Adobe Lightroom 3 First Steps: Develop Module Basic Panel

by Alan Haynes / PhotoCitizen on August 4, 2011

Lightroom’s Develop Module is made up of dozens of tools and sliders. Where do you begin? The Basic panel provides enough image-processing power to fix most photos, so let’s start there.

This is part 2 of my series of articles about Lightroom’s Develop Module. For an overview of the Develop module and details on using the Crop tool, read my previous article, Adobe Lightroom 3 First Steps: Develop Module Intro and the Crop Tool. Or view the entire series here: Adobe Lightroom 3 First Steps.

The Basic Panel

At first glance, the Develop Module may seem overwhelming. There are so many available adjustments that it’s hard to know where to start.

Adobe Lightroom 3 Develop Module Basic Panel

Basic Panel

In this lesson, we’ll discuss the Basic panel. You’ll find that many images can be completely corrected using only the tools in this panel.

I suggest working on raw images in Lightroom. Raw captures give you more adjustment latitude. If you capture JPEG images, you’ll find that you cannot make full use of the entire range of the sliders because large adjustments will cause image quality to degrade.

The best way to learn to use the Basic panel is to play with the different adjustments and see what they do to your image. Don’t worry about damaging your image: you can’t do it. Every change you make in Lightroom can be undone. If you really mess things up, simply click the big Reset button in the lower right corner of the right-hand panel to remove all your changes.

Let’s jump right in and start working on an image.

Getting Started

  1. From the Library module, select an image to process by clicking on it. Then click the word Develop in Lightroom’s module picker. Or use the keyboard shortcut, “d,” to switch to the Develop module.
  2. If it’s not already open, click on the word Basic to expand the panel and see all of its controls.
  3. If you’d like, use the Crop Overlay to crop the image as explained in my previous article.
  4. Adobe Lightroom 3 Tool Bar Zoom Slider

    Zoom Slider

    To zoom in, use the Zoom slider in the Tool Bar beneath the image. If you don’t see the tool bar , press “t” on your keyboard to open it. Or use the keyboard shortcuts to zoom: hold down the CTRL key (Command on the Mac) and press the “+” key to zoom in or the “-” key to zoom out.

White Balance

Start with the WB (White Balance) section at the top of the Basic panel. The objective here is to remove any color cast from the image so that whites look white.

There are three ways to set the correct white balance:

    1. Drag the Temp and Tint sliders.
    2. Use the dropdown menu to select one of the presets. (If you’re working on a raw image,  you’ll have nine choices including Auto, Daylight, and the like. For a JPEG or TIF, you’ll have only three).
    3. Adobe Lightroom 3 Develop Module White Balance Eyedropper Tool

      Eyedropper Tool

      Use the Eyedropper tool (Adobe calls it the White Balance Selector). To use this tool, your image must contain a known neutral color such as a white t-shirt, black asphalt or a gray ship. If your image doesn’t contain a neutral color – a colorful sunset would be a good example – the eyedropper tool won’t do the job. Here’s how to use it:

      1. Click directly on the eyedropper icon to activate the tool.
      2. Click on a neutral color in your image.
      3. The color balance of the image will change immediately and the eyedropper tool will be deactivated.
      4. If the color still doesn’t look correct, try the eyedropper tool again on a different part of the image or use one of the other methods to adjust the white balance.
    4. To undo all of your white balance changes, click on the dropdown menu to the right of “WB:” and choose “As Shot.”


Use the Tone section to make basic exposure adjustments. It consists of six sliders and an Auto button.

  1. Adobe Lightroom 3 Develop Module Auto Button

    Auto Button

    I always try Lightroom’s auto-exposure button first. It works well as a starting point most of the time. To use it, simply click on Auto. If it makes the image worse, undo it by using the keyboard shortcut, CTRL+z (Command+z on the Mac).

  2. Next, move the six sliders in the Tone section to see how they affect the image. I usually begin with Exposure and use the other sliders as necessary.  Here’s a quick explanation of each slider:
    1. Exposure brightens or darkens the image up to four stops either way. It’s similar to what you could do in-camera.
    2. Recovery reduces brightness of the highlights to recover blown out highlights.
    3. Fill Light brightens shadows. It’s effect is similar to using fill flash on your camera. Overuse results in a flat looking image.
    4. Blacks makes dark areas darker. Dark grays, for example, become black as you increase this slider.
    5. Brightness works like Exposure except that it affects a smaller range of tones: the midtones.
    6. Contrast affects the dynamic range of the image. Increasing the contrast causes dark areas to become darker and bright areas to become brighter.
  3. Adobe Lightroomn 3 Develop Module Clipping Display

    Clipping Display

    Lightroom allows you to easily see areas of your image that are clipped – blown out highlights or blocked up shadows. To see these clipped areas, press the “j” key on your keyboard. Clipped highlights will be colored red and clipped shadows will be blue. With the clipping display on, drag the sliders and you’ll be able to see when you’ve gone too far with an adjustment. Press “j” again to turn off the clipping display.


The final section of the Basic panel is called Presence. Unless you’re after an overtly artistic effect, I suggest keeping adjustments in this section to a minimum: no more than about plus or minus 12.

Adobe Lightroom 3 Develop Module Presence Section


  1. Clarity adds punch to an image by increasing contrast of midtones. Increasing Clarity makes your image look sharper. Decreasing Clarity into the negative range adds an interesting glow that often works well to soften portraits.
  2. Saturation increases the richness of colors.
  3. Vibrance is a smarter version of Saturation. Colors that are already highly saturated will be less affected than those that aren’t.


The Basic panel is a small part of Lightroom’s Develop module. But you can’t expect to learn everything at once. So, for a novice Lightroom user, the Basic panel is a powerful place to start.

Watch for more articles on Lightroom here on PhotoCitizen. If you’d like to be notified of future articles, subscribe to PhotoCitizen. It’s free. Or become a fan of on Facebook.

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