The 15 Step Lightroom Classic Workflow

by Andrew S. Gibson
The 15 Step Lightroom Classic Workflow

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Developing photos is fun. But being out in the field making new photos is even better! So it makes sense have a streamlined Lightroom Classic workflow that enables you to develop photos quickly and effectively.

It also helps you find your way through Lightroom Classic’s Develop module tools. You may have noticed that there is no structure to the Develop model’s panels. In other words, there’s no obvious order in which you should move from one panel to another when developing your photos.

I developed the 15 step Lightroom Classic workflow to address these problems. The workflow has two aims.

1. To give you structure. You can follow these 15 steps for any photo, no matter what the genre or your developing style.

2. To make developing your photos faster. It soon becomes second nature to follow these steps. Approaching developing in a structured way reduces the time you spend skipping back and forth between the Develop module’s various panels.

Isn’t 15 steps a lot?

It may sound like 15 steps is a lot of work, but in practice you’ll only need to use some of the steps. For example, the very first step is going to the Calibration panel and updating the Process. If you imported your photos into Lightroom Classic recently you won’t need to do it. And if you do need to update the Process, it takes less than a second. But it’s important because you won’t have access to all of Lightroom Classic’s tools unless you’re using the most up to date Process.

What about Lightroom 6?

If you’re still using Lightroom 6 (or an even older version of Lightroom) the 15 step workflow still applies. These are the main differences:

  • You set the photo’s color profile in the Calibration panel rather than Lightroom Classic’s Profile Browser.
  • You use local adjustments (Graduated Filter, Radial Filter, Brush) rather than masking tools.
  • There’s no Denoise tool.

The 15 step Lightroom Classic workflow

The 15 step Lightroom Classic workflow works for me and it will work for you as well. But don’t be afraid to go off in other directions as your confidence grows.

Step 1: If you’re working on older photos (i.e. photos imported into Lightroom before the latest Process Version was added) go to the Calibration panel and update the Process. This ensures all of Lightroom’s latest tools are at your disposal.

Lightroom Classic Process version

Alternatively, if the Process Version needs updating, you’ll see a lightning bolt icon under the histogram. Move the cursor over it to see the current Process Version, and click it to update to the most recent Process Version.

Lightroom Classic workflow

Step 2: Next go to the Basic panel and set the Profile. Do this now as it determines how Lightroom interprets the colors in your Raw file. There’s no point in adjusting Vibrance or Saturation in the Basic panel, for example, then changing the Profile to one with different color saturation settings.

Lightroom Classic profile

Step 3: If you’re an advanced user you might want to go the Calibration panel and adjust the shadows and primary color sliders. It’s best to adjust them now before going to the HSL / Color panel.

Lightroom Classic workflow

Step 4: If you need to (i.e. your Raw files don’t have built-in lens profiles) go to the Lens Corrections panel, enable Profile Corrections, and make sure Lightroom is using the correct profile. It’s easier to work on images with any distortion corrected. For example, it’s hard to straighten a landscape photo with a crooked horizon if the horizon is curved because of barrel distortion. You should also make sure Remove Chromatic Aberration is enabled.

Lightroom Classic workflow

Step 5: If your photo includes buildings or a similar subject and contains converging verticals or other distortions, then go to the Transform panel and correct them. This affects the crop so it’s better to get this part sorted out early so you know what you’re working with.

Lightroom Classic Transform panel

Step 6: If your photo needs cropping for any other reason, such as to straighten the horizon, go to the Crop Overlay and do it now.

Lightroom Classic crop toolt

Step 7: If your photo needs spotting, then activate the Healing tool and get it done. It’s easier to work on a spotted photo than one with lots of dust spots.

Step 8: Return to the Basic panel and adjust the White Balance, Tone and Presence sliders. The decisions you make here are the foundation underlying everything else you do in the Develop module.

Lightroom Classic workflow

Step 9: The Tone Curve panel is next. I prefer to adjust Contrast in the Basic panel and reserve the Tone Curve panel for color and tonal shifts. But if you have a Photoshop background you may prefer to use it differently. For some photos you may not need to use it at all.

Lightroom Classic workflow

Step 10: The HSL / Color panel is next (or B&W panel if you’re working in black and white). It’s useful for adjusting color values, but like the Tone Curve panel you won’t need to use it for every photo.

Lightroom Classic workflow

Step 11: The Color Grading panel is more likely to be used for black and white work, although it does have some applications for color photography. Another panel you can sometimes skip.

Lightroom Classic Color Grading panel

Step 12: The Detail panel is where you set sharpening and noise reduction. If you are happy with Lightroom’s default noise reduction and sharpening settings you won’t need to visit this panel. If you want to use the new Denoise tool, then Adobe recommends you do it before Healing or using masks. That means you should use it after step six in this workflow.

Lightroom Classic workflow

Step 13: The Effects panel lets you add a vignette to your images, or grain if you want to emulate film.

Lightroom Classic workflow

Step 14: Next come local adjustments. This is where you use masks to make local adjustments to brightness, contrast or color balance, using the Masks panel. The question of workflow is more subjective when it comes to masking. For example, if you’re developing a landscape photo you might prefer to use a Select Sky mask to darken the sky before going to the Basic Panel, as it makes a big difference to the photo’s tonal values.

Lightroom Classic workflow

Step 15: Finally, if you are using an external plugin (like Exposure X or Silver Efex Pro) or Photoshop to finish off the image this is the time to do it. Take the image as far as you can in Lightroom Classic first.

By the way, if you’re using an older version of Lightroom and want to upgrade to Lightroom Classic then read our tutorial How to Upgrade to Lightroom Classic first. You can also go directly to the Adobe Creative Photography Plan web page to sign up, but please make sure you read our tutorial first so you sign up for the right plan.

Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book Two – The Develop Module

You can learn more about the 15 step workflow in my ebook Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book Two – The Develop Module.

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Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book One The Library Module ebook

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