In this guide you will learn:

  • Photography terms and the effect each adjustment has on the image
  • How to make basic photo edits and keep image quality
  • How to use advanced editing tools like adjustment layers to make non-destructive edits
  • How to access the best Photoshop and Lightroom tools for photographers.


Exposure in Photoshop and Lightroom  means the same thing as it does in the camera — how light or dark the image is. While it’s always best to get the exposure as close as possible in camera, post processing techniques make it possible to perfect that exposure, especially if you shoot in RAW. You can’t recover from extreme exposure errors, but you can make significant adjustments.
In Lightroom exposure adjustment is one of the first sliders you see in the Develop module — dragging the slider lightens and darkens the image. Easy Peasy. Below that slider, individual exposure sliders adjust for the lighter or darker portions of the image. In Photoshop, selecting “Image” from the top panel, then adjustments and exposure brings up similar options.


Curves allows photographers to fine-tune their exposure by separating the light levels in an image. The exposure option adjusts the entire image at once, and while Lightrooms individual sliders in the basic panel allow for more control, curves adjust lights, darks and middle tone pixels individually. Curves are adjusted either through individual sliders or a graphical representation that looks like this:

So what are curves divided into? If you hover your mouse over the curves graphic in Lightroom, the program will highlight what that part of the graph represents.

  • Highlights: The lightest areas of an image. In that visual curves representation, the highlights are at the top right of that line.
  • Lights: Still lighter areas, but not quite so extreme. This is the lighter half of the mid-tones. On that chart, it’s everything on the line between halfway up to about 3/4 where the highlights start.
  • Darks: The darker half of the mid-tones, containing everything between the lights and the shadows.
  • Shadows: The darkest areas of an image. In that same curves graph, the shadows are the bottom left of that line.

Adjusting the curves creates contrast (or reduces contrast, if you are aiming for a more muted look). Making the darks darker and the lights lighter helps the color ranges to really pop, because it increases the difference between those tones.