Adobe Lightroom 4 Tutorial

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The HSL Panel in Lightroom 4

The Hue Saturation and Luminance (HSL) panel gives you the ability to fine tune specific color regions within your photo and is a powerful way to correct certain colors without shifting the balance of all the colors.


This tab allows you to shift one color in the photo towards its neighbor on either side of the color spectrum. For food photography the two things I adjust the most with hue controls are parsley and tomatoes.

Parsley can end up looking a little yellow after processing your photo. The way to fix this is to make the image more blue. The problem is if you do this with the white balance sliders, it will make the rest of your image look too cold. By adjusting just the green slider towards blue, you can shift the color of just the parsley(assuming you don’t have anything else green in the photo). Likewise, tomato sauces often end up looking a little orange. By shifting the orange hue towards red, you can make the tomatoes look more red. As with many of the controls though, being subtle is important, otherwise you’ll end up with glow in the dark parsley, or radioactive tomatoes.

Lightroom 4 Tutorial - HSL Hue

In this example, you can see that the parsley looks yellow and that the sauce has a yellow tinge making it look orange. Since the overall white balance is correct, we want to shift just the green and orange hues as shown below. Notice the difference in the color of the sauce and parsley in the photo below vs the photo above.

Lightroom 4 Tutorial - HSL Hue Changed

If you’ve been paying attention you might also notice that the histogram peaks to the right rather than in the middle. This is because this image has a lot of light areas (white plate, light pasta and white background). If we were to rely solely on the histogram to make adjustments, we’d end up with an image that would look way too dark.


This tab allows you to adjust the saturation of individual colors. For food photography, the only time I use these saturation controls is when I’m shooting with daylight, and an increase in overall saturation has caused blue reflections to appear on cutlery and plates. By decreasing the saturation of the blue channel, you can shift these areas of the image back to a more natural level of saturation.

Lightroom 4 Tutorial - HSL Saturation

In this example, you an see that the plate and highlights in the sauce look bluish purple. By decreasing the saturation of the blue and purple channels, we’re able to return these highlights to a more neutral color. One thing to be careful with here is that if you desaturate a color too much, that area of the image will become black and white, making it look very unnatural. Compare the photo above to the one below to see how desaturating the blue and purple channels effected the color of of the plate and sauce.

Lightroom 4 Tutorial - HSL Saturation Reduced

This example also illustrates how the histogram peaks to the left because there are more dark areas in the photo than light areas.


The Luminance tab allows you to adjust the brightness of individual colors in your photo. I don’t really use this tab much in food photography, however it’s an indispensable tool for landscapes. With landscape photography, properly exposing the land, often leads to the sky being overexposed. While professional photographers usually carry a graduated neutral density filter to combat this problem, there are times when it’s just not practical to screw on a filter while you’re out shooting. By decreasing the luminance of the blue (and sometimes aqua) channel, you can fix an overexposed sky after processing the land below it to look right.

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Crop in Lightroom 4

While it’s best to capture a photo that’s perfectly framed, most cameras today don’t have viewfinders with 100% coverage, so what you see in the viewfinder doesn’t exactly match the photo that’s taken. Also if you’re anything like me, you might have a tendency to hold your camera a little crooked causing your photos to look askew. This is where the crop tool comes to the rescue.

Lightroom Tutorial Crop

To crop your image, just select the crop tool (on the left, below the histogram). You’ll see some crop options show up down below, and a grid dividing your photo up into thirds with control points at the edges. To crop the image just grab one of the corner control points by clicking and holding your mouse button, and dragging the corner around. Holding down the shift key while clicking and dragging allows you to keep the original aspect ratio of the image. Once you’re happy with the crop, just hit the return key to crop the image.

Lightroom Tutorial Rotate

By moving the mouse into the grey area outside the photo, you’ll see that the cursor turns into a curve with arrows at both ends. This will allow you to rotate your crop so you can straighten out a crooked image, or give your shot an artistic look. Once you’re done rotating the crop, just hit the return key to crop the image.

