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Adobe Lightroom 4 is post processing and file management software for photographers, and it’s currently the best alternative to Apple’s Aperture.

I made the switch from Aperture to Lightroom six months ago, and I’m very happy with my decision.

As with any new software, there’s always a bit of a learning curve, so I’ve put this beginner’s guide together, to help you to understand how to best use the software.

You may be surprised at how simple and easy it can be, once you’ve got your head around it.

I use Adobe Lightroom 4 for about 90% of my post processing, occasionally opening up the file in Photoshop if I want to create an HDR, or perhaps in Color Efex Pro 4 if I want to edit my photo more drastically.

Whether I edit my photo in any other software or not, the first port of call is always Lightroom 4.

I hope you enjoy my beginner’s guide to Adobe Lightroom 4…

Importing to Library

When you import files to Adobe Lightroom 4, the files move from the left of the screen, to the right of the screen.

On the left, you can select the source of your files, whether it’s your memory stick, or an external hard drive, or some other form of storage.

Then, all of the available images for import will appear in the center of the screen, and you select the ones you want.

Note that if you’ve already imported some of the files, those files will not be automatically selectable here (unless you uncheck the box marked ‘Don’t import duplicates’).

Then before you hit import, there are some additional options, which I will cover in the next three headings.

Renaming Files

The very first thing I do is rename my files.

Because I work with so many photos, and they’re stored on multiple computers, I like to be able to search my computer and find my photos instantly.

If I kept all the names as ‘IMG_5216’, it’s unlikely that I’d find what I was looking for.

I rename my to resemble something similar to this:


You can always rename the photos when you export them if you’re not happy with your initial naming.

Develop, Keywords, Copyright

Under the ‘Apply During Import’ section, you have the option to develop your photos, add keywords, and copyright information.

Under develop settings, this is where you can process the photos, using Lightroom presets (see image), which will save time later on if you already know what you want to do to your photos.

You can use Lightroom’s own presets (which aren’t great), you can create your own, or you can purchase other presets on the market.

Under keywords, you can add any keywords that you may want to use later on. This is great if you want to organise groups of albums later on, by who’s in the photos, or where they were taken.

Finally, under Metadata, you can add in your own copyright information here. © Joshua Dunlop MY NUMBER is what I add to all of my photos, so that people know who took the photo, and how to contact me.


Finally, when you’re happy with all the steps you’ve taken so far, you can select where your files are going to end up.

If you’re a Mac user, your Lightroom library is in your pictures folder. I’m not sure, but I should imagine it’s pretty similar for Windows users too. Simply navigate to this folder, and create a subfolder, using a sensible name.

When you’re all done, hit import, and you will soon be ready to develop your photos.

NOTE: You can save your import settings as a preset by going to Import Preset > Save Current Settings As New Preset at the bottom of the import window.

Auto Import

This is a function that I really like about Adobe Lightroom 4. You can assign a folder, somewhere in your computer, which will automatically import photos to Lightroom.

This makes the import process really easy, especially if you only have one photo you want to edit.

To set this up, go to File>Auto Import.

I have the folder set up on my desktop, to the left of the dock, so I can quickly and easily drag photos into Lightroom.

Develop Mode

This is where I do 90% of my editing, and Lightroom makes it pretty easy for me to get through my photos quickly.

You’ll notice on the left you have your presets, and on the right, you have the develop options. I’m going to start by talking about the develop options.

It’s worth noting that these options are in a specific order for a reason. This is how you’re supposed to process your photos, so don’t jump ahead of yourself, as you may find you have to go back and change it later on.

Initial Fine Tuning – Crop, Red Eye, Etc.

In this first tab, you can make all of your initial major adjustments  such as crop, spot removal, red eye reduction, graduated filter, and use the adjustment brush.

These all come before the rest of the processing, because they will dramatically change what you see in the photo, by changing the size of the photo, and fixing any imperfections.

It’s important that you get this step out of the way first.

Basic Developing

Once you’re done, you can move onto basic developing. The very first thing you can do is turn your photo into black and white, or keep it in colour.

If you choose to keep the photo in colour, the next step is the white balance.

Then you have all the settings you would expect to see here, such as exposure, contrast, highlights and lowlights, clarity, vibrance and saturation.

