My Develop Module Workflow

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So today I'm going to share with you my Develop Module workflow. This is what I have found works best for me. In an earlier post (here) I shared a general overview of my entire workflow process but this will be more specifically about the Develop Module. Lots of photographers get a little lost or overwhelmed when using the Develop Module, particularly beginners and particularly those who don't use a repetitive workflow - repetition creates habits and some habits are good! 

I find that the majority of my images are completed with as few as 6 tools/panels/steps but sometimes it takes up to 11 (and sometimes more). So listed below are the steps that I take and I pretty much always do them in this order because I like a repetitive workflow.

1. Lens Correction. This is just so simple that it doesn't make sense not to do it. In the Lens correction panel you can quickly remove Chromatic Aberration - the color fringes that can appear in high contrast areas of an image - that we have discussed here and also have Lightroom make some automatic adjustments for the particular lens that was used to create the image. These adjustments will potentially correct some exposure issues along with lens distortion - i.e. barreling - issues. 

2. Clone & Heal. Learning how to use the Clone and Heal Tool is absolutely essential to using Lightroom well and we covered this in a Video Tutorial that you can watch here. The importance is hopefully fairly obvious, we don't want unwanted spots and artifacts in our images - so we use the clone or heal tool to remove those. But maybe you're wondering why I do this so early on in the process - many photographers will do this later but I'll tell you why I don't. It's simply because of step 3, which - spoiler alert - is Cropping and Rotating. If I cropped my image before cloning/healing there may be areas of the image that still have artifacts or spots in it - everything outside the crop rectangle. But who cares, you won't be using that area anyway, you cropped it?? Well my friends, I'm a wishy washy kind of guy and there's a decent chance that I will change my mind later about the crop or aspect ratio of the image. If I do change my mind I don't want to go back and clone/heal again in the areas that were previously outside that crop area - the more I have to go back the more time I'm wasting and the more likely I am to forget! So do this step second - you'll be glad you did.

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3. Crop & Rotate. Cropping your image is an often overlooked area of designing your image or giving it the feel you're looking for. The non-destructive nature of Lightroom is absolutely key when it comes to cropping. You can crop your image over and over and over again and always end up back at the original aspect if you like. I recommend trying a few different crop ratios on every image just to give you a different perspective on the photograph. It might inspire you to not only look at the current image differently but look at future compositions differently.

4. Basic Panel. And now we move on to the Basic Panel, where a lot of the overwhelming begins. The Basic Panel is really anything but basic. You can do A LOT in the Basic Panel and sometimes all those options and sliders can start to seem like too much. I won't get into how I use the Basic Panel because I feel it's more beneficial if I give you some advice. If you're just beginning in Lightroom Classic ignore most of the sliders. If you're feeling overwhelmed with Lightroom, I want you to completely bypass the White Balance area of the Basic Panel and I want you to completely disregard the Presence portion of the panel - you'll come back to those later when you are more comfortable with the rest of the Develop Module. So that's going to leave you with the Tone section of the Basic Panel. In that section I want you to focus mainly on the Exposure, Contrast, Highlights and Shadows sliders. This is where the majority of your tone work will come from in this panel - leave the White and Black sliders for later. So now you can see how we've taken the Basic Panel and sliced it half - not so overwhelming now!

5. Adjustment Tools. After I do my global tonal adjustments in the Basic Panel I will then reanalyze my image and see where I want to make more localized changes. Of course those changes are going to be easiest with one of the Adjustment Tools in the Develop Module. We talked about the Graduated Filter in a tutorial here, the Radial Filter here and the Brush Tool here. Since we have discussed those at length in those Tutorials, I won't get into them here. But I will say that it is beneficial to think of them in sizes - if a large area needs adjusting go to the Graduated Filter, medium/small area - go to the Radial Filter, smaller yet or not well defined area - go to the Brush Tool. 

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6. Sharpening (Detail Panel). Potentially the final step in my workflow is Sharpening. And Sharpening should be done in the Detail Panel. You can add sharpening with the Adjustment Tools mentioned above but you should always do your global sharpening via the Detail Panel. I don't generally use the adjustment tools for sharpening - unless I'm going for a specific look - as this can add too much sharpening when you also sharpen with the detail panel. Too much sharpening can cause an image to look fake or garish and that's not a look I'm going for. Without getting too deep into sharpening, a good place to start is with a sharpen value of 75 and a radius of .5 - .8 pixels. This usually gives you a good and natural amount of sharpening.

7. Tone Curve. In my (sometimes) last step I will use the Tone Curve to add an "S" curve and give just a bit of extra contrast to the image. You can view the Video Tutorial on the Tone Curve here.

Now you can stop there and consider your image pretty well "final". But I'll list a couple more steps that I will occasionally take to further improve an image. If you're just starting with the Develop Module I would suggest reading the below steps but seriously consider putting them away for a rainy day after you've become more proficient with the Develop Module.

*8. Basic (again). After all of the above adjustments are done there may be occasions where more processing is beneficial. One of those areas is the Presence portion of the Basic Panel. Here you can adjust Clarity (think of this as texture or detail sharpening), Vibrance (think of this as detail or lite saturation) and Saturation. Sometimes you may find that "bumping" one of these sliders a little bit can help an image.

*9. HSL (Hue/Saturation/Luminance). I will sometimes use the HSL Panel to effect individual colors in an image - bringing some up in saturation or luminance and bringing some down. There is no magic formula when using this panel, it's a lot of trial and error.

*10. Transform. Sometimes an image can look skewed or crooked or maybe sometimes look tilted in a certain direction. This can be corrected in the Transform panel but be careful, small adjustments can go a LONG way. I suggest if you're using this panel to make sure you have the "Constrain Crop" box checked so you don't end up with white edges or corners.

*11. Vignette (Effects Panel). In the effects Panel you can add Grain - which I never have, Dehaze - which I never use outside of the Adjustment Tools and Vignette - which can actually add a nice effect. You can add a light or dark Vignette via the effects panel (I usually go dark) and you can control the feather and size of that Vignette as well. However, since the introduction of the Radial Filter in Lightroom 5, I usually use that in place of the Vignette.


And there ya have it! That's my Develop Module workflow. I really hope you all find this helpful and feel free to leave any comments below or post questions to the Facebook Page. Now, just to do a quick review/rundown here is the list without the descriptions/explanations.

  1. Lens Correction
  2. Clone & Heal
  3. Crop & Rotate
  4. Basic Panel
  5. Adjustment Tools
  6. Sharpening 
  7. Tone Curve
  8. Basic (again) *
  9. HSL *
  10. Transform *
  11. Vignette *

    (* = not recommended until comfortable with previous steps in the Develop Module)