When Adobe moved Photoshop to a subscription-based service, they potentially alienated a large proportion of their customer base; namely, the advanced enthusiast photographers. These photographers knew their way around Photoshop beyond the simple exposure and color tweaks, but many could not justify the monthly expense of Photoshop CC.
Fortunately, in recent incarnations, Lightroom has become a more-than-capable replacement for Photoshop for 95% of situations; however, the techniques needed are often a little different than in Photoshop. This article will run through some quickie Lightroom tutorials that will allow you to emulate common Photoshop techniques.
One of the most powerful features of Photoshop is its ability to record your settings using actions. These actions can then be applied to other images to recreate that effect. In Lightroom, our alternative is Presets. These are predefined scripts that can carry out a series of adjustments to an image.
Presets are found on the left in the Develop module
To create a preset, carry out your desired adjustments in the Lightroom Develop module. These can be virtually any of the adjustments available, such as White Balance, Tone Curves, or Sharpening. When you are happy with the result, you can save this preset by going to the Navigator window on the left of the screen and clicking the + button. This will open a new window showing all available adjustments with check boxes ticked against the specific adjustments you have actually made.
At the top, you can give your preset a suitable name. By default, it will be saved in a folder called User Presets. If you do not wish a certain adjustment to be applied in your preset, simply uncheck that box before saving it.
Save a preset by clicking the “plus” icon on the top left of the Preset window
Presets can be applied to an image either from the Library Module on the right of the screen in the Quick Develop section, or from the Develop module by clicking on the desired preset in the Navigator window to the left. There are also a range of default presets supplied with Lightroom, as well as the ability to add third-party presets.
Lightroom’s default and third-party presets as accessed from the Library Module
Quick Mask/Adjustment Brush
In Photoshop, the Quick Mask tool is a great way to make selected adjustments to specific areas of an image. Whilst there is no direct equivalent in Lightroom, the Adjustment Brush has a similar effect.
With an image open in the Develop module, click the Adjustment Brush tool on the right of the screen. A new adjustments window will slide open. At the bottom of the screen just above the film strip, you will see Show Selected Mask Overlay. Clicking on this will show a red mask over the areas that you wish to adjust as you paint the brush on. In the Adjustment Brush window below the adjustments, you will also see Auto Mask.
Use Auto Mask to aid your selection
This feature will attempt to work out what parts of an image you are trying to mask. To use an adjustment brush, you simply paint the area of the image that you wish to work on—the sky, for example. Then, use the specific adjustments such as White Balance, Exposure, Contrast or any of the others to change only that specific area. Adjustment brushes can also be duplicated and repeated elsewhere in the shot by right-clicking on the original adjustment brush control on the image.
Paint over the area you wish to work on
Clone or Spot Healing/Spot Removal
This tool is an often-used feature of Photoshop, particularly for removing things such as sensor dust spots from images. Its equivalent in Lightroom is the Spot Removal tool, found on the right side of the Develop module. Clicking on this tool will reveal two further options. You can choose between Clone and Heal tools, allowing you to duplicate parts of an image, or remove unwanted items from an image, respectively.
Cloning reveals two circles on the image—the source area and the destination area—allowing you to simply copy an element within the image to another area. Healing works in a similar way, allowing you to select an area of the image to cover the offending spot with.
Below this, you can change the tool’s size, feather, and opacity, giving you a lot of control over the way the tool works.
The Clone tool in action
Simulating a graduated filter in Photoshop involved adding new layers and playing with blend modes. In Lightroom, there is a dedicated tool, again found in the Develop module near the Adjustment Brush tool. Selecting this tool allows you to drag down a selection in your image (for example, the sky), and then apply a range of adjustments to that area. You can drag the Gradient selection up and down, and rotate it to fit perfectly in the area that you wish to work on.
Typically, if working on a sky, you might reduce its exposure to make it darker, change its color, or increase clarity to add definition to clouds. Like most of the Lightroom brush tools, you can stack graduated filters to increase the effect, or duplicate them to use in different parts of the shot.
Darkening a sky with the Graduated Filter tool
For many photographers, Lightroom has become a powerful and much cheaper alternative to Photoshop. With a little study, many of the techniques that you previously used in Photoshop can be replicated using Lightroom. The added bonuses are that 1) you are doing all this within your image catalogue and not exporting to Photoshop, and 2) that the adjustments you carry out are nondestructive. To return an image to its original state, simply right-click on it and select Settings – Reset.
Given the price and the power of Lightroom, any serious photographer should consider it a must-have application.