Before and after edited photos – 7 basic Lightroom edits that pack a punch


Often beginner photographers either edit the living daylights out of a photo or they don’t edit it at all. We’ve all been there – it’s part of the learning process, but both of these approaches to editing can ruin an image. I’ll show you, with 4 examples of before and after edited photos, how using a few simple editing techniques can elevate an image.

But before we get into the details of the before and after Lightroom edits, we need to clear up a common misconception…

Just like with film, all digital photos require some level of editing.

If you photograph in JPEG format (in other words you don’t photograph in RAW format) and see no reason to edit photos, you need to know that your camera is doing your editing for you.

So your photos are actually edited. It’s part of the digital process.

Lightroom photo edits before and after settings

Cameras automatically add contrast, sharpening etc to JPEG format images.

While we’re on the subject of JPEGs, you should also know that the image you see in your camera’s LCD is actually a JPEG representation of the image. This is one of the reasons, if you photograph in RAW, your images often look different when you download them to your computer.

The other reason is covered below in the before and after edited photos.

Before and after examples of 7 simple Lightroom edits

I’ve used 4 before and after edited photos to demonstrate the following basic Lightroom edits:

  • Cropping and straightening
  • White balance
  • Spot removal
  • Masking (brush)
  • Color profile
  • Tone curve
  • Post-crop vignetting

With just these basic edits you can make a big difference to the impact of your photos. Let’s get started!

Photo edits before and after – example No. 1

In this first example of before and after editing in Lightroom the biggest changes were made with:

  • Cropping and straightening
  • White balance

before and after Lightroom edits of white balance and cropping

Cropping in Lightroom

The Lightroom cropping tool isn’t just for cropping. It’s my favorite way to straighten an image and I say favorite, because there are actually quite a few ways to do this.

But the cropping tool is the fastest way to do it, especially if you use the Lightroom shortcut key (which is R on the keyboard).

screenshot of Lightroom cropping tool

White balance adjustment in Lightroom

White balance is a hugely important edit, because it can dramatically affect the mood of an image. If you have an image of a lovely summer day and the color is a bit on the cool side, it won’t feel as warm and relaxing. Just like an image taken on an icy winter day with a warm cast to it doesn’t feel as cold and chilly as if the white balance was more to the blue side.

I felt the image was a little too warm and a touch green, so adjusted both the temp and tint sliders slightly.

Further reading: What is white balance in photography and does it matter?

before and after white balance edits from as shot to custom settings in Lightroom

The “As Shot” white balance is from the before photo and the custom white balance is from the after photo.

Before and after edited photos – example No. 2

The only edits I’ve made to the next before and after example are:

  • Spot removal
  • Lightroom color profile
  • Cropping and straightening
  • Tone curve (more on this in the next example)

Lightroom color profile

Remember at the start I mentioned that if you photograph in RAW your images can look different when you download them to the computer? If you use Lightroom, then color profiles are a big reason for this.

You can set color profiles on both your camera and in Lightroom. The color setting I use on my camera is neutral. This gives me a very flat image, as you can see in the before image on the left.

Lightroom automatically changes the color profile to Adobe Color on import, because this is how I’ve set up my import process. Adobe Standard used to be the default, but Adobe Color is now the default color profile.

Before and after edited photos example in Lightroom

Colors and contrast in the before image on the left appear very flat in comparison to the after photo on the right. Below you’ll see the color profiles for the before and after edited photos.

color profile options in Lightroom

You don’t have to stick with the color profile that was applied on import. Lightroom provides a huge range of color profiles for you to choose from.

color profile options for Lightroom editing

These are just 7 color profiles from a list of 47, which includes 17 different color profiles for black and white images.

It’s quite impressive how much you can alter an image with just one click!

Further reading: In camera color settings and Lightroom color profiles

Spot removal

I mainly used the spot removal tool in this photo was to tidy up the woodwork of the background – there was a distracting gash and a few stains. I also cleaned up the paintwork on the column behind the model.

Did you notice them?

