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Getting started with Lightroom CC Basics

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For years, there was just one Lightroom. You could also use Photoshop to edit and Bridge to organize but Lightroom was a pretty distinct product. Then Adobe renamed Lightroom to Lightroom Classic and launched a new product that they called Lightroom CC. To make it all just a little bit extra confusing, Lightroom was called Lightroom CC (for Creative Cloud) but no one bothered with the CC portion since there really was no need to distinguish it from anything else. These days if you google Lightroom CC tutorials you’ll occasionally end up on a tutorial that’s really for what’s now known as Lightroom Classic. This introduction is for the cloud based version of Lightroom currently known as Lightroom CC. 

I started off using Lightroom Classic and have a tutorial for that version of Lightroom if that’s what you’re on the hunt for. At first, I tested out Lightroom CC but decided to stick with Classic. Initially, it felt like a very basic photo editing program that wasn’t intended for professional use. Since its launch in 2018, it has significantly improved and while I still have a wish list of features I find it to be beefy enough to use on projects without scrimping on quality. 

So I’m going to go panel by panel for how to get started with all the editing basics in Lightroom CC, highlighting some of the differences from classic and going over a few examples for how to use each editing tool. One quick thing, if you’re just starting out with photo editing in Lightroom, I would suggesting starting with Classic. In CC you can’t toggle the changes on and off like you can with Lightroom Classic on each panel. It’s much easier to see how each change you make impacts the overall image in Classic. If you’re pretty comfortable with editing and want the cloud features of CC this will be ideal for you. 

Edit Panels 

Quick note: you can toggle "single panel mode on and off. If this is on, it’ll close all but the panel you’re using at that moment. Sometimes I forget that this is an option and accidentally turn it on and then get frustrated that I can’t see all the panels that I’m using at once. 


All of your exposure controls are under the light panel so Exposure, Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks, plus Contrast. Also, not intuitively at all, Tone Curves are in the light panel as a sub-panel. 

I’ll be working on another post soon about using Lightroom CC across devices. One of my absolute favorite things about CC is the ability to quickly jump between devices. There are small but substantial differences in the CC user experience across devices and I almost always save all of my curve edits for the iPad.

Tips + tricks

Shift + double click on an option in order to get the auto option. I don’t know why you’d want this but hey. 
Option + slide whites all the way to the right to set the lightest point in the photo to pure white. 
Option + slide blacks all the way to the left to set the darkest point in the photo to pure black. 
Option + hit the panel title (it should say reset Light) to reset. 


Below is an example of how it looks when you hit shift and then drag the exposure till the lightest portion of the image hits pure white. This isn’t something I tend to do often when I’m photo editing but I feel like it’s always good to know about how to do these sorts of things.

Light Panel in Lightroom CC

If I’m just making a small tweak to the tone curve then I do it on the desktop. Also, one nice things about tone curves in Lightroom CC on the desktop version is that you can do target adjustments. Just hit the circle on the right hand side of the tone curve options and then as you would if an eyedropper tool you select the part of the image you want to adjust.

Tone Curve Panel in Lightroom CC

Sample Images

Lightroom CC
Lightroom CC


Under the color panel, you’ve got your White Balance, Tint, Vibrance and Saturation. These all seem to work the same way that they do in Classic. Saturation applies equally to all colors in an image. If you drag saturation all the way down your image will turn black and white. Vibrance on the other hand targets prevalent colors in the image and if you drag it all the way down your image won’t quite be black and white.  Additionally, the HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) panel is a sub-panel under the colors panel.

Tips + Tricks 

Shift + double click for Vibrance and Saturation to get the auto option. There’s no such option for white balance. 
There’s a menu next to White Balance that automatically changes each the image to specific light settings such as daylight and flash.
There’s a target adjustment option for the HSL panel and it’s incredibly helpful and you can jump right into tone curve adjustments through it as well.


Whenever I’m shooting, I tend set my white balance to auto because Lightroom CC makes it so easy to adjust each image to daylight, shade, tungsten, etc. so easily after the fact. In the below image, I shot it with white balance set to auto on the camera and adjusted to shade afterwards.

White Balance

The white balance eye dropper tool works the same as it always has. You select it and find a white spot to auto set the white balance.

White Balance Dropper Tool

To edit a single color specifically, you use the HSL panel. It’s hidden a bit under Color. For the photo below, I had an image where there was window light poorly mixing with the fluorescent light of the room, particularly on the table cloth. Adjusting the overall white balance of the image wouldn’t work since part of the image was correctly colored. Since there wasn’t any blue in the image that was an important component of the overall image, I just desaturated blue from the overall image to remove it from the table cloth.

