7 Step Lightroom For Beginners Guide

Lightroom tutorials for beginners

In this Lightroom tutorial for beginners, you’ll learn the basics of Lightroom in 7 easy steps.

You’re choice:

One: Enjoy your experience with Lightroom. How? Follow each of the 7 steps (in order) and apply what you learn. Or…

Two: Skim or skip this article entirely, and you’ll have an awful experience with Lightroom. 

Including, but not limited to, grey hair, headaches or possibly migraines, missing photos, corrupt catalog (s) and/or files, the loss of your edits, sleepless nights, just to name a few.

So, if you’re ready to follow EVERY step (in order), let’s do it!

Table of Contents

Here is a quick summary of each of the 7 steps to getting started with Lightroom:

Step 1

Understand what Lightroom is or isn’t. And, find out precisely what a Lightroom Catalog is!

Step 2

Step 3

Get acquainted with the interface, so you know where everything is located.

Step 4

How to get your images into Lightroom.

Step 5

Do you want to know where to start your post-production in LR? Find out exactly where. But, it’s not where you think.

Step 6

Where do you start editing in the Develop Module? Again, it’s not where you think.

Step 7

How to get your finished edits out of Lightroom.


Throughout this article, you find “Pro Tips” to improve your productivity. Don’t skip!

STEP 1 - What is Lightroom?

Step 1 is about understanding Lightroom better. Plus, we’re going to demystify Lightroom Catalogs!

Not knowing how Lightroom is structured can lead to confusion, error, frustration, and all that negative energy we do not want in our lives.

So, let’s start off with the basics, and you’ll start off your Lightroom journey stress-free.

So, What is Lightroom?

Although Lightroom is best known as editing software, it’s much more than just an editing tool. Lightroom is an image management and editing program that was designed specifically for use by photographers.

What Is a Lightroom Catalog & Why You Need It

Lightroom CatalogLightroom was designed to be more of a database vs. a file browser. A file browser would be something like Adobe Bridge or the file/folder system on your operating system.

Lightroom keeps a record of your image and anything that was done to it. Like any editing, keywording, labeling, etc. This information is stored in a “database.” Or the “Catalog.”

Even when your original file is offline, Lightroom can still show you the image and allow you to work on it (if you’re using Smart Previews).

A Lightroom Catalog (the database) is the heart of your post-processing. Without one, you can not use Lightroom.

If this is still confusing, please post a comment below, and I’ll answer your question. Promise!

More Than One Catalog?

You’re not limited to just one Catalog. You can have multiple Catalogs if you so desire.

Why would you want to do that? Well, you could have different Catalogs for different categories. Like, weddings, portraits, vacations, etc.

The benefit of having more than one Catalog is it keeps the file database (the file itself) size smaller. If your computer resources are limited, you may want to create multiple Catalogs to improve productivity.

The downside to multiple Catalogs is the need to open the one that has the photo you’re looking for.

Creating Your First Catalog

By default, when you first open Lightroom, it’s going to create a default Catalog. You’ll give it a name and tell Lightroom where to store it.

STEP 3 - Where do you start in Lightroom?

What should you do now that you have your first Catalog created?

So, many tools, features, modules, and more to get familiar with.

Where do you start?

It can be overwhelming the first time you open Lightroom! Breath. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered…

My suggestion is to get familiar with where everything is located. This can be done by getting to know the Lightroom interface.

Click image to enlarge.

The Interface

First, let’s go over the basics of the Lightroom interface.

Lightroom is made up of different panels and the main window in the center. Let’s check it out in more detail…

One: On each side of Lightroom, you’ll find individual panels that you can show or hide additional information.

At the top, you will find your Identity Plate and each of the 7 Modules; Library, Develop, Map, Book, Slideshow, Print, Web. The Identity plate is where you’ll put your logo or just your name.

Two: Lightroom also has 2 side panels. These two panels have additional inner panels with all your tools.

Three: The bottom panel shows the thumbnails of your photos.

Four: The large area in the middle is where you’ll view your images as you work on them. The type of view will be dependent on the Module you’re in.

