How to Enhance iPhone Photos with Lightroom

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If you want to enhance iPhone photos before sharing them, Lightroom CC is one of the most powerful programs you can use. If you’re already a Lightroom user on desktop, it has the advantage of seeming very familiar as you process your photos.

However, we’ve found that there’s an order of operations to use the various development tools. Otherwise, you may end up doing double the work if you choose some tools before others. Adjusting the exposure first may cause some unintended results with other settings. We’ll share the tool we use and the order to use them so you save time and avoid over-processing your photos.

Lightroom CC is Pretty Powerful

Step 1: Make sure you don’t confuse Lightroom Classic with Lightroom CC. Considering how many times Adobe changed the names of these programs, you’re not to blame if you’re confused about the difference. Adobe really screwed up by switching names of its Lightroom products.

Look along the bottom row of tools when you start to edit a photo in Lightroom CC on your phone. You’ll the same tools that exist in the desktop version, including some options that don’t exist in other mobile apps.

  • Optics – Lens correction
  • Optics – Chromatic abberation
  • Geometry – Guided Upright
  • Profiles
  • Presets
  • Effects – Texture
  • Effects – Clarity
  • Selective adjustments
  • Healing tools
  • Light
  • Color

The names are different in some cases, but you essentially have your Camera Raw / Lightroom Develop module in a mobile app. I used to have a slew of photo editing apps on my iPhone, but the combination of them couldn’t do as much as Lightroom CC from Adobe. I decided to save some time and space on my device by getting rid of them and just using Lightroom CC to enhance iPhone photos.

Why We Don’t Take Photos with the Lightroom Camera

Quite simply, we find the default iPhone camera to be easier and work very well. It’s great that Lightroom’s camera gives you options for manual control of your exposure. In practice, we find the results on manual settings just don’t seem to work as well as the iPhone’s own computational auto settings. We ended up with a lot of noise and grain in some situations.

Manual control of a tiny camera and sensor doesn’t equate to the same settings we’d use on a DSLR.

Another reason is due to your space available in the Adobe Cloud. When you use your smart phone to take a photo, it sends the RAW file up to Adobe Cloud. Unlike the Lightroom previews that the desktop version sends, those original files from your iPhone take up space in your Adobe Cloud account.

Given the way we snap photos all the time for different reasons on a mobile device, you may not want to clutter your Creative Cloud account with every little photo from your iPhone.

That’s why we prefer to take photos with the Camera app on the iPhone and then choose which ones go into Lightroom CC.

Learn the Settings that Matter to Enhance iPhone Photos

With so many tools, it’s easy to wonder where you should start. The order of the icons listed on the bottom row doesn’t offer a clue as to how you should begin. Otherwise, you’d start with Selective Edits as the first thing to process.

We found an order that works for us and would like to share it with you.

Correct Your Optics

This is an overall starting point. We’ll turn on both options to Enable Lens Correction and Remove Chromatic Aberration. Leave this as a default and then you won’t have to think of it again.

Start with Color Correction

The first thing we like to do is make sure the colors are correct. This may be as simple as using the White Balance tools in the Colors section of the app, but sometimes not. The reason is that those tools are rather clunky, given they affect all of the pixels in the image when you start dragging sliders.

As you evaluate your photo, look to see if the entire image needs a change or if their are just certain parts of an image that you need to process. Instead of moving the Temp and Tint sliders, try going into the Mix settings in the upper right corner of the Color section.

The Color Mix tool is the same as your Hue / Saturation / Luminance tool on Lightroom Classic.

If we find that a portion of the photo is a bit too cool, we’ll select a blue color and pull down the Saturation or adjust the Luminance to correct it. Most often, this is more effective to correct colors instead of using the White Balance sliders. You get targeted results and avoid adjusting colors that don’t need to change in order to fix a problem.

How do you know when the color is right?

It’s a judgment call, but pretty easy to make for most people. You can tell when something doesn’t look natural. If the color is off, adjust it so it looks right to you. If you’re intentionally going for something creative, then adjust the color to your desire. We tend to go for a natural look and avoid over-processing. However, there’s room for creative risks if that’s the direction you want to go.

The reason we like to correct the White Balance first is because some of these changes affect the Exposure. Had you started with Exposure and then moved to White Balance, you end up going back to change Exposure again.

Typically, we adjust Exposure last.

Continue with White Balance

Once you have your colors corrected with the Mix tool, we recommend that you take a look at the overall tone and adjust it with the Temp and Tint tools in the Color section.

The Mix tools are global tools, but they’re targeted to affect specific colors. That’s why we like them for correcting some specific issues. After that, we want to look at the overall color tone. Most often, we tend to warm up photos because that’s what looks good to us.

You can also adjust Vibrance and Saturation here.

