Lightroom Tutorial: How to Conquer the Basic Panel

Lightroom Tutorial: How to Conquer the Basic Panel

lightroom tutorial

With all the sweet feedback I got relating to last week’s webinar I’m excited to expand on demonstrating the ins and outs of Lightroom here on the blog! This is the first of a multi-post series in which I’ll share how I use Lightroom to boost my travel pictures from bland to boom (like that?).

Starting from the top of the Develop Module, today I want to share the groundwork for editing any image – the basics panel. As a way to walk you through the editing process, I’ve attached the original image shown in the example at the bottom of this post. I encourage you to download it and join me as I edit.

This is the order of my editing process:

1 | White Balance 

The eyedropper tool (White Balance Selector) assists tremendously in aiding Lightroom to quickly correct white balance. Use of the eyedropper can be confusing but to put it simply – focus on identifying on object that should be neutral, not totally white or black but a neutral gray.


Click the tabletop and observe the subtle changes in the temp and tint.

2 | Exposure 

Sliding the Exposure to the left will darken the image and to the right will brighten it equating to one full f stop, +1 or -1. Keeping an eye on the histogram above, drag the exposure slider upward (+.65) improves the horizontal distribution of image data.


Note: the shape of the histogram does not matter however images with a wider spectrum on the histogram have more content and ultimately appeal.

3 | Whites and Blacks 

Holding down the ALT key on Mac (X for PC) will offer a clipping preview for both Whites and Blacks. The goal is for the brightest pixel in the image to be white and the darkest pixel to be black. I’ll start by adjusting the Whites (+16) then, again holding down the ALT key adjust my Blacks (+6).


4 | Shadows & Highlights

In my opinion, the use of the shadows and highlights sliders boils down to artistic preference. Many consider these tools to be ‘problem solvers’ and alter the image to the way we would have liked to shot it originally. The Highlights slider brings back detail from the brightest points of the image while the Shadows brings back detail from the darkest points of the image.

Highlights-ShadowsI love a ton of depth and color in my images, so the majority of the time I always bump up the shadows. Beware that over-doing shadows can cause pixelation and grainy areas of the image. After making adjustments, use the Command + = to zoom in, and Command +  to zoom out and review the shadowed areas for quality.


I chose – 20 for Highlights and +50 for Shadows. 

5 | Clarity, Vibrance & Saturation

The big three, these elements are what makes an image truly pop.


Clarity – Adjusts the contrast of the mid-tones of the image, essentially increasing the edges within the image and providing more of a punch. I chose +17.

Vibrance – Unlike Saturation, vibrance thoughtfully weights color improvements more heavily on less saturated colors and less on already saturated colors. Vibrance also offers some protection on skin tones so that they don’t become unnatural. A good rule of thumb is to first make adjusts on Vibrance bypassing Saturation entirely. I chose +22.

Saturation – While tempting to overdo, beware that sliding the saturation bar adjusts all pixels in the image, so colors that might already be bright and bold will be even more so, likewise areas that are gray more prominently gray. Use this tool sparingly. I chose +5.

6 | Crop

Simply clicking the letter ‘R’ will enable the crop tool. Note the ‘Aspect’ choice in the panel indicating whether you’d like to maintain the Original dimensions or crop to something specific (such as 1 x 1 for Instagram). By clicking the lock once, you find modify the image to a custom dimension.


For this image I want to draw the viewer’s eye to go toward the building in between the boat moorings so I’ve chosen to move it towards the center by cropping a bit of the pier. I also want the building to sit just below the top 1/3 of the image, remembering the good ole Rule of Thirds.

While there are many more edits and improvements that can be made to this image in Lightroom, this is a great starting point. To quickly compare my original and edited images, I can click Y.


Grab the before image below and feel free to leave questions or feedback in the comments!

[content_upgrade cu_id=”12551″]Lightroom Tutorial - Before[content_upgrade_button]Grab the Image[/content_upgrade_button][/content_upgrade]


  • I somehow missed your webinar! I don’t think I ever got the email. I’ll have to go and check my folders. This is a great step-by-step!

  • wow, I can’t even explain how helpful this was to me! I’ve always been so overwhelmed by Lightroom and had no idea where to start with it. Thank you for this!

    Abigail Alice x | Latest The Best Nude Liquid Lipsticks!

  • Awesome! I will be bookmarking this post 😉

  • This was seriously so helpful, thank you Margo!! I have just started using Lightroom and I LOVE it. I’m totally obsessed!!! I’ve been learning it just by playing with all the sliders and learning through trial and error. I actually adjust all the elements you mentioned, so this tutorial has really given me a boost of confidence that I really needed! Xx

  • Um, this is SO awesome. I love Lightroom and I do a lot of the same changes. But seriously the gifs (?) you made for this are the best. x

  • Yes, I was so bummed I missed the hangout, I was going to email you to ask if you were going to offer it. This is great, thanks, totally bookmarking it. I’m looking into switching from Photoshop to Lightroom! Do you shoot in Raw or JPEG btw?

  • Umm this is freaking incredible! thanks for this Margo!

  • This is such a great tutorial! 🙂 I’ve actually never used the whites & blacks and always sorta eyeballed it, but I might give it a try next time!

  • Thank you for these Lightroom tips! I’ve been looking to move from Photoshop to Lightroom and would love to learn even more!

  • Thanks for this great tutorial! I recently installed Lightroom and have been self-teaching my way through its basic module. Can’t wait to learn more in future posts.

  • I just used the eyedropper tool this morning and now realize, I used it wrong. Looking forward to more tutorials. Thanks!

  • The Postcard Travelers

    This is so helpful Margo, thanks! Been delving into Lightroom over the last few days and there’s just so much to learn its a little overwhelming. This is a great tutorial to play around with the basics!

  • So many great tips, you can really do wonders with photo editing!

    xx Kelly
    Sparkles and Shoes

  • awesome! Do you do this manually each time or have you created a preset / action to do it?

  • I love all these tips! I’m living in Germany and starting to travel all around Europe. I want to take beautiful travel photos and am wondering what kind of camera you use?
    Thank you!