Now, let’s do a quick overview of the 7 Modules in Lightroom.

Library Module

This is where you’ll import and organize your photos. You’ll cull, rate, keyword, label, and more directly in this Module. You can even do quick edits directly from the Library Module.

Develop Module

This is where the magic happens! Plus, you’ll spend most of your time here – editing your photos.

Map Module

A cool feature that allows you to organize your photos by Geographic location – on a map.

Book Module

It allows you to create photo books directly in Lightroom! Create them and send them off to Blurb for publication. Or export your design layouts to JPGs and send off to your favorite album vendor.

Slideshow Module

Create photo slideshows and share them on Facebook or on your website.

Print Module

This is one of my favorite Modules for quickly creating photo collages for my website, Facebook, or to up-sell prints to clients. All within Lightroom!

Web Module

Create photo galleries and export HTML files that you can upload to your server. Personally, I think this Module is outdated, and you’ll find better web galleries from places like Theme Forest.

You can hide individual Modules that you have no intention of using.

Right-click, over any of the Module names and select the one you wish to hide. Voila! That Module is now hidden.

STEP 4 - How Do You Get Your Photos Into Lightroom?

Photo by Skitterphoto.

This step is straightforward. It can be explained in a matter of 30 seconds.

However, there are a lot of options within the import dialogue section that can help streamline your workflow.

Instead of going into great detail about importing, in this article, I created a Lightroom Import Guide that explains all the importing options in great detail.

For now, let’s go over some of the basics of importing…

But First, Why Do You Need To Import?

As you know, Lightroom is a database and not a file manager. So, importing is an essential part of your Lightroom workflow.

Plus, since it’s a database, it’s essential to know that Lightroom is not importing your actual photo! Instead, it creates a “preview” (or thumbnail) of your picture to work on.

This is another reason why Question 5 is vital to your workflow. Why? Because Lightroom itself is NOT backing up your photos!

If you still haven’t created a Data Management Workflow, then you’re setting yourself up for some significant stress in the near future.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get started with importing…

Start Importing

import button

O.k, click on the “Import” button in the bottom left of the Library Module to start importing your photos.

By default, Lightroom has a lot of options pre-selected. In most cases, these options are fine for most people.

However, if you want to maximize the power of Lightroom, I recommend reading the complete import guide mentioned above.

STEP 5 - Ready to edit your photos in Lightroom?

Now that you’ve imported your images into Lightroom, it’s time to get creative and start editing your photos.


The next step to your workflow should be to get organized. UGHHH!

I know. It’s not fun at all.

In fact, being organized is not one of my strong qualities. Getting organized is a chore I’d rather not do.

But, Lightroom makes it sooo easy to stay organized, it’s almost fun. Almost.

Why Do You Have To Get Organized At All?

Here is why it’s essential to get organized NOW and not after you’ve already imported thousands of photos over months or years.

Here are a couple of quotes from students…

"I have around 30,000 images more or less to re-organize, and my collection is growing fast."

I have been using Lightroom in a basic way for about a year. I have some 45,000 images that need categorizing and sorting and feel overwhelmed by the thought of the task."

How To Get Organized 1 Photo At a Time

Here are some quick tips to getting organized within the Library Module.

Cull or Eliminate the Bad Photos

Get rid of any photos that should never see the light of day. You know, the out-of-focus ones, under/overexposed beyond repair, duplicates, one of your spouse’s she didn’t want you to take, etc.…

Press the letter “x” on your keyboard to add a “rejected” flag to any photos that should be, well, rejected.

Rate Your Photos

Once you have all the keepers, you can begin to start rating those photos.

Use your star system to give 5 stars for the best images, 4 stars for good photos, 3 stars for “o.k.” photos, etc. or whatever method you devise for your organizational workflow.

You can then use the colored labels to further organize your images.

For example; Red = wall prints, Yellow = canvas prints, Green = album photos, Blue = photos for the grandparents, etc…

Add Keywords

Then, you’ll want to add any keywords for easily finding 1 photo among thousands in a matter of seconds.

Open the Keywording panel and start typing in words that describe the photo – in the box under “Keyword Tags.”

