I’ve always wanted a cohesive Instagram look. For a while I semi-achieved this by using VSCO and alternating between two specific filters (thanks for the memories HB2).
Still, I wasn’t getting the exact look that I wanted and I could never figure out how other Instagrammers did it.
For a long time I thought it was because they took better photos on better cameras. I was wrong. It’s almost all in the editing.
On maternity leave, I set out to finally figure out Lightroom and make my own preset. Here’s how I did it.
How Long Will it Take to Learn Lightroom?
First things first, is this gonna take forever? No.
If you committed a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday, I bet you would be significantly more comfortable with Lightroom and probably would start to know what you like in terms of photo editing and how to achieve it.
This was not something that took me months to learn. I basically watched videos while I breastfed and then once Ben fell asleep, I practiced. I did it casually over a few weeks but you could undoubtably do it in a weekend if you committed.
The best part is that once I figured out what I liked and what edits made my photos look that way, I saved those edits as a preset and cut my editing time down to seconds.
How I Learned Lightroom
The short version is this: I learned Lightroom was by watching editing videos on Youtube and copying what they did on a similar photo of my own. If photos were drawings, then I was tracing.
Specifically, I watched videos where the Youtuber had the original photo and the edited version of the photo and was manually editing the original to look like the edited photo (without knowing what the photographer did, if that makes sense).
My all time favorite Youtuber for this is Maarten Schrader. You can find his channel here.
You can find lots of videos like his by searching “How to Edit Photos like” on Youtube. Basically Maarten’s entire channel is him editing photos to look like popular Instagrammers.
I found that he has the best collection of these types of videos and also does a great job of explaining how something he’s doing effects the photo. This made me feel like I had more depth of knowledge of what I was doing, beyond just being able to do it without knowing why. Another good option is the channel MATT ‘n’ SEB.
Of note, you’ll find lots of editing videos on Youtube where people “show you how to edit photos like me” and then they promptly show you that they apply a preset. That is not at all helpful and ticked me off nearly every time. This is why I mostly used Maarten’s channel, as he recreates every edit from scratch.
Step By Step
1. First, look through Maarten’s channel (or whoever you have chosen) and find a photo that is edited in a way that you like.
Note, if it’s a photo on a beach and you do not live on a beach, no amount of editing will make it look that way (lol). Lots of Instagrammers use a Teal/Orange editing style which looks amazing on a beach but does not work well on regular lifestyle photos like those I take and share.
2. Pick a photo of your own that is similar in lighting and color to the one that he is editing.
3. Open Lightroom and watch his video. Edit your photo exactly as he’s editing his photo. Don’t make any changes.
As a tip, I generally had Lightroom open on my computer and was watching the videos on an iPad so I had the full screen to edit. You could also watch the videos on your computer and use Lightroom on your phone, though it may take a little longer for you to find where things are in the mobile version as he is using Lightroom Classic CC.
4. Assess the results. Did the edit work well on your photo? What do you like about the style of the editing? What don’t you like? What part of the editing process took your photo from okay to crazy looking? Or what part was the ah-ha moment that made it look wayyy better?
5. Repeat. Try the same photo with a different editing video. Try a different photo with the same video. Try a different photo and a different video.
What I’d suggest in this process is having a few photos you’d like to post to Instagram ready – say 5-7. Then try making the edits of a few videos on one of them.
Once you get a feel for it and you have one of the photos where you like it, click on the next photo and click “previous” to apply all of the edits you’ve already made to that photo too. Did it work well? Assess.
This quick video also shows you how to apply the edits to a bunch of photos at once. If your photos are all similar in lighting, tone, etc., you may only need to make minor changes to the other photos.
I really liked how the editing looked in this photo by @pastelsandpassports. This was one of the editing examples I watched when I was trying to learn how to use Lightroom and found it really helpful.
As you can see from the still, her original photo is on the left and the edited version is on the right.
I made every edit to the photo on the right that he made in the video above.
Is the editing perfect? No, absolutely not. It’s a different photo and every photo will need its own tweaking. That said, it’s a great start to what many people might like in terms of editing style.
What I might do to this photo is up the tint a bit (to take away some of the green) and decrease the luminance of the orange (to make myself look more tan).
Here’s the thing – a year ago I never would have known that. It’s only because I watched probably a dozen of his videos, repeating exactly what I did above. As you do it a few times, I promise it’ll be more and more obvious what every individual edit does.
I loved this photo by @topolindra and was curious what this would look like on one of my photos. It seemed pretty desaturated and was super different from what I take photos of but I was curious so I gave it a try.
Here is the video I followed:
Completely different from the first edit, right? But again, this could be closer to the look you want to achieve with your Instagram.
