Lightroom 3 — A Quick Tour

By Steve Anchell Back to

Lightroom 3: A Quick Tour

While many photographers, myself included, use both Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, the only program all photographers need is Lightroom 3.  The reason is that LR will perform the all-important tasks of storing, cataloging, and retrieving images, while providing all of the critical tools necessary for color correcting, retouching, and sharpening an image in order to prepare it for distribution via print, disk, or web.

Photoshop is both necessary and desirable for photographers who like to manipulate images.  For example, if you want to create an image of flying fish over New York City, PS is the program of choice.  But even for this there are an increasing number of third party plug-ins available, such as Perfect Layers by onOne Software, that will allow you to create flying fish over any city in the world using LR.

In use, LR is easy to use and intuitive.  Even so, many photographers find it desirable to have someone show them around it the first time.  After that, the best way to learn is to dive in and work with the program.  It is entirely non-destructive to original images.  Unlike PS and other programs, it will not allow the original image to be permanently altered.  The changes you make in LR are in the form of overlays, similar to Layers in PS, with the benefit that they can be removed and discarded at anytime, now or ten years from now.  Unlike PS the overlays in LR cannot be permanently flattened.

LR is actually five separate programs, which Adobe calls modules.  These are Library, Develop, Slideshow, Web, and Print.  Each program has its own specific function yet they are designed to work flawlessly together in one integrated bundle.

The Library module is where you view, sort, manage, organize, compare, and rate the photos in your catalog (also known as an album).  Without Library, LR would be just another photo enhancement program.  This is because storage and retrieval are both central and essential to photography.  This was as true with film as it is with digital imaging.  What good is the best image in the world if you cannot find it when you need it?


Storage and retrieval is the drudge work of photography, nobody likes to do it.  It is far easier to just plug in a card and let iPhoto suck your images into an album on your device.  Unfortunately, this only works up to a point.  After that, it becomes nearly impossible to locate individual images.

The layout of the Library module is typical of the other modules (figure 1).  There are two side-panels where most of the work is performed; a top panel for navigating between the modules; a filmstrip at the bottom; and a toolbar that can be toggled on and off.  In the Library module, the left panel is used for sorting, rating, and cataloging images. LR has three levels of sorting (figure 2).  The first level is the catalog, where all the images are being held.  Below this is the folder level where images are divided by subject, date, or any other criteria.  Folders can be moved or renamed within LR and the changes will take place in real time on the hard drive where they are stored.

Once the images have been sorted into folders LR has three methods of rating: traditional stars, color labels, and flags.  I usually start with flags to tag the images I intend to keep and those that are to be deleted.  Once I have identified the images I want to keep and those to discard, I rate the keepers with stars, 1-5.  Then I sort them by subject using color labels.  Once I have my best I move them to a Collection, the third, and last level.

Fig. 2

Collections is for storing images that are to be kept together, for use or distribution.  For example, under Collections I have made a Collection Set entitled Cuba Panos (figure 3).  Under that is a collection entitled Calle25.  Inside that collection there are the five original images which I used to construct the panorama, Calle 25, Havana [2010], and the final version of the image.  By making a collection I never have to search for the originals should I need to reconstruct the pano.

Fig. 3

The right panel in the Library module is for making global changes to the image, including exposure and white balance; writing, appending, or editing metadata; and for adding keywords.

Once the images are sorted and cataloged, the Develop module is the place where the fun happens.  In Develop you can correct your image for lens distortion, correct the white balance, tweak the color, improve tonality, crop, spot, sharpen, convert to black and white, split tone, add or correct vignette, eliminate red eye, spot, burn and dodge—any and everything required to prepare the image for distribution.

As with Library, the left panel is for the ‘administrative’ tasks and the right is where changes to the image take place.  From the top, the left panel starts with presets created by Adobe.  These include everything from creative black and white to preset tone curves.  The presets can be applied either in the Develop module or during import of the original image into LR.  Hovering the cursor over any preset will show a preview in the Navigator window located at the top of the panel. It is also possible to create your own presets which can be used on all future images in the catalog.  By clicking on the ‘+’ sign to the right of Presets you can choose to save any or all of the corrections you have made to the current image.  Your preset will be available to all future images and, like the predefined Lightroom Presets, can be applied upon import or in the Develop module.