Lightroom editing before and after – example No. 3

Lightroom before and after edited photos of model against brick wall

On the left is the before photo and on the right is the photo after editing. I made the following Lightroom edits:

  • Lightroom color profiles
  • Spot removal
  • Cropping
  • Tone curve
  • Post-crop vignetting

Color profile

Even though we’ve just covered this, I thought I’d include a before and after of the color profiles for this photo as the difference is really obvious.

Lightroom color profiles before and after edited photos

Spot removal and cropping

And now for a bit more “spot the difference”!

Spot removal cement on wall before and after edited photos

There was a blob of white on one of the bricks that really distracted me, so I used the spot removal tool to get rid of it. Did you notice it?

Further reading: Use the Lightroom spot removal tool for much more than spot removal

Cropping

I also cropped the image slightly to make the model more prominent in the photo as it’s a very busy background.

Tone curve

Rather than using the contrast slider, I prefer to use the tone curve tool to add a pop of contrast. It’s a very slight adjustment, as you can see in the screenshot of the slider below, but it makes a big difference.

First I added three points on the tone curve at regular intervals (between shadows and darks, darks and lights, lights and highlights). I then:

  • Pulled down the point between shadows and darks (the second point from the left) to increase contrast by darkening the shadows
  • Slightly raised the point in the middle to lighten the midtones ever so slightly
  • Pulled the next point (second from the right) down fractionally to tame the highlights

Further reading: Master the Lightroom tone curve for much better photos

Before and after edited photos showing tone curve and vignette edits

Post-crop vignetting

The final touch was adding a very slight post-crop vignette to the photo.

I do this a lot, but always keep it very slight. While I always advise not being heavy handed with editing, photography style is all about personal choice, so do what you think looks good.

The effect of darkening the edges of the image slightly helps direct the eye to the model, the lightest part of the image.

Before and after Lightroom edits – example No. 4

I did a lot more editing on this image. Before scrolling down, can you guess the edits I made in the before and after edited photos?

before and after edited photos in Lightroom

Here are the five differences:

  • Spot removal
  • Masking (brush)
  • Tone curve
  • HSL (saturation) slider
  • Post-crop vignetting

Spot removal

Even though it was late in the day it was still very hot and sunny day and the model’s skin photographed quite shiny. So I used the spot removal tool to reduce the spectral highlight on her forehead created by flash and the sun and also removed a couple of minor blemishes.

model portrait showing Lightroom edits

The Lightroom spot removal tool is also fantastic at ironing out wrinkles on clothes!

Making brush

before and after edited photos using spot removal

I used the brush masking tool to lighten a few small shadows on her face to create a more even complexion. I also finished off the digital ironing on her dress by lightening the shadows caused by wrinkles.

Tone curve and HSL panel

Next I added some contrast using the tone curve. You’ll notice that this tone curve is slightly different from the before and after edited example above.

Every shoot is different, because of colors, light, time of day and (if outside) weather. This is exactly why you can’t just slap on a Lightroom preset and hope for the best.

before and after edits of tone curve and saturation slider

After I adjusted the tone curve I felt the added contrast made her skin appear orange, so I adjusted the saturation in the HSL panel by selecting the targeted adjustment tool (top left next to “saturation”) then positioning my cursor over her skin and clicking and dragging downwards.

This adjusted both the red and orange sliders simultaneously and is my preferred way of toning down skin.

I also desaturated the greens using the slider. Very often green vegetation can be a bit demanding in the background of images, so most times I desaturate the greens slightly.

Post-crop vignette

To finish off I added an even slighter post-crop vignette than the previous example photo.

portrait with added vignette in Lightroom using the slider

Did you spot all the before and after edits in this photo?

Leave a comment

If you have any questions about before and after Lightroom edits, let us know in the comments.

Also, we love good news, so if our Lightroom editing tips have helped you to get more comfortable with photo editing, share that too.

Jane Allan

Jane is the founder of The Lens Lounge and a professional portrait photographer living on the “sunny” south coast of England. Obsessed with light and composition. Will put her camera down to go landsailing.

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