Editing in Lightroom: Before & After

Before & After 1

So I’ve been shooting with my Nikon D70 for a few months now and am finally learning the ins and outs of editing in Adobe Lightroom. One of the biggest things I’ve run into in my search for tutorials is the lack of layman’s terms or beginners guides that go step by step. Most tutorials expect you to know or understand all the buttons on your camera already and every command and shortcut in Lightroom.

Fear not – I’m here to bring you some sanity.

This post will be primarily on editing – if you guys like this post, and want other tutorials like this, just let me know and I can broaden my range of topics.

Okay, so briefly here’s what I’m working with:

  • Nikon D70
  • 50mm Lens
  • Tripod
  • Remote

This was a self portrait taken solely for me to practice editing with (note the clutter in the background – usually I’d take the time to remove those items). 

Step 1:

Make sure you’re shooting in RAW format. You will have so much more information to work with because your photo isn’t being compressed like it is when you shoot in a format like JPEG. You will also have a higher quality photo – which helps when you need to recover over/under exposed photos like the one I’m using in my example. 

Don’t know how to check what format you’re shooting in? Here’s how I navigate to it on my camera (yours may be slightly different):

  1. Press the MENU button.
  2. Navigate to the “Image Quality” tab and press enter.
  3. Your camera will have an option that says NEF or RAW. Hover over that and press enter.

Step 2: 

Open your photo in Lightroom. 

Step 3: 

At the top of your menu, make sure you’re in the “Develop” section. 


Step 4:

The adjustment bar is your friend. Now I’m going to say something you’re not going to like, but you will need to learn to play with this on your own. There is no “one size fits all” because every photo is different. Don’t let these sliders scare you – play with them! Here’s the adjustments I made to my photo.

  • I boosted the exposure to +1 because it was a little dark.
  • I boosted the highlights to +55 because it gives that “glow” to the skin. 
  • I dropped the shadows to -90. Going negative with shadows actually increases the amount you have. This gave the photo a little more depth. 
  • I boosted the whites to +20 to give even more brightness (and therefore, attention) to my skin. 
  • I dropped blacks to -25 (again, this increases the amount you have in the photo) to add some depth and draw the attention up to the face. 


Here’s what we’ve done so far: 

Before After








Step 5: 

See how the picture has become grainy from me making so many adjustments? We’re going to fix that next. 

On the right hand side of your screen, scroll down (below the adjustment “Basic” group) until you see the “Detail” group: 


Adjustments I made: 


  • I boosted Luminance to 24. This kills that grain in the photo – you may need more or less depending on how bad yours is. 
  • I boosted detail to 70 and Sharpening to 35 to give me some more depth to the photo. Sometimes the Luminance gets rid of the grain but starts to make it looked overdone and extremely “photoshopped” smooth. Detail and Sharpening will bring your photo back to life. 










I know the differences here are small – but it’s important to kill that grain!

Step 6: 

Here’s the fun part. Lightroom has this neat little feature called an Adjustment Brush. It is my (and your) new best friend. 

Adjustment Brush

Towards the top of the screen there is a little brush icon (top yellow circle). This is your adjustment brush. Now just below is the “Effect” drop down menu where you can select what you’re going to “paint”. You’ll notice at the bottom of the list are some awesome settings like “Soften Skin”, “Iris Enhance” and “Teeth Whitening”. 

Select the “Soften Skin” option. You can adjust the size of your brush with your mouse wheel. When you’re ready, brush over the areas of the face like I did, here: 

**please note that your brush will NOT be red. I am just showing you where I went over with my brush so it’s easier to see. Also, the dots note where I’ve made adjustments – just ignore those :). 

Soften Skin

Now if the skin is now TOO smooth, you can see on your adjustment bar that it’s knocked the Clarity down -100. Remember we want to look realistic, not plastic. So I moved that slider to -39 to get a more realistic look. 

Step 7: 

Next to where it says “Mask:” (above the Effect: drop down menu) click on “New”. This will give you a new brush to work with. It’s very important not to skip this step, otherwise you’ll be adjusting what you just painted. 

Once you’ve clicked on “New” select “Iris Enhance” from the drop down menu. 

Go ahead and paint over the irises and whites of the eyes, being careful not to go outside the lines. Now if the look is a little harsh, go ahead and adjust those sliders a bit on the right hand side. 

Step 8: 

Ever heard of Highlighting and Contouring? If you’re in the makeup world, these two words are the Holy Grail. Highlighting and Contouring your face can make your face look more slender, make your bone structure “pop” (or add the effect of having cheekbones if yours don’t show) and give an all around slimmer appearance. 

When we edit photos it’s to bring the best out of your subject. Highlighting and contouring was the biggest improvement I made to this photo, hands down. 

 The only difference is what we call it on the editing world: 

Highlighting = Dodge (Lighten)
Contouring = Burn (Darken)

Let’s start with the highlighting. Go ahead and click “new” for a new brush and select “Dodge” from the drop down menu. 

Areas you want to focus on: 

  • Add an upside down triangle beneath the eyes. This helps brighten under eye circles and draws the attention up to the irises. 
  • Along the center of the nose and between the eyebrows. 
  • Just below the cheekbones
  • On the cupid’s bow and the center of the chin.


Again – don’t be afraid to play with those sliders if you need to tone it down! 

Step 9: 

Let’s get to work on contouring. Go ahead and click “new” for a new brush and select “Burn” from the drop down menu. 

Areas you want to focus on: 

  • The cheek bones
  • The tops of the forehead and sides of the face
  • The jawline
  • Defining either side of the nose


Step 10:

Brush over the hair with the “Highlights” and “Contrast” brushes to get extra depth and shine. 

Highlight and Contrast

Step 11: 

Click on the Adjustment Brush to go back to your main editing screen. 
Under “Basic” click the “Black and White” tab. 

Black and White

and you’re all done!

Before & After 1


Let me know what you guys thought of this tutorial. I’d love to see a before and after of your own! 




  1. Even though I am not a photographer (I barely get a clear picture except of my finger) it was fun to read and learn about and glean some info. Easy to follow.

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