Essential Strengths of Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw

Dick Knudson

“What to be sure to do in Lightroom or ACR before going to Photoshop?”
Or … “What to be sure to do in Lightroom, before doing more work in Lightroom?”

A second question is “What to perform in Lightroom, because it is an easier toolset than Photoshop for some actions?”

This article was written before Lightroom added more masking and other features, so might be of interest mainly to those who routinely do much of their processing in Photoshop. — Dick K

I process almost all of my images in Lightroom’s Develop module (basically the same tools as Adobe Camera Raw – ACR) before doing more editing in Photoshop. Sometimes I finish the work in Lightroom, but normally I take advantage of the greater flexibility and power of the Photoshop tools.

All of this assumes that you are bringing a raw file, not a TIFF or JPG into your Lightroom processing. Raw files contain a lot of detailed data about how much energy is recorded by red, blue, and green photosites that comprise the camera’s raw data. A good explanation of this article is Digital Camera Sensors.

That raw data will be converted into image pixels when you begin to process in Photoshop. After that conversion, (except for using Photoshop’s Camera Raw filter), you will not be able to work with those energy recordings again.

These are the four tools I believe are essential to use in Lightroom or ACR because Lightroom/ACR works with Raw data, not yet reduced to pixels:

1 Temperature
2 White Point and Black Point
3 Defringe (fix chromatic aberration)
4 Noise reduction

Five others I feel are better because Lightroom has tools easier to work with than Photoshop, so I tend to apply them in Lightroom before editing in Photoshop.

5 Lens Correction
6 Texture and Clarity
7 Spot Removal / Heal tool
8 Dehaze
9 Color grading (Split Toning)

So … when and how to use them. You can find many tutorials on the Internet, so these are my brief comments.

The version of Lightroom used for this is Lightroom Classic version 13.1.

We will be working with this image, as rendered by Lightroom’s default settings.

1. Temperature

The warmth or coolness of the image presented in Lightroom is raw data interpreted using the camera’s temperature setting when the image is captured. Typically your camera will offer settings like Daylight, Cloudy, etc. in addition to some Kelvin settings e.g. 6500. Too often, I have my camera set for Cloudy, when it is actually a cloudy sunset or sunrise, with plenty of warm color. So the temperature needs to be adjusted to convey what I saw at the time.

That was exactly the problem with this image, so the temperature needed to be warmer.

To do that, I usually simply move the Temperature slider, but one can also select a dropdown value instead of As Shot from the drop-down menu. The dropdown selection will also adjust Tint a bit. I used the Shade setting and then cooled it a little.

2. White and Black Points

Take a look at your histogram in Lightroom.

If the left side is crawling up the vertical axis, then details in the dark areas are being lost. Because you are working with raw data, you can tell Lightroom to bring the beyond-black data back into black and dark grays. Move the Blacks slider to the right. That will bring deepest blacks back toward deep gray, and will lighten the other blacks smoothly toward less black. This will reveal some details in what were impermeable shadows.

If the left side of the histogram is far from the left vertical axis, then you can introduce more contrast by sliding the Blacks slider to the left. Now, you might not want to do that, if you desire a low contrast image.

If the right side of the histogram is crawling up the right vertical axis, then you can similarly move the Whites slider to the left. BUT, if the brightest parts of the image are so overexposed that the raw data contains maximum values for red, green, and blue, then those pixels cannot be recovered; they will remain pure white.

Try sliding the Highlights slider to the left, also.

Similarly, if the right side of the histogram is far from the right vertical axis, then you can add contrast to the image by moving the Whites slider to the right

These manipulations of raw data give you a good starting point for more contrast work in Photoshop. By working with Black and White sliders, you have more control than with the global Contrast slider in Lightroom.

In our example above, neither side of the histogram is near the edge, so let’s try to increase overall contrast by moving both Black and White toward their extremes. Slide until the black and white ends of the histogram start to hit their edges. You will see the triangles in the top corner of the histogram illuminate when that happens.

3. Defringe

When a bright area in the scene is adjacent to a dark area, as sensor readings are converted to raw data, the pixel or two in between is given a value that is neither of the dark area or the light area. Since raw data is sensed in red, blue, and green, the thin fringe is given a green hue or a red/blue (magenta) hue. The root cause is the inability of the lens to converge all colors from a spot in the scene to the same sensor. This is a bigger problem with less expensive lenses. Particularly if you convert to a monochrome image, that fringe can really jump out as a flaw.

So, zoom in on high contrast areas to see if fringing is present.

Under the Lens Correction panel, click Manual, to reveal the Defringe tools. While zoomed in, grab the eyedropper, and move it toward the fringe line. The idea is to line the middle square of the tool up with the fringe. If you hit it in a way that Lightroom recognizes, the eyedropper turns green or purple.

You can then proceed to fix the fringe. At a minimum, you can click and the fix will be made. Back in the Defringe panel, if the fringe appears green you can move Green Hue sliders to fix it; if magenta, move the Purple Hue sliders. In this image, a simple click got rid of the green fringe. In this image, the red fringe was not recognized using the eyedropper, but manually moving the sliders addressed that pretty well.