Directly below is Snapshots.  A snapshot records anything done to the image up to that point.  As with user-defined presets it is as easy as clicking on the ‘+’ sign and giving the snapshot a name.  You can return to that point by clicking on the snapshot.  Multiple snapshots can be made and saved for any image.  However, unlike presets, snapshots are only available for that specific image.

Next, there is History.  Unlike PS, the history of all work done on the image is saved even when the program is closed and reopened.  The history can be cleared manually, but otherwise it will remain with the image should you ever wish to change anything in the future.

The last item in the panel is Collections.  These are all the collections you have made in Library, carried over to each of the other four modules so you can quickly access the images you want to work on without having to go back into Library to search for them.

The right panel is where image corrections take place.  At the top is the Histogram and below that is a drop down tool box, which includes, from left to right, tools for cropping, spot removal, red eye removal, graduated filter, and a paintbrush.  Clicking on any of these opens that tool’s dialog box.

To some extent, the controls in the panel are arranged in the order of use.  While you can begin at the top with the Basic control dialog sometimes it may be desirable to switch the order.  For example, I will usually scroll down to Lens Correction and enable the appropriate lens profile for the camera and lens, in this case a Nikon D700 with a AF-S VR 70-300mm zoom.  This will correct any distortion inherent in the lens design, including barrel or pincushion distortion.

Fig. 5

Next, I move to the very bottom of the panel.  Under Camera Calibration I choose the camera profile most appropriate for the image.  This is not always the obvious default, such as Landscape.  In this case, I have chosen a custom camera profile which I created for the D700 using an X-rite Passport Color Checker, D700 Daylight (figure 5).

Then I move back up the panel to work with the Basic tools.  Depending on the image, I may begin with either White Balance or Tone.  If the exposure is within half a stop of being correct, I usually begin with White Balance, though this is not critical.  If the image is grossly under- or overexposed I always begin with exposure.

In figure 6, the subject is approximately 1.5 stops underexposed.  Before correcting the WB, I click on the compare tool (YY at the bottom left of the Toolbar below the Before image) and then slide the Exposure control to the right until the correct exposure is achieved.  If in doing so, I blow out the highlights I move down to the Recovery slider, just below Exposure, and correct the highlights.  Then I correct the WB.

Fig. 6

There are many additional tools in the panel, including those for sharpening, noise reduction, and Hue/Saturation/Luminance control.  Play with all of these and see what happens.  LR is non-destructive.

After your work is done in the Library and Develop modules it is time for distributing your images.  LR provides four ways to do that.  The basic method is to write the images to a disk or flash drive or attach them to an e-mail.  This is done through the Export dialog found in the Library module.  The other three methods are via a slideshow, print, or on the web.  There are modules for each of these.  And while the Slideshow and Web module are basic programs without the bells and whistles of say, Microsoft Power Point for slideshows, or Adobe Dreamweaver for making complex web sites which include shopping carts, etc., they are well-designed and easy to use for getting your images out there quickly and efficiently (figure 7).

Fig. 7

The Print module is easier to use and has more features than the Print dialog found in Photoshop.  It includes preset templates in the left column for printing the same image multiple times, and a Custom Package control for printing a selection of images with user defined sizes.  In addition to custom layouts, it is possible to change the background color, add an identity plate, borders around the images, and cut lines for trimming later (figure 8).

While entire books have been written on the subject of LR my recommendation is to take the information provided here and begin playing with the program.  But if you were to ask: Which software program do I need for photography?  The answer would be: Adobe Lightroom 3.

Resources:Adobe Lightroom,; Perfect Layers,

About the Author

Steve Anchell
Steve Anchell is an internationally published photographer, teacher and writer. His books The Darkroom Cookbook, The Variable Contrast Printing Manual and The Film Developing Cookbook are international photography bestsellers.