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This chapter is from the book

Photo editing in Lightroom

Understanding how Lightroom’s editor works and planning your Lightroom–Photoshop editing workflow will help you make the best use of Lightroom’s Develop module.

How Lightroom’s editor works

Lightroom uses a parametric editing system, which means that when you adjust a photograph in Lightroom you simply are creating a set of parameters or instructions for how to interpret the image data. You are not changing image pixels, as you do in a pixel editor like Photoshop. This makes Lightroom a truly nondestructive editor and one that is flexible to use.

How does this parametric editing system work? When you make adjustments in the Develop module, the adjustments are recorded as instructions in the Lightroom catalog. These instructions control the appearance of the image previews you see and work with in Lightroom. To help other programs see your Lightroom adjustments, you can choose to save the instructions back to the photographs too, without altering the actual image data in the photographs, as explained later in this lesson in “Saving metadata to files.” If you output photographs from Lightroom, the instructions will be applied to the derivative copies that are generated, but your originals will remain unchanged.

The important point is that none of the adjustments you make in Lightroom will alter the image data in your original photographs.

This system makes editing in Lightroom not only nondestructive, but very flexible too. For example, a Develop adjustment made to a raw file in Lightroom can be changed or deleted at any time, since all you’re doing is tweaking an instruction. Batch processing in Lightroom is as simple as copying and pasting instructions among multiple photographs. You can even experiment with different sets of instructions on a single photograph without making actual copies of that photograph, using a feature called virtual copies, as you’ll do later in this lesson in “Working with virtual copies.”

Photo editing workflow

If you shoot raw files, a recommended workflow is to do the bulk of your photo editing in Lightroom’s Develop module first—correcting tone and color, removing spots, reducing noise, performing initial sharpening, fixing perspective and other lens-related issues, and sometimes making local adjustments. It’s best to perform these fundamental corrections on photographs in their raw state (DNGs or proprietary raw files), because raw files offer the most editing latitude.

Then, if particular photographs call for specific edits that are best done in Photoshop (like detailed retouching, compositing, or the other Photoshop techniques covered in this book), pass those photographs from Lightroom to Photoshop, which creates RGB derivatives of the original raw files, as covered in more detail in Lesson 2.

Although Lightroom’s Develop controls are tailor-made for raw files, you can use them to adjust JPEGs, TIFFs, PSDs, and PNGs too. However, you may experience less editing flexibility than with raw files, and some of the Develop features will behave differently on RGB images than on raw files, as you’ll see in the section “White balancing” in this lesson.

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