Lots of tutorials and videos available on this. For example

4. Noise reduction

I have a handful of nicely composed images taken with my old Digital Rebel 8 megapixel camera. When those have an expanse of blue or gray sky, the images often have a lot of unevenness, as the sensors were easily confused.

Even modern camera sensors will generate some unacceptable noise, particularly with images captured with high ISO.

To see if I have noise that will be a problem in later processing, I change Lightroom’s Treatment (in the Basic panel) from Color to Black & White. Then I move each of the Saturation sliders in the B&W panel to maximum and back to the middle. If I have noise, I will see the patchiness appear. Particularly as I move the blue slider to the right, a blue sky will often show the unevenness. For my monochrome landscape prints, I typically want dark skies, so moving the blue slider to the right is a very meaningful test for noise.

In this image, the sky is really blotchy on the left, perhaps as the low sun reflects back from blowing sand in the air.

Noise Reduction in the Detail panel in Lightroom works with raw data to even things out. So, move the Luminescence and/or Color sliders along with their sub-sliders to reduce the noise you can see.

For one of many Lightroom Noise Reduction tutorials, see
How to do Noise Reduction in Lightroom

But the problem is that Lightroom’s Noise reduction is Global, and can also reduce detail in parts of the image that need detail. In this case, I lost detail in the mountains and in the dunes … clearly not acceptable.

Two solutions work to address this:
One, I can make a virtual copy without the noise reduction. Then in the Lightroom Library module, select both images … one without NR, and one with NR. Right-click on one of them and select Edit As Layers in Photoshop. That will bring them both into Photoshop. Once in Photoshop,
– I select the parts I want with noise reduction, typically using Select Sky,
– then select Inverse,
– then delete that part (not sky) from the layer with NR.

If that sounds like too many steps, or the selection is difficult, the Edit As Layers in Photoshop can be avoided. if one does noise reduction in a Camera Raw filter in Photoshop, but its NR tool is less controllable.

When in Photoshop,
– create a Duplicate Layer of the image,
– mask out the parts of the image where NR is to be avoided
– and apply Filter> Camera Raw Filter

Then move the Color Noise or Noise slider in the ACR Filter controls to accomplish NR in the selected part of the image. The problem I faced here was that the BW adjustment layer was not in effect for the Camera Raw preview, and I had to guess what the NR value should be.

In this case, the sky is smoothed, and the bottom part is not. See the comparison.

That concludes my list of tools that I MUST use in Lightroom before editing in Photoshop.

But as you can see, I have some other flaws in this image that are to be addressed in Lightroom (or ACR).

The Other Five Tools

Just a quick rundown about the other tools that I find easier to apply in Lightroom than use equivalents in Photoshop:

5. Lens Correction

Even expensive lenses have some light dropoff away from the center, or some distortion (“barrel” or “pincushion”). In the Lens Correction panel, click Profile, and Enable Profile Correction to address this. Hopefully, Lightroom will detect the lens used for the image in the EXIF data, and apply the corrections. Result – straighter horizons and controlled vignetting.

For one of many explanations of Lightroom Lens Correction, see
Lightroom Lens Corrections Explained

It might seem subtle, but here are the Before and After. The correction pushed the tip of the dune down and raised the edges. This would be very important if the image had a straight horizon.


6. Texture and Clarity

Best used with a Lightroom Brush tool, these are similar. They both accomplish sharpening of smaller details in the image.
As I understand them:

  • the Clarity tool brightens light areas of detail to increase apparent sharpness
  • the Texture tool does that also, but does not deal with areas of fine detail, so I find this more useful.

I do not know how to replicate these tools in Photoshop outside of some Add-ons.

For one of many skilled explanation of these tools, see
Texture and Clarity Sliders in Lightroom

7. Spot Removal / Heal tool

I prefer the Lightroom Spot Removal Heal tool to its equivalent, the Photoshop Spot Healing Brush. I feel I have more control over the source of the healing.

  • Select the tool
  • Choose Clone or Heal
  • Select the brush size, feather and opacity
  • Click on the flaw
  • Either accept the source of the healing area, or move the source circle

For the full description of the tool,
see Use the enhanced Spot Removal tool

With this image, I had a lot of sand and dust flying around, so plenty of spots to clean up.

8. Dehaze

Dehaze accomplishes a nice blend of increasing saturation and contrast and decreasing highlights. Without a Photoshop add-in tool, this is hard to accomplish easily in Photoshop.

For the authoritative explanation, see Remove haze in a photo

9. Color grading (Split Toning)

This allows adding a hue to light, midtone, or dark areas of the image. For me, I find it useful to add some color to clouds – add pink to the light part, purple to the dark part. Now, this is a global tool, so might necessitate making a Virtual Copy and loading both into Photoshop as layers, as with Noise Reduction.

The Camera Raw filter in Photoshop appears to be identical, so perhaps using this in Photoshop makes more sense, avoiding loading two layers into Photoshop.

For more, see How to Use the Color Grading Tool in Lightroom


This is the image I was working toward

These are thoughts from a NON_EXPERT, just based on experience and a bit of study, so if you find them unclear and/or off the mark, that will not surprise me, and I will happily incorporate your feedback into revisions.

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