While there are many approaches to Lightroom editing, most methods follow “conventional” steps. Instead, in this video, I’ll be taking an unconventional approach to achieve a unique look to this image without using any local adjustments.

Video: 6-Step Unconventional Approach to Lightroom Editing

For this image, I’ll be using a Lightroom editing method called “Dark Mode.” This involves dropping the exposure and pulling back the details using individual sliders. You can compare this to pushing film. To achieve the final look, I won’t be using any local adjustments.

Here’s the image we’ll be editing today. Check out our previous tutorial on How to Utilize Direct Flash for Edgy Portraits for the complete behind-the-scenes. Let’s dive in!

The Conventional Lightroom Editing Approach

The typical Lightroom editing approach would be to make small adjustments to bring back the details in the image. Nothing too exciting and we end up with a pretty basic edit.

Step #1: Drop the Exposure

lightroom editing dark mode exposure

Our first step to this unconventional Lightroom editing method is to drop the exposure, and don’t be shy with it! We can bring it up later as needed.

Step #2: Bring Back the Tonality

We bring back the tonality of the image using the tone sliders (Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks). If the highlights and whites slider aren’t able to bring the tones up to where you’d like, you can raise the exposure here.

lightroom editing dark mode tones

Tone Settings:

Exposure: -2.30
Contrast: 0
Highlights: +100
Shadows: +40
Whites: +30
Blacks: +100

Keep in mind that you’ll want your original image properly exposed with a wide range of tones. This will allow you to control each tonal range individually.

Step #3: Adjust the White Balance

lightroom editing dark mode white balance

Here, we can cool off the image a bit using the white balance sliders.

Step #4: Presence

Normally, we’d add dehaze to bring back some contrast, but we’re going to go backwards and lower it. We’re effectively adding a bit of haze and by doing so, reducing contrast by a touch. Here, I also added in a bit of clarity.

At this point, you can continue to fine tune the other adjustments to your liking. Here are our settings so far.

Step #5: Give It a Matte Finish Using the Tone Curve

This is where we return to a bit of the conventional Lightroom editing method. On the tone curve, pull the white point down and black point up. Anything above the white point turns into a soft light gray and anything below the black point becomes a dark gray. Then, add a subtle S-Curve to give the image an additional kick of contrast.

Step #6: Tweak the Colors

We won’t need a ton of HSL or Color Grading adjustments, but a little bit helps to dial in the exact colors we want.

HSL Adjustments

Color Grading

Final Comparison

lightroom editing dark mode vs conventional

Make your final adjustments to the image including retouching, and let’s compare both conventional and unconventional Lightroom editing approaches. Big difference, right?


I hope you enjoyed this article/video. If you’d like to learn more about Lightroom editing, head over to SLR Lounge Premium. We have an entire course dedicated to Mastering Lightroom as well as a ton more courses and tools designed to help you build your dream photography business. You can also visit Visual Flow for our library of intuitive Lightroom presets and retouching tools to maximize your own editing workflow.

Don’t miss our next episode of Mastering Your Craft on Adorama’s YouTube channel next week! If you want to catch up on all the episodes, make sure you check out our playlist!