Removing Crumbs in Lightroom 4

By now you should have a gorgeous photo that’s properly exposed, with great contrast and rich colors. But there’s just one problem. When you took the photos you failed to notice something in the frame, which wasn’t supposed to be there. Maybe it’s an errant crumb on the plate, or a book you forgot to remove in the background. Whatever the cause, it’s there, staring right back at you, like a giant zit on the tip of your nose. While you could export the photo at this point and deal with it in Photoshop, minor blemishes can easily be cleaned up in Lightroom using the Spot Removal tool.

Lightroom Spot Removal Tool Tutorial

Once you’ve selected the spot removal tool (second from the left under the histogram), make sure the heal brush is selected, and then click and hold on the center of the blemish. Now drag your mouse to an area with similar color, tone and texture in your photo (usually right next to the blemish). When you release the mouse button, you’ll see two circles appear. The first is around your blemish, and a second where you want Lightroom to take a sample from. If the circle covering the blemish is too big or two small, you can resize it by mousing over the edge of the circle and clicking then dragging to make it bigger or smaller. If the repair doesn’t look right, try moving the sample circle around to a different location by clicking and dragging the center of the circle.

Sync your Photos in Lightroom 4

If all this seems like a lot of work to go through for each photo, this is where it gets much faster. Lightroom allows you to synchronize all the changes you made to one photo across a whole set of photos. Assuming they were all taken with similar lighting conditions and camera settings, you just hold down the Command key and click on the other photos you want to apply the develop settings to. You’ll see the photo you just edited highlighted in a light shade of grey and the rest of the photos highlighted in a slightly darker grey.

Adobe Lightroom Sync Settings

Now just click the “Sync…” button at the bottom left of the develop panel and a dialog box should pop up asking you which develop settings you want to sync. Check all the settings you want to sync (I usually sync everything except Crop and Spot Removal) and click Synchronize.

Now all you have to do is go back and adjust the cropping and remove blemishes from photos that need it.

continue to Lightroom Tutorial Part 4 →

  • Lizzie Mabbott

    Brilliant! I always used light room to ‘auto white balance’, ‘auto tone’, crop and then export but this has really enlightened me. Thanks!

  • joannova

    Hi Marc, Thanks – this is a fine and thoughtful piece of work. Your explanations and terminology were so easy to follow. I hope you’ll do more of these.

  • Urban Swank

    This is great information! Thanks for taking my dark food photos to the next level!

  • Marie Asselin

    I’m a graphic designer so I know Photoshop very well. It’s confortable for me to use it to edit my pictures, but I’ve known for long that Lightroom is better for handling pictures, both for results and productivity sakes. I’ve been wanting to jump to Lightroom for almost two years, but I’ve always too busy, or lazy to do so! Reading your tutorial, I feel like I just have to, now! Thanks for sharing these very valuable tips.

  • Oui, Chef

    Even though I’m an Aperture user, most of these controls are the same so I will find this tutorial very helpful as I try to bring my blog shots to the next level. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom on the subject. – S

  • Christina Johnson

    I adore Lightroom. I have been using Photoshop for years but it wasn’t until I started using Lightroom that it became reasonable to start actually doing mild editing all of the photos I take so I can really choose the best.

  • Coco

    This is great! I loved your presentation at FoodBuzz last year — it’s great to have a refresher! Will you be coming to SF this weekend?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      I’ve been meaning to write this since my presentation last year. Better late than never right:-) I won’t be at Foodbuzz fest this year unfortunately.

      • Coco

        Yes, definitely better late than never! Sorry we missed you at FoodBuzz this year — it was a good time. Lots of new faces. Hope to meet up again sometime when you’re in SF!

  • Darren Tran

    awesome… thanks!

  • Nb

    Great work!! I know so much about LR now

  • Susan P.

