Lightroom Tutorial 4 – Global Photo Developing Tools

This tutorial is written for those with little or no experience of using Lightroom for developing their photographs. I am only going discuss the histogram, basic sliders, tone curve, sharpening and transform.

Why develop photos? We develop photos so that they look the way that we want them too. When we plan a series of photos, or take a photo, we often have a vision in our mind of how we want it to look. We begin the developing process by shooting in manual mode and changing the settings to begin to get the photo how we want it to be. Then we move to Lightroom or Photoshop to make further adjustments.

What do we mean by global developing?

When we develop our photos in Lightroom there are a whole host of tools that we can use. Some of these are there to help us make changes to only part of an image, these are local development tools. Others help us to develop the whole photo, global develop tools. In tutorial 5 we will explore the local developing tools, but today we will focus on making changes to the whole photo.

It would be helpful if you imported a folder to Lightroom and mess around with each tools as you work through the tutorial.


Tools for Global Development

The tools are on the right hand side of the screen and some can be seen below.



1 – Histogram, 2 – Develop tools used most often, 3 – Scroll, 4 – these tools are used for local developing, and cropping. Click on the triangle next to these words to open the menu for those tools.


You can make changes here by moving your cursor into any of the five sectors (blacks, shadows, exposure, highlights, whites) and moving the cursor to left or right. There is a triangle at the top left and top white of the histogram. If you have any black or white clipping (lost details in the blacks and whites because the exposure is to black or too white) the triangle will appear white, as in the photo above. I am going to hover my cursor over the triangle. This is what happens.


Where the photo has white clipping it has been highlighted red. If I move my cursor away the red clipping warning has now gone. I can click on the white triangle and it will keep the red warning there until I either re-click on the triangle, or I remove the clipping by using other develop tools.


Develop Tools

Lightroom gives us a lot of tools to develop our photos. These “basic” tools are used most frequently and they are straight forward. However, they are worth getting to know well. The sliders are there to increase or decrease. For example, to increase exposure you move the slider to the right, and to decrease it you move to the left. This is not the case for all of the sliders though,  some work in reverse and increase to the left and decrease to the right. I will go through them one by one.


Treatment – Gives you the option of developing the photo in colour or black and white

WB – is your white balance. To the left of WB there is a colour picker tool. If you click on it now and move your mouse over your image and look at the navigator mini photo, you will see that your dropper is being used to change the white balance of the photo. Click on a spot you like and you have changed the white balance manually. Ctrl Z to undo or you can use the Previous button below “vibrabce”. Now press W and the tool vanishes. Press W at any time and your white dropper tool will appear.

To the right of WB it will either say Auto or As Shot. Click on that and you can reset your white balance by clicking on any of the options.

Temp – Add coolness or warmth to your photos. Mess around, get to know the tool. If you mess something up badly then remember to use the history brush tool from the last tutorial, to go back to an earlier stage in your developing process.

You generally don’t need to change these numbers by much, sliding too far to the left or right will bring extreme results, some of these can be fun though.

Tint – to increase the magenta or greens. Use sparingly, and double-check the sky and grasses and leaves if you do use this slider. It can throw these out dramatically. Nothing looks worse than a magenta sky or distorted leaves.

The Temp and Tint sliders are part of adjusting the white balance. I do use them occasionally, but if I am going to change the white balance manually, I prefer to use the dropper tool for this.

ToneExposure and contrast are tools to adjust the tone of your photo. There is also an Auto button, which can be useful for either a starting point for further developing, or for those photos that you want to make use of, but aren’t important enough to spend too much time over.

Exposure – Slider left to decrease exposure and right to increase. If you hold down the Alt key when you move the slider, your screen will show areas where you have lost details in the whites by showing white on the black background. You do not need to use the Alt key. It is better to visually get the exposure that you want, and then use the Alt to just to check for clipping.

Contrast – to decrease the contrast slide left, and to increase slide right. The Alt key doesn’t do anything with the contrast slider. Decreasing contrast slowly removes the highlights and shadows, it softens the photo, and removes some of the detail in doing so. A high contrast image, reduces the mid-tones, and increase the gap between blacks and whites. It can sharpen some of the detail because of this, but can also make some colours appear quite harsh and over saturated. If you are developing portraits or photos with people in them be very cautious with adjusting contrast. If you use the contrast slider you may want to use an adjustment brush later to bring back the skin tones (tutorial 5). Be more cautious when developing photos of people who are black or Asian. increasing  contrast will distort their skin tone more quickly than white skin. The better option is to get the exposure right for the skin first, and then using a grad filter, and erase tool to mask their skin, and then make adjustments to the rest of the photo. I will discuss that in tutorial 5.