With this photo decreasing the exposure and bringing down the luminance of all colors(you’ll see he really increased the luminance of all colors in the video) made the photo look much better.
Here’s that same photo with those adjustments made:
A bit better, right? Again, not perfect but if you like a sort of desaturated look, with one 10 minute video you could be on your way to making a preset for free.
How I Made My Own Preset
Once I’d edited a bunch of my own photos to match Maarten’s, I got more comfortable making my own edits from there (like the last photo above).
I started to understand what was working from original edit and what wasn’t. I took elements of each video – the desaturated greens of one, the warmth of another, the tone curve of one, the split toning of another, and made adjustments from there.
Eventually I had a moment where I realized that I’d made my photo look exactly how I wanted it to look. I tried it on another photo and it looked great on that too. And another.
I saved it as a new preset creatively titled “Nadine Insta”. Now every time I post a photo to Instagram I apply that preset and make minor tweaks to make sure white balance is where I want it and our skin tones look good.
I essentially combined elements of various Youtube videos I watched and had made a preset that worked well on the types of photos I take.
I know this isn’t the easy answer you might be looking for but I promise, if you took a few hours and committed to it, you would find the look you want and could create your own preset.
A Word About Free Presets
If you google “free Lightroom preset” or search on Pinterest, you’ll find lots of free preset options. Most of them are garbage. That said, downloading and trying out some free presets or even buying a few cheap ones on Etsy can totally help you understand how to achieve a certain look in your photos or what edits make photos look a certain way.
I love looking at the editing panel on a preset to see exactly what changes were made to make the photo look the way it does.
I’ll be honest, I’ve bought lots of presets and I still like the one I made myself better than any of them. It’s the only one I ever use because it’s fine tuned to the types of photos I take and the people I take photos of. Actually, it was basically created to mostly edit photos taken specifically inside my home (weird rowhome lighting and all).
A Few of My Favorite Videos
If you fall in to the lifestyle blogger category or you mostly follow lifestyle bloggers, here are the videos I think most reflect the edits that many bloggers use.
I loved this video where Maarten edits a photo by @dineandfash to learn how to desaturate the greens a bit and make them look softer. I definitely incorporated this element in to my own preset.
Do You have to Pay for Lightroom?
I pay for Adobe Creative Cloud monthly to have access to Lightroom on my computer (it’s $10.79/month) but the mobile version of Lightroom is completely free.
I initially learned on my computer (it was just logistically easier) and then later transitioned to doing most of my editing on my phone.
My Most Basic Editing Tips
Bring the Highlights way down, the Shadows way up, and the Whites up a bit.
Here is a quick example of a recent photo with just those edits made.
You have to be careful that it doesn’t get too grainy but overall it makes photos look much brighter. Here are the exact edits I made – it’s literally moving 3 sliders. You could probably do this in lots of different photo editors, not just Lightroom.
To me, this is the foundation of the look of many of my favorite Instagram accounts. From there it’s about saturating and desaturating the individual colors or changing the tone of those colors. But if you just want your photos slightly brighter, this is might be a good start.
What I Still Struggle With
I’m not a professional. I still take a ton of photos and I edit probably a dozen photos for every one I post on Instagram. I really enjoy doing it and the better I get at it, the crappier my photos can be and can still have a decent end result (lol truuuu).
Editing is everything!
The main thing I still struggle with is getting skin tones right, particularly in photos of my entire family. N and I have very different skin tones and edits often make one of us look great and the other look very unlike themselves.
I assure you that many bloggers aren’t as tan as they look in their Instagram photos – they just decreased the luminance of the color orange, specifically (i.e. made all of the orange pixels in the photo a darker shade of orange). Voila! Vacation tan! Or oompa loompa!
So it’s still a learning process for me too. Sometimes I look back at photos I’ve edited in the past and cringe. I’m sure some people look at my current photo editing and cringe. I’ve gotten to a place where I’m pretty comfortable editing the types of photos that I take regularly – photos of my family, dog, Philadelphia, and shameless mirror selfies.
Another Option, if Youtube isn’t for You
If Youtube isn’t really for you, consider Skillshare. Initially I signed up for Skillshare and intended to take classes there. I wound up watching a few initially and found them helpful but not necessary. Skillshare is offering 3 months of Premium for 99 cents right now so if you think you’d learn better from structured classes, give that a try.
I signed up for the same 3 month Premium trial and as long as you cancel in time, there are no gimmicks and it really is 99 cents. There are tons and tons of photography and photo editing classes on Skillshare and I’m certain you could learn how to use Lightroom (and lots of other things) there too.
So that’s it, friends. That’s how I taught myself Lightroom. Feel free to leave any questions below. Again I’m not an expert but I’d be happy to point you in the right direction or share what worked for me.