Workflow Friday: An Overview of Adobe Lightroom Develop Module

The Develop module is the heart of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. It is where all the magic happens. It is also the most complex module in Lightroom. As such, before we dive into the Develop module and discuss some of the critical adjustments in depth, I wanted to recap what we have already covered and give an overview of the Develop module so you can see how it fits into my digital workflow.

Adobe Lightroom Develop Module Adobe Lightroom Develop Module

Here is a screenshot of the Adobe Lightroom Develop Module with all of the panels visible. The right hand panel is where almost all of the image adjustment sliders reside. The filmstrip is no different than it was in the Library module. The left hand panel contains the Presets, Snapshots, History and Collections.

For this Workflow Friday series, I have planned out the blog posts in a very logical manner so that you can build a digital workflow from the ground up if you follow along with the posts. I started out with color management, which is the heart of any digital workflow, and then moved into importing, editing, ranking and organizing your images in the Lightroom library. If you have just found this blog post and want to go back and read the earlier blog posts you can find them here.

For this series, I have discussed Lightroom as the main workflow tool, but there are obviously other excellent options including Apple Aperture, Adobe Photoshop, Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw, and finally Capture One. Lightroom is by far the most popular of these applications for working up still images, with Photoshop running a close second. Before jumping into our overview of the Lightroom Develop module, let’s talk about varying workflows and why you would choose Lightroom over Photoshop, or vice versa.

Lightroom vs. Other Photo Editing Software

There are some very good reasons that I use Lightroom instead of Adobe Camera Raw and Bridge – or any of the other options. For my work, as an adventure photographer, I shoot a lot of images and editing in Lightroom is much faster than in Bridge. Apple Aperture has similar editing abilities as Lightroom, but I didn’t like the Aperture interface and Lightroom has better integration with Photoshop. Of course, there is another option, which is Photo Mechanic. In terms of editing speed, nothing beats Photo Mechanic. It integrates with Photoshop extremely well and can replace Bridge. I tried it out years ago, but the image previews in Photo Mechanic left a lot to be desired – though I have heard they have been massively improved since I tried it last. There are many other reasons I use Lightroom though, chiefly among them is that Lightroom acts as a Digital Asset Management (DAM) tool. DAM is a fancy name for an application that keeps track of all your images and helps you track them down.

If I was a portrait photographer, the appeal of Lightroom might not be the same. If I only shot 80 to 100 images on each shoot it would be rather simple to edit the images and I might only be working up a few images from each shoot. Hence, Bridge, Adobe Camera Raw, and Photoshop would be a great option for that style of shooting. As you can see, Lightroom isn’t always the perfect solution for every photographer’s workflow. But, because the Adobe Camera Raw controls, which are essentially the same as those in Lightroom, are so well known, all of the sliders I will discuss in Lightroom are also available in Adobe Camera Raw and are familiar to most photographers.

Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) Adobe Camera Raw (ACR)

Here is a screenshot of the same image (before it was fully worked up) in Adobe Camera Raw. The image was opened via Bridge and then worked up in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) before being finalized in Photoshop. The same adjustments exist in ACR as in Lightroom, save for a few extra features specific to Lightroom.

Lightroom Develop Module

In terms of an overview, as you can see in Photo 1, there are four side panels in the Lightroom Develop module (as there are in all of the Lightroom modules). The top and bottom panels are self-explanatory. On top you have the menu for the different modules and down on the bottom you have the filmstrip, which allows you to navigate your images in any of the modules. The left panel has Presets, Snapshots, History, and Collections. I won’t go into all of these in crazy detail as they are easy to figure out. I will say that the Presets are great for recording actions or looks that you use often. These presets won’t look the same on every image, but they can speed up the processing – especially if you add presets for noise reduction. The History states are also useful to see what you have done to the image and also for comparing the previous stages of the processing.

Lightroom Develop Module Lightroom Develop Module

Above is a screenshot of how I normally have the Develop module set up when I am working on an image. I maximize the interface (shift +F) and then close all of the panels except for the right hand panel.

In general, when working in the Develop module I maximize the interface, as in Photo 3, by using the "Shift + F" keyboard shortcut. This shortcut is a three-way toggle. Keep hitting Shift + F and you will see how the interface changes. Once I have the interface maximized, I then click off all of the panels except for the right hand panel. Also, when you first open Lightroom the right hand panel is quite narrow. If you grab the left edge of the right hand panel and pull it out (to the left) you can widen the panel and make all of the sliders in that panel more accurate and less sensitive. This little-known trick really helps when trying to make small adjustments with the sliders.

The right hand panel is meant to be used from the top down. At the top of the panel is the Histogram, which I always have visible. Underneath the Histogram are the Localized Adjustment Tools and then the rest of the adjustment panels. The Basic panel, which is the top panel in the right hand panel, is where at least 50% of our work will happen. This panel includes the Treatment option (color or black and white), the white balance sliders, the tone sliders and sliders for adjusting saturation and contrast in the image. Moving down the right hand panel, there are dialogs to deal with curves, HSL (Hue, Saturation and Luminance), sharpening and noise reduction, split-toning, lens corrections, vignetting, and camera calibration. As you can see by this list, there are a lot of options and there is a lot to discuss to fully understand the Develop module. In my next blog post, I will dive into the Basic panel and discuss the white balance sliders in detail.

Using Lightroom and Photoshop Together

Kelly Slater ripping down the face of a sizable wave at Teahupo'o, Tahiti. Photo by Michael Clark. Kelly Slater ripping down the face of a sizable wave at Teahupo'o, Tahiti. Photo by Michael Clark.

Here is the finished image, which was processed in Lightroom initially and then finished off in Photoshop.  As stated in the text, I don’t feel like I can get my images completely worked up just in Lightroom. I have to go to Photoshop to really dial in the levels adjustments and for extensive retouching if needed.

One thing I want to make sure I relay at this point is that I do not feel I can get my images 100% worked up just using Lightroom. Some may feel that their images are fine right out of Lightroom, but I have found that to really dial in, a digital image takes a fair bit of time and energy—and I have to take the images into Photoshop to really perfect them. There are many reasons for this, but chief among them is that it is hard to set the white and black points on the image exactly in Lightroom. By this I mean that I want the histogram to extend all the way across without any gaps and forcing this isn’t always possible in Lightroom, at least not with the control that I have in Photoshop. The other reason is that Lightroom has an odd color space, known as Melissa RGB. It is a hybrid Pro Photo RGB color space with an sRGB tone curve applied to it. Because of this, if you export your images into Photoshop and compare them closely with the image in Lightroom, you might see small color shifts, especially if you export your images into the Adobe RGB or sRGB color spaces. To overcome these issues, I work up my images in Lightroom as far as I can take them and then finish them off in Photoshop.

Check back in a few weeks for more detailed information on the Basic panel. Each blog post here for the next few months will discuss one or more features of the Develop module. Of course, there is way more to discuss than I can possible convey in these blog posts. If you are looking to fine-tune your workflow or overhaul your workflow, I highly recommend checking out my digital workflow e-book below.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom: A Professional Photographer’s Workflow by Michael ClarkThis blog post is a modified excerpt from my e-book, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom: A Professional Photographer’s Workflow. For more information on this e-book or to purchase the e-book please visit my website.

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