    Thank you so much! I really never understood how to work the histogram, and now I do! Going to try this out with the next batch of photos I have to edit.

  • David

    Great tutorial, great pictures! Thanks for sharing.

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  • Christoph

    Wow, great tutorial! I’ve never shot food, but you nicely described which slider in Lightroom does what in a general sense so that I can apply it to my landscape photos. Thank you a lot for giving this well-written introduction!

  • Dyane

    This is great – now I just need to get my hands on this stuff! My mom is a great photographer but we live 1,000 miles apart.

    My blog is

  • Dima Al Sharif

    Thank you for this tutorial, very useful with lots of insight. I am no photographer, and currently working on improving my photography for my blog, this is exactly what I need :)

  • the wicked noodle

    I’m only through Tutorial Part 1 but I’m already so jazzed that I found this post. Thanks so much for this, Marc! I’ve been an Elements user for some time but won Lightroom about six months ago (and am recently a new Mac user) and I’ve been putting off learning it. I started watching the videos but who has the time? I really wanted something from a food blogger’s perspective and I happened to come upon this post on a fluke. Happy dance!

    • the wicked noodle

      Hi Marc,
      I’m wondering if you sharpen your photos in Lightroom? I’ve always been under the impression that this is a must for photos taken with a DSLR. Can you provide any guidance for that in relation to Lightroom?



      • Marc Matsumoto

        Good question. Sharper isn’t always better as it reveals grain and compression artifacts. It can also make highlights on liquids look harsh. Personally I don’t mind food photos being a little soft. But when used in moderation it can also reveal detail in the texture of your food as well. When printing I usually apply some sharpening, but for web purposes (72 DPI) I personally don’t think it’s necessary.

      • Marc Matsumoto

        Also, your lens and camera setup will effect your need to sharpen or not. Cheaper lenses tend to be softer, especially around the edges, so sharpening in software can become necessary.

        • the wicked noodle

          Thanks Marc, good to know! I recently upgraded to the Canon 7d as well as the 24-105 lens – it would be really nice not to have to be so concerned with sharpening. I noticed yesterday that Lightroom offers the option to “sharpen for the web” when saving photos so I may try that in place of doing anything manually. In any case, I appreciate your response and feedback. Cheers!

      • Mike Sweeney

        When I switched from my crop sensor D300 which is not a slug by any stretch to my D700, my need for sharpening went WAY down. I used to use between 40-65 on sharpening with the D300. The 20s is typical now on the D700.. sometimes more but not often. This assumes web prints. If I’m printing to paper, then they get sharpened much more than you might think as paper tends to smear the image a bit.

  • Mike Sweeney

    Really nice tutorial and the clear screen shots really makes it. Thanks for sharing

  • Christabel

    Thank you for this helpful tutorial…I have just started a food blog, and I am looking to improve the quality of my pictures w/post-processing. This is a comprehensive tutorial with pictures that helps me visually understand the purpose of white balance, hue, saturation etc.

  • Mara @ What’s for Dinner?

    This has been beyond helpful! I’ve wondered about the nuances in Lightroom 4 and you made it easy to understand. Thank you!!!

  • FashionEdible

    This is an amazing article! Not only is it good for food bloggers, but I think any blogger can really benefit from it. Thanks so much!

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  • KB

    This has been extremely helpful. Thank you.

  • Wendell Principe

    hi, i followed your folder structure, just want to check how your file naming convention? thanks.

    • Marc Matsumoto

      I just leave the file names as they came off the camera sine the folder structure relays enough data for me, but you could certainly name the files as well.

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  • Ingrid

    Thank you!

  • Atiqur Sumon

    This is very helpful article i think any graphic designer an really benefit from it. Thanks so much!

  • M R Karim

    All tutorial are very professional i enjoy it and i would be apply this method my professional work. Hopefully we get more tutorial next time.

  • Chuewee

    That helpful for me, great job


I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!

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