Lightroom is used to add a film grain effect to the image. This can be used to make the image look grittier or to provide a ‘grungy’ look. In Lightroom the Grain slider options that can be altered are Amount, Size and Roughness.

Black & White mode

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Black & White mode deployed in Lightroom 5.

Selecting the Black & White mode within the Basic tab of the Develop module of Lightroom will convert the image to gray scale. Once the image has been converted within the Black & White mode you can also use sliders to modify the image; these include Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks and Clarity.


I hope that this tutorial has given you a good insight into the power of using global adjustments within Lightroom Development module, and that you are now able to start to create images that look amazing.

Final versions of the picture used in this tutorial

Both the final colour and black and white versions of the image that was worked on using global adjustments in this tutorial are shown below.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The final colour image produced using global adjustments in Lightroom.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The final black and white image produced using global adjustments in Lightroom.

Biografie: Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis is a Principal Solutions Consultant at Adobe UK with a focus on Digital Imaging. Richard is the UK contact for Photoshop, Lightroom, Elements and Imaging workflows around the Creative Cloud. He is a keen technologist and has been a keen photographer for over 20 years, with a focus on travel and portrait photography.


Screen showing the Basic tab of Lightroom within the Develop module.