5-10 keywords should be sufficient. Use keywords that describe, in detail, what that photo is all about and maybe a specific location.

Not sure about adding keywords? If you’re a pro photographer, then this Pro Tip will change your mind.

Now-a-days everyone is a photographer. It’s getting more and more crowded with “pro” photographers.

To increase your chances of being found, you need prospects to discover you and drive them to your website.

Here’s how.

By adding keywords to your photos, you give search engines, like Google, Yahoo, Bing the info about your photos, and they’ll be added to search results.

When a prospect searches for a wedding photographer, they may type in something like this; “Tawas city Michigan wedding photographer.”

When they do, and you have those keywords applied to your photo, it will be listed under “images.”

STEP 6 - Ready To Edit Your Photos In Lightroom?

You’ve organized your images, and now the fun begins! Let’s head on over to the Develop Module; keyboard shortcut = “D.”

Ummm, now what?

So many inner panels and tools to help you achieve your creative vision!

Where do you start? Well, the answer is not what you’re expecting.

Where Does Editing Start?

Here it is… editing does NOT start in Lightroom! It starts in your camera!


The more you get right in-camera, the less “fixing” you’ll have to do in Lightroom. Nail your Exposure, White Balance, Cropping, and more in-camera.

Then, you’ll have less to do when it comes time to editing. Plus, you’ll have a higher quality image.

So, Where Does Editing Start In Lightroom?

At the top! Start off by reviewing your Histogram. It has a lot of information about what needs to be fixed with your image.

Is it over or underexposed? Your Histogram will show you.

Yes, I know.

We can see if the Exposure is off by looking at the photo itself. However, if you use the Histogram, while you’re editing, it can warn you if you’re over-editing!

Plus, sometimes it’s hard to see if a photo is over or underexposed when it is by a tiny amount.

Checking the Histogram can help you “see” the whole picture. No pun intended… yes, it was.

What Editing Tool Should You Use Next?

Now that you’ve adjusted the exposure, based on what the Histogram showed you, where do you go next?

The Basic Panel, of course.

In the Basic Panel, you’ll adjust the Profile, the WB (White Balance), Tint, the Tone, and then the Presence sections.

Now What?

Well, I’d then use the Tone Curve to make some additional edits. For what? For increasing contrast (make-it-pop), removing color casts, and more.

After that, I’d continue working my way down through all the panels until I completed it. You then have some additional tools above the Basic Panel. I’d then work my way through those.

What’s The Difference Between the Panels & the Toolbar?

STEP 7 - How To Export Your Photos Out of Lightroom

Let’s get your images out of Lightroom to share with your clients, for yourself, and more.

How you get them out depends on your output of choice.

Do you want print enlargements, JPG files to create an online photo gallery for your website or to create a photo album in your favorite album design software?

If so, then you can export from the menu.

One: Select the images you want to export.

Two: Go to File > choose Export.

Three: Select the location and apply any other settings.

Four: Then click the Export button. Your files will now be exported to the location you chose.

You can create “photo albums” in Lightroom with the Book Module.

However, for me personally, I prefer to use Photojunction. It’s quicker and easier, in my opinion.

I’ve used it to design thousands of albums for other pro photographers and for my photography clients too.

If you want to create a book, use the Book Module. If you’re going to create a Slideshow, to share with clients or for personal use, use the Slideshow Module.

If you want to output multiple photos on a page (for in-home printing or to send off to the lab), use the Print Module. I love using the Print Module for creating photo collages too.

Are you ready for…

What’s Next?

Never stop learning. Whether it’s Lightroom, Photoshop, or Photography. Even if you’ve used Lightroom before, you may learn something new like this student of mine…

“This step-by-step course is even for me as a Pro Photographer fantastic! Lots of features I was not even aware of. It’s Lightroom from beginning to end!”

What’s the number one thing you’re struggling with Lightroom. Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll direct you to an existing article. Or, if needed, I’ll write one just for you!

Thanks for reading and have an awesome day! Chris Parker

Picture of Parker
A 30-year photography pro with a desire to help you achieve your creative vision! Facebook | Youtube

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.