Recommended Order of Operations?

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  • Updated 9 months ago
Currently, my general order of operations for quick edits is as follows:

1. Lens corrections
2. Auto straighten (when applicable)
3. Auto adjust
4. Auto white balance
5. Preset
6. Fine tuning of exposure and white balance

Given the simple context of this workflow, is this a smart order to work with? Should I apply auto white balance before auto adjust? Open to any suggestions.
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Tim Sondrup

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Posted 9 months ago

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Andrew Rodney

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Adobe recommends applying edits in the order provided but you don't have to follow this advice since edits are applied (when rendering the Image) in best order not user order.
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Tim Sondrup

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Andrew, you mean in the order that they appear in the application? That makes sense. Thanks for your insight.
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Andrew Rodney

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Yes, the order seen or for ACR, top down, left to right.
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Peter Obermeier

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Hi Tim, there is a very good ebook written by Victoria Brampton and it is really a good one. A lot of such questions are answered and very helpful advice is given.
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Russell Cardwell

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Yes, Adobe has always advised editing in order from top to bottom. And it has always been bad advice.

The color profile you choose makes a much greater difference than many of the adjustments at the top. Yet, for more than a decade, it was buried in the bottom-most panel. Finally, last year they moved it to the top.

Next should be Lens Corrections. Again, this setting makes a huge difference in the way the image looks. I have seen people go through the whole process of editing an image, then after setting Lens Correction, have to redo much of their work.

These two settings should be done with every image before any other editing takes place. I usually don't do this myself because these two settings (along with my curve) are built into my Import preset. If I don't like the color profile from the import preset I chose, it is the first thing I change Otherwise, I will have to redo a lot of my adjustments.

White Balance should come next. Changing white balance alters the effects of all the adjustments in the Basic Panel. If you make those adjustments before White Balance you will have to redo them.

Since I always shoot with a fixed white balance, rather than letting the camera guess, I can make this adjustment to the first image in a group of photos, then copy it to all the rest.

All the adjustments so far will apply to all the images in that group. So I always set them first, then apply them to the rest of the images.

The Level adjustment can be done at any point. I use Transform more often than Level, so if it looks like the photo needs that kind of adjustment I do it right away. (Sometimes Level or Transform disrupts the composition, and I don't want to waste anymore time on it.) In any case Level and Transform adjustments need to be done before cropping.

The Basic panel and Curve panel work hand-in-hand, so I keep both of them open at once. I usually don't use the Auto button in the Basic panel, but I often shift-click the sliders one by one to get Lightroom's opinion. I often like some, but not most, of what it does. After all, like the auto settings in your camera, Lightroom is aiming to create an average image, 18% gray.

None of the people or places I photograph are 18% gray. And I am not aiming to produce average photos. So I take Lightroom's auto adjustments as suggestions, while I pursue my own vision for the images.

At the same time, I am adjusting the curve. My import presets include Point Curves, but sometimes I'll change it or choose another curve preset. But usually, I am going back-and-forth between the Basic sliders and the Parametric Curve. It gives you a great deal more control than the basic sliders. It enables you to push more or less contrast into specific tonal zones. So these two panels are best edited at the same time.

The rest of the panels are as-needed. If I'm shooting portraits or people, my import preset has skin-friendly HSL settings built in. If I need to crop or straighten, this is the time for it. Otherwise, I'm usually ready for Photoshop.

But I learned early on that if I wanted an efficient workflow, I needed to automate a lot of this. That's why I created import presets for different types of photos. And presets for curves and HSL settings that work best with different kinds of photos.

So the ideal workflow order is:

0. (Camera Raw version, if necessary.)
1. Lens Correction
2. Color Profile
2. White Balance
3. (Sync to other images, if necessary)
4. Basic and Curves Adjustments
5. Anything else

I usually do sharpening and noise reduction if needed after the image comes back from Photoshop.


PS: The best Lightroom courses I have run across are George Jardine’s. He was on the team that originally created Lightroom, and his courses are comprehensive. They cover more than you'll ever need to know I think there are currently 3 courses, Library, Develop, and LR/PS. At $30 apiece for 18-20+ hours each, they are the best deal in Lightroom training I know of. They are downloadable, so you can watch them anywhere. is his website. (I get no kickback from him; I just find that after nearly 10 years using Lightroom I still learn more every time I watch them.)
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Antoine Hlmn

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I assumed the order in which you’d perform the edits didn’t matter. I’m I wrong?
(by that, I mean all settings being equal)
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Victoria Bampton - Lightroom Queen, Champion

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That is generally correct, with the exception of overlapping spot removal. However the order of edits may affect the choices YOU make (e.g. if you don't do lens corrections first and the lens has heavy vignetting, you may need to go back and tweak your Basic panel settings again after enabling lens corrections).
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Tim Sondrup

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Also, adjusting your white balance before applying auto adjust will yield different auto adjust values than if you were to apply auto adjust without any adjustments to white balance.