Highlights – Left to decrease and right to increase. Holding the Alt button whilst sliding means that white clipping will show as white.

Shadows – Our first reverse slider. To increase your shadows, and therefore darken the image, move the slider to the left, and to the right to decrease the shadows and lighten the photo. Adjusting the shadows is altering your mid-tones, so your photo can be lightened or darkened considerably. Moving the slider to the right and decreasing the shadows can reveal details that were under exposed. Holding down the Alt key and sliding left, the screen will be white this time, and black clipping will show up as black. If you have black clipping you are losing detail in the blacks.

Whites – Slide left to decrease whites, and slider right to increase. This slider affects the whites predominantly, but it also adjust the highlights and softer, pastel colours. You can set your white point by holding down the Alt key and sliding right. As soon as you get black marks on your screen you have gone past your white point and moved into white clipping. Explore whether you need to adjust the whites or the highlights, its different for different images.

White and black clipping – When you clip blacks and whites it means that have moved into the purest tones. Pure white and pure black have no details, and this means that the more clipping that you have, the more detail that you lose. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have any clipping. This is where holding down the Alt key whilst adjusting whites and blacks is important, as it shows you exactly where you have the clipping. It may be that you want to increase the whites to ensure that you have true white in a particular area of your image. Increasing this area to pure white may mean that you have white clipping and lose detail in another area where the detail is not important. Losing some detail in the blacks is something that I occasionally use, to add contrast, depth and shadow in areas where the detail doesn’t matter.

Things to remember – You need to be cautious with sky, sea and snow. Keep the detail by ensuring that you don’t have white clipping. Use the Alt click method, slide the whites to as high as you can get before clipping. Slide the shadows and black slight to the left to darken a little, so that the detail is enhanced. Just a touch though, you want to keep the realism.

Presence – is defined by the clarity, vibrance, and saturation sliders.

All of these brushes decrease by sliding left and increase by sliding right.

Clarity – to the untrained eye it can appear that increasing clarity is increasing the sharpness of the image. It produces a similar effect by increasing mid-tone contrast, and this brings out texture and detail, but it is not sharpening the photo. Like the contrast slider, be careful not to overdo it. I tend to set clarity and vibrance to 17 in my photos. I’m definitely not saying that the right thing to do, but I like the light and detail that this produces. It’s a medium contrast finish.

Saturation – Hang on a minute, you’ve left out vibrance. Well, we will get to that, Promise. But we have to start with saturation. Increasing saturation moves all of the colours up towards their purest hue. Try it out and see what happens? Decreasing it reduces everything to grey, all of the colour has been removed. There is no selection of what colours are affected, they all are.

Vibrance – Ummm, vibrance does not mean anything outside of Lightroom and Photoshop. Technically, vibrance is an algorithm that allows Lightroom to work out which colours are saturated, and which are un-saturated. When you increase the slider, the algorithm allows Lightroom to only increase the under-saturated colours in your photo, when you decrease, it only decreases the saturated.

Warning – Be careful not to over use vibrance or saturation as this will posterise your photos and make colour too vivid.

I like using vibrance, I find that it can bring and added touch of light and richness if used cautiously.


Tone Curve

The link between tone curve and histogram is evidenced in the following image.


All of the peaks and troughs of the histogram are the same as in the tone curve, except they are bunched up. You can adjust, shadows, darks, lights and highlights. Sliding upwards in any of these areas lightens, and downwards darkens. As you move the line, notice how it also moves the corresponding slider below it.


1 – original tone curve, 2 – darks decreased (darkened), 3 – lights increased


You can move the sliders and see how the image curve moves accordingly. The tone curve tool is a very quick way of improving your photo if you understand what needs improving; underexposed – bring up your lights and darks, over exposed bring down your highlights and shadows. Adjusting the tone curve works separately than the basic sliders. You can make developments using your basic sliders, and then use the tone curve to just nudge things a little. The classic “s” tone curve (above right) increases the contrast as it increases the range between your darks and lights. Once you have made changes using your tone curve you can return to using the global development sliders. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Lightroom gives you the reset tool and the history brush. All adjustments in Lightroom are non-destructive. Remember that in Lightroom every development is done on a virtual copy. Experiment, mess up, reset, experiment, mess up, step back – without losing any data, and without ruining a photo.