Vibrance is often a safer choice to bump up slightly. It’s smarter than Saturation, which we think makes the photos look over-processed. I often pull the Saturation down just a very slight amount and then push up the Vibrance.

Each photo is different, so you need to adjust to your taste to enhance iPhone photos.

Using Tools in the Light Module

We’re finally in the area where the Exposure slider resides, but don’t touch it just yet.

Start with your Shadows adjustment. You may need to open up Shadows just a bit to make sure part of your image isn’t hiding in darkness.

Next, we’ll set our Whites and Blacks sliders to taste. That adds a bit of contrast – which also affects your exposure a bit. This is another set of tools that you adjust to taste. Basically, we’re tuning the highs and lows of our photo.

After setting the Whites and Blacks, then we’ll tweak things with the Contrast slider. That provides some balance to the entire image to adjust your overall Contrast to taste.

Now it’s almost time to adjust the Exposure.

The reason we don’t start with Exposure is because it’s very powerful, much like the Saturation slider. The secret to processing photos in Lightroom CC is to start with the subtle adjustments and progress to the more powerful tools.

Otherwise, you can easily screw up your photo by starting in the wrong order.

Another thing that can really mess up your concept of exposure is the Brightness setting of your iPhone. Imagine the image looks a bit dark. You crank up the Exposure and then post it somewhere online.

Later you look at it and it seems really off. Why? Because your iPhone’s brightness setting was off. Make sure you check that before you start to adjust Exposure. On your desktop, you need to calibrate your monitor. While this isn’t a calibration of the screen for color, it’s a good thing to check before making Exposure decisions.

Enhance Those Details

Every photo needs sharpening. Open the Detail module and set the Sharpening to taste.

How much?

Every photo is different. A portrait won’t be the same as a cityscape. So how do you know how much Sharpening to apply?

Start sliding up the Sharpening. If it looks like it’s getting a bit too much, then back it off a bit to something that looks normal. Then back it off just a smidge after that. Over-sharpening is a good way to screw up a photo, just as insufficient Sharpness can make it look a little less desirable.

We like to bring up Radius just a bit from the default to smooth things out. The more you push the Radius slider to the right, the more defined the sharpening appears.

The Masking Slider reduces the area where Sharpening takes effect, and this is a good thing. When Masking is at its lowest setting, you’re Sharpening everything. As you move Masking up, the areas being Sharpened reduce.

Basically, the parts you want to get sharpened are edges. On a portrait, that’s the edge around lips, eyes or nose. You don’t really want to sharpen the pores on a person’s skin. Adjust the Masking slider and watch how the image changes as your increase the setting.

You may need some noise reduction. Keep in mind that this is effectively blurring your photo, so it impacts your sharpening efforts.

The Cool Stuff is in Effects

This is where you find:

  • Texture
  • Clarity
  • Dehaze
  • Vignette
  • Grain

The Texture slider is interesting, but we don’t use it that much. In Lightroom, it’s interesting to reduce this as a local adjustment and use it for skin smoothing. If you have some wood or material with grain, the Texture slider may bring it out in greater detail. Mostly, we don’t use it.

Clarity can take the edge off your sharpening if you reduce it a bit. Be careful, as this is one of the powerful sliders that can turn your photo into instant grungy-HDR looking stuff if you push t too far up.

We almost always use a slight vignette. It’s a good way to draw the eye inside the frame. I tend to prefer a light vignette rather than something noticeable. I don’t think it’s something that a person should notice, but it should be a subtle tool to guide the eye inward.

The Dehaze tool isn’t something we’d use on portraits. However, it works well for landscapes, cityscapes or overall scenes. You may not need it every time, but it’s nice when you need to cleanup an image.

Finish Up with Geometry

This sounds like a math lesson, but it isn’t.

The Geometry module is where you find your Crop tool, Upright tool and other sliders that allow you to warp the photo a bit. You can rotate your photo if needed, or affect the Horizontal and Vertical angle of the image.

We typically like to crop here, depending upon where we intend to use it. Lee uses a lot of 1:1 crops for Instagram. I’m a fan of 16:9 crop ratios. No doubt you have your own needs and preferences for cropping.

I really like the Guided Upright tool here and tend to apply that before cropping, though.

Lightroom CC is the Best Tool to Enhance iPhone Photos

As I said earlier, I replaced all of my other iPhone photo apps with Lightroom CC. It has the most power and control to help you enhance iPhone photos than any other tool I’ve found so far.

Not only that, but it’s rather quick and easy to use. Once you get used to where the tools are, you can go through your edits quite quickly. We rarely spend more than one or two minutes to edit a photo in Lightroom CC.

If you have any questions about using some of the modules or adjustment tools in Lightroom CC, please let us know in the comments.

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