Photography 101: A Beginner’s Guide – Lesson 8

At this point, you have the knowledge to take some decent photos with your camera. Unfortunately, the perfect shot is not always achieved. More often than not, photographers will touch up their photos using a program like Lightroom or Photoshop. Both programs are available from the company Adobe. Also, many cameras come with their own software that help edit photos. In this lesson, I am going to talk about some basic components of most photo editing programs and guide you through the process of editing a photo. Keep in mind that programs vary, but they all should have the same basic settings.

I will be using Lightroom to demonstrate.

Step 1: Open Image

Here is a photo I opened in Lightroom. Roll your mouse over the image to magnify it. You will notice, on the top right, the word “Develop” is highlighted. This means I am in developing mode. If you look straight down from the word “Develop,” you will notice a series of sliders. I will be adjusting those sliders until I achieve the look I want for this photo.

Step 2: Exposure

The first thing you may notice about this photo is that it is overexposed. A simple editing program may only allow you to control the brightness and contrast. However, if a program has exposure, I usually start with that setting. The “exposure slider” allows you to set the proper exposure (to your preference). In the photo above, you will notice that I turned the exposure down about 1.6 stops. The photo is already looking better, but we aren’t done yet.

Step 3: Highlights

Notice that I skipped the “contrast slider.” This setting, when turned up, will make highlights brighter and shadows darker (i.e. the contrast between the two will be greater). Turning it down will bring the two closer to a middle grey (i.e. lessen the contrast between the lightest and darkest areas). I did not feel this image needed this treatment, so I left it alone. I did, however, adjust the highlights so the bright, blown out areas would have some detail. By turning this setting down, in this case, I brought some detail back in the sky, as well as Brewy, the dog.

Step  4: Shadows

The “shadows slider” does what it sounds like; it brightens or darkens the shadows (darkest parts) in an image. I thought the shadows were a little dark so I turned it up. It’s not a dramatic difference, but I liked how it looked. When you are editing your image, you can make it look as stylized or natural as you wish.

Step 5: Whites

By bringing the highlights down in Step 3, I removed some of the luster or brightness of the white parts in the image. I turned this slider up, as you can see in the screenshot. This brought out the clouds and the white parts of our dog’s fur a bit better.

Step 6: Blacks

Just as the “whites slider” adjusts the white parts of the image, the “blacks slider” brightens or darkens the black areas. While the “shadow slider” adjusts the darkest parts of the image (shadows), the “blacks slider” only effects actual black tones in the image. By turning this slider down, I can add some contrast back into the image without effecting my settings for both the highlights and whites.

Step 7: Clarity

You may notice that the settings above do wonders for the sky, grass, and even bring out the detail in our dog’s coat. Unfortunately, I think it brings too much detail, with Brewy in particular. It just doesn’t fit the soft mood of a dog giving her human a kiss. The “clarity slider,” when turned up, aims to add sharp details or clarity to the image. Turning this slider down can soften those details. I chose to soften the image a bit so Brewy doesn’t look so harsh.

Step 8: Vibrance

Vibrancy tools boost the intensity of the more muted areas. This is unlike the “saturation slider” (below) which immerses all colors indiscriminately. You can see that by moving this slider up, I added some blue to the sky and some green to the grass.

Step 9: Saturation

I was still not happy with the saturation level of the image, so I bumped up this slider to add that pop of color.

Step 10: That’s It

Make sure you save your file.


If you have a fancy camera, chances are you have the option to shoot in RAW format. This is great because it gives you flexibility over editing your photo. Unfortunately, only certain programs open RAW files and they are not usable to upload to the internet. Make sure you consult your manual  to see if your photos are in RAW format.
If they are in RAW format, you will want to export them as JPEG’s. Instructions are usually very straight forward. After editing the photo, select the export option. Then choose your desired format. If you want to display the photo on the  internet like Facebook or email, I suggest choosing JPEG.

Play Around

The best way to get comfortable with editing your photos is to actually EDIT them, find out what you like. Move the sliders every which way to figure out how they are going to effect your photos.


Edit a photo. Find a photo that could use some work and give it a few adjustments or take a photo you like and see if you can give it a little extra pop!


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