10 Lightroom Tips for Underwater Photographers

These are some of the features and shortcuts I use while editing and cataloguing photos in Lightroom. Each tip will help you save time and edit better photos, whether you’ve just installed Lightroom or are a seasoned underwater photo editor. Watch the video or read the tutorial!

1. Lens Profile Corrections

For all editing, I generally start with the largest global changes and work my way towards the smallest local changes. Lens corrections is one of those major changes.

All interchangeable lenses introduce some barrel distortion and vignetting into your images. When you apply lens corrections, Lightroom reads your camera and lens from the file metadata and corrects this barrel distortion using pre-programmed settings.

An important note for underwater photography is that sometimes we actually want this barrel distortion in our images, especially when shooting with a fisheye lens. Try toggling the effect on and off to see which perspective you prefer.

To apply Lens Profile Corrections, go to the Develop module, scroll down the right column and open the Lens Corrections panel. Click ‘Enable Profile Corrections’.

Lens Corrections panel in Lightroom develop module.

2. Apply Auto Tone

Sometimes beginners need a little guidance. This is where Adobe Sensei comes in. Sensei will look at your flat raw image, determine what it thinks is the right amount of tone contrast and exposure, then make a number adjustments on your behalf.

Auto tone is a great starting point for editing if you’re a bit intimidated by all the sliders.

Auto tone curve adjustment in Lightroom.

3. Custom Slider Interaction

Yes, that sounds a little strange, but here’s what I mean: Each slider can be adjusted with several techniques. Click and drag, click on the number and type a new number, or double-click the slider title and hit the + and – keys. Double-click to reset back to zero. Try it!

Adjusting sliders in the basic tone curve panel.

4. Take Snapshots & Reset

This is really helpful when you want to experiment with a big change that involves several steps. In the left-hand column of the Develop module, click the + in the Snapshots panel. You can use the default time and date or create your own title for this version of the image (e.g. Finished Edit, 8×10 Crop, High-Contrast Version).

The beauty of this feature is that you can now continue editing and if you get lost, just click this Snapshot to restore the moment you created it. There’s no need to dig through the History panel.

This is also useful for saving your work if you want to click the Reset button to start editing from scratch.

Snapshot panel and custom snapshots.

5. View Before & After

Curious about the progress you’re making? Losing sight of your edit compared with the original capture? No worries.

Tap the \ button on your keyboard to toggle between the before and after view of the edited image. You can also click the side-by-side comparison (the double Y icon in the toolbar) to view the before and after images next to each other… presented in a number of formats. Tap the Tab button to hide Lightroom’s side panels and see larger versions of the images.

Before and After feature in Lightroom.

6. Lights Out

As you get closer to finishing your edit, it may be helpful to preview the image as it will look on social media, on your website, or just by itself without any clutter around it.

Simply tap the L key on your keyboard to dim everything in Lightroom except the image, then tap it to view the image against a screen color border/background. One last tap brings you back into Lightroom’s default editing view.

You can change the dim level and screen color (black, grey, white) by clicking Lightroom in the main menu and selecting Preferences. Click the Interface tab and you will see two areas to customize your Lights Out feature on the second line.

Lights out feature in Lightroom for image review.

7. Watch Clipping

We generally want to avoid clipping in our underwater photos unless we’re specifically shooting a black background style image. Clipping happens when the blacks in an image fall outside the left border of the histogram and/or the white highlights fall outside the right border of the histogram. When this happens the underexposed pixels are dead black, while the overexposed pixels are dead white. They contain no information.

LEARN MORE: Watch my 8 min. video tutorial on Exposure & Your Histogram.

Lightroom allows us to monitor clipping while editing, helping us make sure we don’t overexpose highlights or crush the blacks far too much.

Tap the J key on your keyboard to toggle clipping on and off and you may notice blue appear in the black areas of the image or red appear in the white areas of the image. These are both clipping alerts.

You can also click the triangles in the upper corners of the histogram to turn on/off either clipping alert.

Clipping feature in Lightroom histogram.

8. White Balance Selector

The white balance selector is a powerful tool, and like most powerful tools, we must be careful not to overuse this. I usually advise underwater photographers to shoot with auto white balance, but depending on your camera and strobe combo, you may want to make small tweaks to the white balance while editing in Lightroom.

You’ll see an eyedropper icon in the Basic panel of the Develop module. Click that, then hold it over a neutral white area of the image. You can keep an eye on the Navigator in the upper left corner to preview the effect. Click and you’ll see the new white balance applied.

You can then make more subtle white balance adjustments using the Temp and Tint sliders.

White balance selector tool in Lightroom.

9. Apply a Star Rating

The star rating is one of my favorites in Lightroom; I assign stars to every image depending on how good I think it is.

This feature becomes invaluable when searching for images later on. It creates a filter that allows you to really sort your images, assuming you’re also adding keywords to your images.

For example, you can search for all blue-ringed octopus photos across your entire catalog, and then search for 3-stars or above to find your best blue ring images.

Star ratings in Lightroom.

10. Create Collections

Collections are a great way to virtually organize your images into multiple themes and or galleries without changing the folder organization of your raw files.

To better explain, I have my raw files sorted by year and then by location. I navigate using this structure in Lightroom, but I also have a number of virtual collections that include favorite photos by destination, collections of marine life, work for clients, photos I plan to share on social media, etc.

This makes it very easy to find certain groups of images without needing to search from scratch.

You’ll see the Collections panel in the lower left column of both the Library and Develop modules. To learn more, read my tutorial on using Lightroom Collections:

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Brent Durand

Professional writer and underwater photo instructor. Brent is an avid diver and surfer, and has led many intensive photo workshops around the world. BrentDurand.com.