The Basics of Editing Underwater Photos in Adobe Lightroom

How to organize and edit underwater photos in Adobe Lightroom
By Nirupam Nigam

Adobe Lightroom is the most popular post-processing tool used by underwater photographers. It serves as both an essential organizational and editing tool. We recommend that underwater photographers with laptops download Adobe Lightroom Classic as you don't need to be hooked up to the cloud in a remote location. However, you may be an underwater smartphone photographer or prefer to edit on an iPad. In this case, Adobe Creative Cloud will be a better option. This tutorial is designed for Adobe Lightroom Classic. Creative cloud has a slightly different design but the tutorial below will show you the same functionality and should still provide some help to creative cloud users. 

The following two tutorial videos split Adobe Lightroom Classic into two parts  - Part I is Lightroom Organization and Part II is the basics of editing underwater photos. While they cover basic lightroom functions, even if you are a Lightroom expert you may just learn a few tips and tricks. If the videos are two fast for you, they are hosted on YouTube and you are welcome to slow them down to 75%. To learn more about Adobe Lightroom, join us on one of our many underwater photo workshops.




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Part 1: Organization in Adobe Lightroom


While Adobe Photoshop has more editing features than Lightroom, most underwater photographers prefer to work primarily in Lightroom because it is an organizational powerhouse. Lightroom was designed to allow photographers to quickly import their photos into the program, sort & cull rejected photos, and finally export selected edits. It also has powerful look up and photo display capabilities that allow you to sort photos based on almost any metric and metadata. This video tutorial with Editor-in-Chief, Nirupam Nigam, covers organizing photos in your hard drive, importing photos, viewing & culling photos, exporting photos, and Lightroom collections. It is hosted on YouTube and organized into chapters so you can flip directly to the section you are most interested in. 

Video Chapters:

0:00 - Introduction

2:04 - Opening Lightroom

5:04 - Lightroom Anatomy

6:33 - Folder Structure

9:39 - Importing Photos from Harddrive

15:51 - Folder Organization

21:22 - Importing Photos from SD Card

28:03 - Viewing Photos

29:52 - Surveyor View

30:47 - Rejecting & Deleting Photos

33:42 - Picking Photos to Edit

35:58 - Flagging with star ratings

38:57 - Flagging with colors

40:58 - Flagging Recap

42:19 - Keywords

45:35 - Metadata

50:01 - Folder organization for export

52:12 - Finding a missing folder

54:10 - Moving folders

56:38 - Moving photos between folders

57:59 - Exporting

1:04:56 - Watermarking

1:09:29 - Collections

1:16:09 - Slideshow


Part 2: Editing Underwater Photos in Adobe Lightroom


Part II of this tutorial covers the basics of editing underwater photos. We cover each of the tools in the "develop" panel including basic exposure & color corrections, masking tools, cropping, noise reduction, sharpening, and removing backscatter. At the end of the tutorial we go over a few more example photos to demonstrate the techniques learned. The newest version of the program, Lightroom 11, introduces revolutionary masking tools, and we highly recommend upgrading if you haven't already. The tutorial is hosted on YouTube and organized into chapters so you can flip directly to the section you are most interested in. 


Video Chapters:

0:00 - Introduction

1:58 - Picking photos to edit

6:40 - Intro to the develop module

7:58 - Intro to presets and history bar

9:06 - White Balance Correction

13:10 - Understanding your histogram

15:53 - Exposure adjustments

17:32 - Midtone Contrast (Clarity, Dehaze, & Texture)

19:50 - Cropping

25:37 - Tone curve

28:28 - HSL/Color Editing

30:16 - Viewing edits before & after

30:58 - HSL/Color Editing Cont.

34:04 - Color grading

35:38 - Denoise and Sharpen (Details)

38:37 - Lens Corrections

46:16 - Copy & Pasting Edits

50:58 - Spot (Backscatter) Removal Tool

59:09 - Removing & Adding objects

1:00:57 - Spot Tool Q&A

1:05:50 - Masking Tools

1:11:49 - Backscatter removal w/ masking tools

1:14:04 - View Masks

1:15:57 - Advanced Masking Techniques

1:22:14 - Flipping Photos & Toolbar

1:23:16 - Creating virtual copies

1:23:56 - Convert to Black & White

1:26:10 - Sorting for Export

1:27:26 - Whale Photo Example

1:33:54 - Vibrance & Saturation

1:34:45 - Whale Example Cont.

1:42:08 - Lobster Photo Example

 1:52:42 - Macro Nudibranch Example

1:57:43 - Macro Squid Photo Example

2:01:44 - Exporting


Nirupam Nigam is the Editor-in-Chief of the Underwater Photography Guide and the President of Bluewater Photo - the world's top underwater photo & video retailer. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. After receiving degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, Nirupam worked as a fisheries observer on vessels in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. Since then, Nirupam has been a full time underwater photographer and photo gear head. Check out more of his photography at!


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