Lightroom Tips and Tricks

Lightroom* presents a world of possibilities for photographers. Many artists work for months in the powerful software without realizing some of the less obvious features hidden within. Learn some pro Lightroom tips and tricks to get even more out of your photo editing software.


Lightroom Develop Settings by Robert S. Donovan

Adjust Exposure with the Histogram

In addition to using the Tone sliders to lighten or darken your image, you can change exposure level directly from the histogram at the top right of the Develop module. Hover over any part of the histogram to highlight the affected area. Click and drag on any part of the histogram to adjust the image’s exposure levels. Double click on the same section of the histogram to reset it.

Straighten the Horizon with the Straighten Tool

Crooked horizon lines are the bane of my existence. No matter how hard I try or how many tricks I learn, I just can’t seem to get a straight horizon in my photos. In the Crop & Straighten section of the Develop module, there is a slider for adjusting the angle. But you can also use the leveler tool to click on any straight line in the photo. Click on the Straighten Tool (the small icon to the left of the Angle slider). Click and drag along the horizon (or other straight line that you want to level). A line with a circle at each end will appear as you drag the tool. Release the mouse button, and the photo will level the image based on that line.

Choose a Crop Guide Overlay

By default, Lightroom uses the rule of thirds as its overlay when you start to crop an image. But you can choose a different crop overlay guide to help with composition. In Lightroom 4, go to Tools then Crop Guide Overlay, and choose from grid, thirds, diagonal, triangle, golden ratio, or golden spiral. Other versions of the software have similar choices, but they may be found under a different menu.

Apply Split Toning

Most people new to Lightroom stay away from the split toning feature because it seems complicated. If you know a little trick for choosing hue, it’s a lot easier to manage. Maximize the saturation slider of Shadows or Highlights to see the color cast that will be applied to your image at 100 percent strength. Once you’ve chosen your hue, readjust the saturation to your liking. Then, adjust how much weight to apply to each tone by moving the Balance slider back and forth until you’re happy with the results. You can also choose to apply a color cast to just Highlights or just Shadows by leaving the other sliders at zero.

Use the Alt or Command Key With Sliders

Holding down the Alt (PC) or Option (Mac) key while you adjust some of the sliders in the Develop module lets you see how your adjustments are affecting your image. For example, if you hold down the Alt or Option key while you adjust the exposure slider, the screen will go black or white, and you’ll be able to see which pixels are getting blacked out or blown out. White pixels are blown out; black pixels are blacked out.

Reset Sliders

Double-clicking on the name of any slider will reset it to its default setting. If you double click on a section name, for example, Tone or Presence, it will reset all sliders in that section.

Toggle Between Your Before and After Photo

See your original image without adjustments by clicking \ (backslash). Click \ again to get back to the working version of your image with adjustments applied.

There are just a handful of lesser-known tips and tricks that Lightroom has to offer. Experiment with new tools and shortcuts each time you use the software to increase your efficiency and expand your editing skills. What are your favorite Lightroom tips and tricks? Share them in the comments.

*All of the Lightroom tips and tricks in this article are based on Adobe Lightroom 4. Search online for instructions specific to your current version of the software.

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​Nicoal is a New England photographer with a penchant for learning. Her work ranges from nature-inspired portraiture to outdoor product photography. Visit for more info.

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