5 Steps of a Lightroom Workflow

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry Leave a Comment

A little while ago I posted this blog in which I give a very broad outline of my Lightroom workflow.

Since then I have had a lot of questions asking for more details and specifically on where and how the Special Adjustment Tools can be used.

So during this last weekend I decide to dig into some literature on Lightroom and post processing in general.  As a lecturer and photographic guide it is imperative that I stay updated as to the latest updates, techniques and post processing trends in general.  Even though my focus is wildlife and nature photography, I do believe that there is a huge amount you can learn by looking at various genres of photography and processing.

The cross-pollination of ideas is a great way to kick start your creativity – awaken your muse so to speak – and I picked up a huge amount of new ideas, techniques and even keyboard shortcuts!  Very exciting and most definitely spoke to my ‘photographic geek’.

Sorry, I digress.

I will be sharing more details on the above in future blog posts and our upcoming Master Class Series but for now I wanted to post an even broader look at a basic Lightroom workflow and look at where the Special Adjustments Tools can fit in.

The goal with post processing is to complete the creative process that started when you originally had the need to pick up your camera.  From that point you have to, in order to complete the circle and get the most out of your images, follow a sequence of steps to complete the digital photography process.

So, this is the very broad approach I take during my Lightroom workflow for wildlife and nature photography.

1) Get it right in camera

This might not be part of Lightroom but is and always will be important to get right.

There is no quick fix or preset to undo mistakes you make in camera so make sure you get it right.

2) Lightroom:  Global Adjustments

Once you have imported your images do all the global adjustments.  The adjustment that are applied to the entire image.

These include:

  • Adjustments in the Basic Panel such as Exposure, Contrast and Saturation
  • White Balance
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This is the foundation of your workflow and something you need to get right before trying to get too fancy with your processing.

I would also include in here cropping and spot removal if necessary as they do play a part in getting your overall image ready for any more specific adjustments.

3) Lightroom:  Special Adjustments

There are three special adjustments that I use regularly and that can, when used correctly and in moderation, make a huge difference in the strength of images you produce.

They are:

  • Graduated Filter
  • Radial Filter
  • Special Adjustment Brush
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Each of the above special adjustments give you the ability to make specific adjustments to certain parts of the image.

I generally use them, if an image lends itself to having all three adjustments applied to it, in the order that they appear above and will always, when processing an image evaluate the need to use each filter in that order.

By moving from the Graduated Filter to the Radial Filter and ultimately the Special Adjustment Brush you can move from larger, almost global, type adjustments to more specific, local, adjustments that require a little bit more finesse.

It is important to  mention again that you need to know where you are going with your processing before just ripping out the special adjustment brush.  As with anything you need a solid foundation, and in this case that means getting the Global Adjustments right before getting fancy and making the small adjustments that will help lift your image to the next level.

4) Use Plugins

Most of the photographers I know do more than 90% of all their processing in Lightroom.

Gone are the days when you had to export a file and then do certain adjustments in Photoshop because you couldn’t do it in Lightroom.  That being said there are still times when you might need a little bit of extra muscle to get the most from a problem RAW file.

Before even considering Photoshop, I will always check if there is not a filter that can do the same job faster and better than Photoshop.

Cheating you say?  Filters are cheating?


If there is a filter out there that can make my post processing faster and more effective I most definitely need to know about it.  At the end of the day nobody really cares about how many layers and fancy techniques you used to get to the final image.  They just worry about your final image.

5) Edit in Photoshop

This is my last resort and does not happen all that often these days.

These days I do not use Photoshop all that much and will first make sure that I have exhausted my options in Lightroom and Nik filters.

So there you go – a very broad approach to a post processing workflow.

Let’s recap.

  1. Get it right in camera
  2. Global Adjustments in Lightroom
  3. Special Adjustments in Lightroom
  4. Plugins
  5. Photoshop
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It is important that you do not over think or obsess about your processing.

It is just a part of the digital photography process and not something you should get too focused on.  Yes, most definitely work on understanding the how, what and when of post processing but do not let it become the focus of your images.

Right, that’s about it but before I wrap up, here is a quick image that I processed yesterday.


Mara Warrior

Mara Triangle, Kenya

Nikon D700, 170mm, 1/640, f/4, ISO 500

This RAW file was dark,  a result of me deciding to grab a quick shot before the vehicle pulled off.

The light was a strange, almost eerie, orange and when I sat down to process the the RAW file my goal was to recreate the moment.

By doing a few basic adjustments, adding two graduated filters and running the resulting image through Nik filters I was able to recreate the Mara moment.  And that all in less than 3 minutes!

Will be writing more on this in the next few months as I prep for our upcoming Master Classes so if you have any questions let me know!

Until next time.

Gerry van der Walt 

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