For me, unless I end up using an external image editor, by the time I’ve finished with these two sections, that’s 80% of my editing is done.

There are more settings which follow, such as curves, color saturation, and split toning, but these adjustments are usually much more subtle, so you can have a play with them yourselves.

Detail Editing- Sharping, Noise Reduction

If you want to clean up your photo, and make them sharper, then this is the section you will need.

The sharpening controls are really good in Lightroom 4, but be careful to not overdo it.

You can pretty easily make your photos very harsh to look at.

Underneath sharpening, is noise reduction. These two work against each other.

When you sharpen an image, the noise is going to stand out more, and when you reduce the noise, you’re softening the photo.

I almost always add some form of sharpening to my photos, but I don’t tend to use the noise reduction too much.

Lens Correction

This is one of my favourite functions of Lightroom 4, because it allows me to remove chromatic aberration with just a single click. Check out the photo below to see what I mean.

On the left is the image before I removed the Chromatic Aberration. You can see lots of blue/purple on the outline of the trees.

If it doesn’t quite get it right with the first try, you can use the defringe dropper tool to perfect the process.

The reason chromatic aberration occurs is because of a small fault within the lens. It’s nothing to worry about though, because you can easily fix it here.


This is where you can add a vignette (black or white), and add grain to your images. The effects aren’t too drastic, but I usually end up adding at least a very small black vignette to my photos.

Unless the photo is very light at the edges, I see absolutely no excuse for using a white vignette. Leave this to the fauxtographers.

External Image Editor

If you want to edit your photos further, you can always use external software to do so. Go to Photo>Edit In, and then select the editor you wish to use. This may be some NIK software, or perhaps Photoshop.

I sometime use NIK’s Color Efex Pro 4, but recently, I’ve taken to using Lightroom presets instead.

Handy Lightroom 4 Presets

You’ll see that Lightroom has a selection of presets for you to use, which will help make the processing of your images much faster.

The presets they have aren’t bad, but I prefer to make my own, or purchase presets which have been professionally made by someone who has a lot more time to focus on getting them exactly right.

I recommend SLR Lounge’s Lightroom 4 Presets.


When you’re finally happy with your photos, it’s time to export them from Lightroom.

You can’t just go and find the photos in your computer, because they will be the wrong size, and will still be RAW files, without the adjustments made.

To export, go to File>Export

Export Location

This is step number 1. Select where you want the photos to go, and create a new subfolder if you need to.

File Naming

Hopefully you’re happy with how you named your photos as you imported them, but if you’re not, you can always rename them here.

File Settings

Here you can select your image format, and color space. If you’re exporting your images for the web, this should be set to sRGB. You can also change the quality, but this isn’t something I’ve ever found a use for.

Image Sizing

The is my most used export setting, as I constantly need different sized images for Facebook and this website. I simply select the image to be resized to the long edge at a maximum of X amount of pixels. That was I know it’s going to fit.

You can also change the resolution, but 300 pixels per inch is pretty standard.

Output Sharpening

This is something that Aperture was really missing. Whenever you export a photo, you usually change the size, and when you do so, you end up losing some of the image’s sharpness.

By simply selecting where you’re going to be displaying your image, Adobe Lightroom 4 will automatically add some post-export sharpening to your images.


In this section, you can choose which metadata you want to be attached to your photo when you export it.

If you’re putting your photo somewhere where you would like to remain anonymous, then I would suggest removing all of the information, because otherwise you give away quite a bit of information.

I don’t typically bother removing information anymore, because if I don’t tell you what settings I used to take a photo, you can always use an exif reader to find out for yourself.


One of the final steps is to add a watermark to your image. You can use the drop down menu to set up a simple watermark, using your own image.

You can set the watermark to be proportional to your image, as well as set a location and opacity. This is much simpler in Lightroom than it is in Aperture.

Post Processing

Finally, when you’re happy with all of your settings, you can choose what you want the image to do after it’s been exported. I have mine set to do nothing, but you can have it automatically opened up in some other software.
A Beginner's Guide to Adobe Lightroom 4

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I'm a self taught photographer from Brighton, England. I take a lot of photos and enjoy teaching my methods to anyone willing to learn- this is my blog, check out my video training & Google.

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