New Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow

As most of you know, Adobe recently released Lightroom 3. There are tons of blog posts, training videos and forum discussions on the Internet about the new features of Lightroom 3 so I won’t belabor the points here. What you may not know is that this new version is a major upgrade from Lightroom 2 and because of that, your Raw workflow may need to change. Mine certainly did.

Take this image for example, shot last week from the rim of Palo Duro Canyon near Wayside, Texas. The exposure is fairly well balanced but like most Raw files, it lacks contrast. In Lightroom 2, I would have worked my way down the various settings in the Develop module in the order that they were presented but my Lightroom 3 workflow has changed considerably.

Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow - As Shot

I begin my Raw workflow by changing the Camera Calibration setting to one of the default values for a Canon 5D Mark II, usually Camera Standard. This tends to darken the image somewhat and adds some much needed contrast.

Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow - Camera Calibration

Next I use the new Lens Corrections settings and check the Enable Profile Corrections box which fixes any barrel or pincushion distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting problems inherent in my Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. This is similar to what the well respected PTLens plugin from Tom Niemann does in Photoshop, although the effect in LR3 is more subtle.

Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow - Lens Corrections

Next I generally adjust the Tone Curve by setting the Point Curve to Strong Contrast which also adds contrast to the entire image. This also helps to broaden the tonal gradations in the image making the highlights brighter and the shadows darker. Make sure you check the histogram when making this change to avoid clipping in the highlights or shadows.

Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow - Tone Curve

My next step is to adjust the Basic settings such as White Balance (usually set for Daylight depending upon the image), Clarity (which adds some wonderful mid-tone contrast) and Vibrance.

I find that the “Daylight” setting on my Canon 5D Mark II uses a white balance that is several hundred degrees too cool (4850K versus 5500K) by default for Texas. I generally adjust the white balance to somewhere between 5200K and 5500K in Lightroom to make the images match what I remember seeing. I’ve verified this in the field using a WhiBal gray card so I’m fairly confident that this is correct.

At this point in my Raw workflow, I’ll also adjust the Exposure, Recovery, Brightness and Contrast settings until I find the right exposure balance (lights and darks) and tone (color gradations) to fit the story I’m trying to tell with this image. I may spend as little as ten minutes on this or as much as several hours trying different settings until I achieve the look and feel I want.

Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow - Basic Settings

My final “tweaks” to the image are done by adjusting the Hue, Saturation & Luminance settings. This is where the fine tuning is done to create drama in my images. I’ll generally change the Luminance values for several colors as shown in the screenshot below.

Small, incremental changes go a long way here, so I’m careful not to push things too far and end up with an image that looks unrealistic. I have enough trouble with folks that don’t live in Texas believing that our skies are actually this blue and our clouds this white.

Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow - Luminance

The next step is purely optional but I will occasionally use the Graduated Filter or the Adjustment Brush to add drama to a shot. Like every other setting in the Develop module, small changes go along way here.

Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow - Local Adjustments

My final steps are done in the Detail pane where I’ll usually make some Sharpening and Noise Reduction changes before exporting the image for printing or the web.

These settings have changed considerably in Lightroom 3 so use caution when applying the same values you used in LR2. The Noise Reduction capabilities in Lightroom 3 have improved dramatically but by default no Luminance noise reduction is added to Raw images, so you’ll need to add at least a little for every landscape image. I generally add 10% – 15% to every landscape image that contains blue sky and white clouds. Even this small amount of noise reduction smooths out the pixelation found in the bright, high-contrast areas and makes the image look much more realistic.

Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow - Sharpening & Noise Reduction

Click on the image below for a larger version. The final results from Lightroom 3 are far superior to what I could achieve in LR2 and my round-trips to Photoshop are now a thing of the past for most landscape and nature images.

The features added to Lightroom 3 are substantial and I really feel sorry for those plug-in vendors like Nik Software, Noise Ninja and Alien Skin. The folks at Adobe have once again raised the usability bar in processing Raw images for photographers.

Palo Duro Canyon Evening

Palo Duro Canyon Evening – Wayside, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on Aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 28mm, f/16 for 1/8th of a second at ISO 100 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3. Click on the image above for a larger version.

20 thoughts on “New Lightroom 3 Raw Workflow

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this. I use a Canon 5d Mark II and upload to Lightroom so it was interesting to see how someone else with this camera processes through Lightroom.

    I am relatively new to Lightroom and have only just started applying the lens correction but this makes such a big difference. I have also started setting to a strong contrast tone curve. Is something you should do to almost all images do you think. I have noticed with the other settings that the photos are very flat.

    Also do you upload your photographs with the Lightroom importer or with the software provided by Canon. I have tried both but not sure which is the better way.

    Thanks again. Would love to hear more of your Lightroom processing.

  2. Just a beginner. Have Photoshop 2 going to upgrade. However, have looked at Lightroom 3. Should I upgrade to PS 5 plus LR3. Not sure how the two are used in tandem or in lieu of one another. Please remember I am a newby…..

  3. Greetings from Australia. Thanks for this information Jeff.I am new to LR3 & shooting in RAW and this has given a great start to developing my own workflow

  4. I’m new to LR and I find your post very informative.
    Thanks very much.

    I have tons of wedding photos to edit and this would really help!


  5. Do you still use Nik plugins with LR3? I’m interested in hearing how you cope with the jump in storage requirements. Each 16 bit TIFF file is up to 120MB in size and that fills up my hard drive very quickly. PAR files might be smaller but Nik lightroom plugins don’t appear to support it.

    • Phil,

      Thanks for reading. Yes, I do still use the Nik Software plug-ins for LR3 but I export as a .PSD and it compresses the files to smaller sizes than the TIFF images.


  6. I found your Lightroom 3 Raw workflow recently and I want to thank you for sharing. I am a new user of Lightroom 3 struggling to figure out a workflow. Your suggestions are making my post processing much easier. I am amazed at what a powerful program it is!

    • Sharron,

      Thanks for reading and you are very welcome. I’m always here to help so don’t be a stranger. We have a nice little community of avid photographers here that love to share their creativity with others.


  7. But I echo your remarks about never upgrading Photoshop again. Previously I worked exclusively in Camera Raw. Tired up being on the Photoshop Adobe upgrade treadmill I migrated to LR3. I was sick of upgrading PS at a cost that amounts to 33% of the original cost of the program (and only for an incremental improvement). Over time the decreased LR upgrade will save me money. The LR 3 upgrades are significant and it almost ‘feels’ like having a new camera.

  8. I have to agree with Frederik above. If you KNOW that the white balance needs to be adjusted and the Camera Calibration setting changed to Camera Standard on most of ypur shots then it makes sense to at least have THOSE two parameters saved as part of a import preset. This would save a lot of time by cutting those 2 repetitive steps out of the procesing of each file.

  9. Hi Jeff,
    thank you for the post!
    Made me think about my Workeflow two.

    Maybe I have a hint for you. 😉
    If you always do these steps for your landscape images, why not create a preset called “landscape” where you record the standard procedures and apply the preset while you import?
    Later you only have to check if the Image looks the way you want.

    regards Frederik

    • Frederik,

      Thanks for reading. I do apply some Meta and Keywords presets during import but prefer to cull through my Raw files before doing any development work. I do have a preset that applies a few settings but generally I prefer to develop each “keeper” one by one.


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