Detail – Sharpening

When you click on the detail triangle to open the detail panel, you get a close-up sample of your photo. Use the hand to move around your photo until you find the area that you want to enhance.


1 – Masking, 2 – Amount

The radius and detail settings above are good settings that ensure that when we sharpen we are targeting a narrow pixel area (radius) and are targeting areas of detail and not background (detail).

Masking – Hold down Alt key and move the masking slider to the right (do this before using the amount slider). Notice that as you move the slider to the right, you have more black appear, and the white area become more defined. The black indicates areas that are being masked off, and will not be sharpened and the white is the area that you will sharpen. The further to the right you move the slider, the narrower the area that will be sharpened becomes. This is targeted sharpening. I usually have the masking slider set in between 50-80.

Amount – Once you have selected the masking area you can now increase the amount of sharpening (you do not need the alt key for this). By looking at the close-up picture whilst you move the amount slider to the right, you will notice the gradual increase in sharpness. Be cautious not to over sharpen as you can create posterised style photos. Not pretty.

Alternate to sharpening – There is a way to enhance a photo so that it looks sharp, and the technique is especially useful for photos where there has been a very small amount of lens shake, high ISO or for photos where your lines are deliberately soft. It involves using local development tools for noise reduction and decreasing clarity. Please don’t do this with the global tools because you will lose the clarity and detail from all of your image (tutorial five will discuss how to do this). In tutorial 5 we will learn how to use Lightroom and Photoshop collaboratively with each other to reduce noise effectively, without purchasing noise reduction software.

Lens Correction – Always ensure you check tick boxes for remove chromatic aberration and enable profile correction. This removes the distortions that a lens produces.

Transform – This is a useful tool. Most of the time I use the auto transform button. It picks your strongest edge and makes it upright, and tries to correct the profile to ensure that you have an upright image without converging lines.. Ever taken a photo of a high building from a low vantage point? When you look at the photo the building will tip backwards and the edges will lean into each other (converging lines). Or have you taken a wide-angle shot and your subject looks fab, but the surrounding areas are pulled towards the middle? Our eyes correct this perspective for us, but cameras don’t, as you can see in photo 1 below.


For the original image (photo 1) I bent down and pointed my camera up. In photo 2 we can see how the Lightroom Auto transform has tried to correct the perspective and straighten the building by pulling the top towards us and the bottom away. Lightroom isn’t a miracle worker , it has improved the photo though (which is a very poor photo). However, take a look at photo 3. It’s much more upright. Transform has features that you can manually control. I have moved the vertical slider to -94 and rotate to -0.9. A great improvement. Warning 1 – See the red arrow 1 – when Lightroom transforms your photo it distorts your image, so you will sometimes lose part of the photo and have to crop the blank area away. Arrow 2 shows how the vertical transform has meant that I lose the top of the tower. The corrections are great but do be aware of areas that you do not want to crop, or how cropping will affect your overall composition and balance.

With the majority of photos that you take Lightroom will be able correct the perspective and produce great results. When you take a photo if it is possible find a slightly higher vantage point and try not to point your camera up and use the smallest focal length that you can.

Please mess around with the manual tools and see what they do. Get used to them. We are only ever going to use them sparingly, but knowing what you can do will help you develop your photos more accurately.

Warning 2 – The Auto transform tools occasionally produces awful results, when it does press Ctrl Z and remember that you can make rotation changes by clicking on the crop tool, and click drag on the outside of your photo.

In Lightroom tutorial 5 I will explain how to use the local development tools. This will help you to make adjustments to small areas of your photos, such as the sky, the background, the subject, and to dodge and burn. Tutorial six will cover exporting, savings and making virtual collections.


3 Replies to “Lightroom Tutorial 4 – Global Photo Developing Tools”

  1. Hi Richard,
    As ever, thank you for such a clear are a magnificent teacher. It is Friday evening so I expect you may be writing poetry tomorrow. I hope it goes well.
    Best, Sarah

    Liked by 1 person

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