HSL panel in Lightroom

Sample Images

White Balance in Lightroom CC
White balance in Lightroom CC
White balance in Lightroom CC


Texture (EDIT, this is a new addition), Clarity, Dehaze, Vignette and Grain all live under the Effects panel. These particularly tools have moved around a bit in Lightroom. Clarity used to live next to Vibrance in Lightroom Classic but it has all moved around under a section that’s now called “Presence”. I suspect that there’s a whole team of people at Adobe that think about these things and in some ways these moves all make sense but as a user of these programs sometimes I get a little annoyed with keeping up with all the changes. When I’m rushing through edits, I sometimes forget that Clarity is no longer in what would have once been called the basics panel. 

Also, Split Toning is located in the Effects panel. One interesting thing about split toning is that you can toggle it on and off. 

Tips + Tricks

Not exactly a tip but note that vignette and grain both have additional settings that you can toggle into by pressing the triangle button on the right side.
The easiest way to adjust split toning is to click into the Hue and Sat number area and type in the exact amount of each color you want.


For some reason, I personally tend to only add grain to black and white photos. In Lightroom CC, you’ll find all the additional grain controls by pressing the triangle at the right edge of the grain tool. Changing size and roughness of grain makes a considerable difference in the overall quality of how your added grain will look so it’s good to know where that is.

Adding Grain in Lightroom CC

I alway enjoy split toning sunny beach shots. Anyway, when Lightroom CC launched one of the things I complained about was that there was no split toning but they eventually added it in and it’s improved a bunch. It’s somewhat difficult to get the colors on point with mouse control so I often get my highlights and shadows close to where I want them and then type in the exact hue and saturation I want by clicking into the option, example below.

How to split tone in Lightroom CC

Sample Images

Example of using the effects panel in Lightroom CC
How to split tone in Lightroom CC


Sharpening, Noise Reduction and Color Noise Reduction all live here. I almost never touch this panel so I have very little to say about it. One note, I have is that in Classic all of the sub controls for sharpening, noise reduction and color noise reduction are all right there as soon as you open the menu but in CC you have to press the triangle next to each tool to get into the controls. 

90% of the time if I want to make an image look sharper, I use clarity or dehaze in the effects panel. I don’t usually love the look of an overly sharpened image so for my photos I tend to use a brush to add clarity to specific bits of an image versus sharpening everything. Either way, I think it’s good to have a sense of how each tool works and looks so you can make these stylistic choices for your own edits.

Tips + Tricks

Remember that all 3 of the tools under detail have additional sub-controls that you can open up.


Occasionally, I use the sharpen feature for cityscape images such as the one below. I find that it’s sort of difficult to see the impact of the edit until you zoom in so I always zoom and then make my changes.

How to sharpen an image in Lightroom CC

As with sharpening, I don’t use noise reduction very often. Also, as with sharpening, I always like to zoom in when trying using noise reduction so I can see the changes close up.

How to Reduce Noise in Lightroom CC

Sample Images

Increased Sharpening Example Image
Noise Reduction in Lightroom CC Example


This panel is just 2 options: to remove chromatic aberration and to enable lens correction. How this has it’s own panel but Tone Curves, HSL and Split Toning don’t makes no sense to me. That said, I frequently use the auto lens correction so I suppose it’s nice to have it easily accessible.

I don’t have any tips or tricks since it’s basically 2 binary options that should really be organized under some other panel.


I most frequently lens correct images of buildings and rooms. That’s it. It’s a button!

Using lens correction in LIghtroom CC

Occasionally I lens correct table top photos but I also sometimes like when the photo looks a bit rounded so I don’t always do this.

Lens correction in Lightroom CC

Sample Images

Lens Correction in Lightroom CC sample
Lens Correction in Lightoom CC


All your tools for dealing with distortion are here. 

Tips + Tricks

My only tip is to check the “constrain crop” option before auto adjusting your image. I used to do this manually but it the auto crop is usually just as good and takes less time.


Below is an example just using the auto adjustment in Geometry. If you want to make a more precise adjustment, I recommend using guidelines. It works exactly the same as it did in Classic so I have an example of that in my Classic guide.

Fixing Perspective in Lightroom CC

Sample Image

Fixing Perspective in Lightroom CC

Same same but different