Six Adobe Lightroom Tips and Tricks

Adobe Lightroom is probably one of the most powerful tools in a photographer’s arsenal. The all-in-one library management and photo editing software has taken many tasks away from the venerable Photoshop, which now only gets opened for the heavy-lifting post edit jobs.

Lightroom takes a little getting used to, especially for beginners. For one thing, it is important to realize that the program doesn’t edit and save photos like many beginners are used to. Instead, Lightroom treats your original file like a digital negative, leaving it untouched. Any changes you make to that photograph are stored in the Lightroom catalog file. Therefore, if you open that photo outside of Lightroom, you will not see any edits or metadata. You will only see the original file. If you want to save the finished file, you must export it.

The Export tool in Lightroom is very powerful. You can export to any size, resolution, name, or location you prefer. You can add watermarks and preserve (or remove) any metadata you like. You can also export directly to your photo portfolio and photo sharing sites like Flickr, Behance, and Facebook via the Publish Services.

Here are six tips on how to use Adobe Lightroom better.

Lightroom Filters

Lightroom has seemingly unlimited ways to filter your photos. The star system is obvious and common among other programs. In Lightroom, pressing the numbers one through five while viewing a picture in Library mode automatically assigns that star level. You can then filter through your entire catalog by star rating. You can even select to show all starred photos greater than or equal to, less than or equal to, or equal to. For example, if you want to see all images 3 stars or above, you would choose greater than or equal to. If you wanted to see just 3-star photos, select equal to.

But star ratings are not the only way to sort photos. Lightroom also gives you the ability to “flag” a photo, denoted with a special icon. You can also reject a picture (keyboard shortcut “X”), which is a big help in deleting the unusable images immediately after download.

Color labels are also useful. Lightroom allows you to set five different color labels, giving you an extra layer of options beyond the star ratings. These photos may be used as sets within sets.

Lightroom then lets you sort your photos based on these filters. You can also filter photo results based on metadata, including the camera model that captured the images, date captured, lens used, or any custom labels added. Of course, you can also search based on any keywords you’ve entered or any other searchable text.

Keyword Everything

The integration of metadata in Lightroom is one of the program’s most powerful assets. Keywording is easy in Lightroom. You can add keywords at any time, from automatically while uploading to after post editing. If your photos have reoccurring themes, you can set up keyword sets in Lightroom to help you fill in all the words needed and not miss any. The Painter tool is also an excellent help for keywording. Using the Painter, you can “spray paint” keywords into many photos quickly inside of the Grid view in the Library mode.

One useful tip: Lightroom does not automatically save changes to the file, but you can save keywords and other metadata to the files inside a catalog. It just requires one extra step. Once you’ve completed keywording your files, select “Save Metadata to File” from the Metadata menu.

Master Using Collections

Whereas many began organizing their photos in different folders on their hard drives, Lightroom streamlines the process by using collections. The beauty of collections is that the images never actually move, so files are not dragged around constantly, risking becoming lost or corrupted. It also means that precious disk space can be saved by not having any duplicates.

Collections come in three types: collections, smart collections, and collection sets. Collection sets are merely master folders that can hold multiple other collections. A wedding photographer might have a collection set titled “Mizner Wedding” and collections within it like first dance, ceremony, cake and settings, family, etc.

The smart collections function auto-populates a new collection by filtering photo results. You can choose any of the numerous filter methods mentioned above and create a new collection with it. With this powerful tool, you can select as many different filters as you like to narrow the results.

Once inside a collection, all the files can be selected and exported. Alternatively, they can be sent to the Print mode for printing or Published to online sharing sites.

Use Camera Calibration and Lens Profiles

For post editing, the Develop mode of Lightroom offers many excellent options. Once you get comfortable with Develop mode, you will find that you seldom export to Photoshop unless substantial modification or editing is required. Most of the Develop mode is relatively apparent, including standard exposure, lighting and coloring options to make your photography really pop.

Near the bottom of the list, however, are two tools that don’t get as much attention as they should. Many modern cameras, especially the newer mirrorless designs, are increasingly relying on custom lens and color profiles native to the camera. If you are a RAW file user, Lightroom might convert these files to Adobe native profiles. By switching the camera calibration profile to the appropriate setting, you may find your photos have a much more pleasing color quality.

Lens profiles work in the same way. Some cameras have these corrections embedded in the RAW file formats, and some do not. If you work in RAW, you are able to apply this correction after the fact. You may also find that Lightroom’s profiles (and there are many available) do a better job of correcting for lens distortion and chromatic aberration. This module also allows you to manually adjust the amount of distortion correction and the amount of vignette correction, which can be especially handy.

Lightroom Presets to Automate Repetitive Tasks

Once you find a favorite color profile and lens profile that you really like working with, you might want to consider applying this to all of your photos upon import. The Develop mode is designed to work with only one picture at a time, but Lightroom has several methods to make simple edits like this in batches. Once you have edited a photo to your liking and you have the settings you would like to apply to other images in the future, select the Presets module inside of the Develop mode. This pop-up will allow you to choose and name the edits you have made and want to repeat.

Once you have created the Lightroom preset, it can be selected in two places. When importing photos in Lightroom, you can apply any develop preset to all images as they download. This is an excellent option for photographers who like to use specific settings on all of their photos.

If you’re not sure how to start building your own presets, or simply want some new ideas, you can purchase professional Lightroom presets from reputable online stores like Dreams and Spark or Greater Than Gatsby.

Another option is to apply the Lightroom presets to selected photos after import. From the Library mode, find the Quick Develop module. This will allow you to apply presets or make straightforward exposure adjustments to multiple images at once. You can select multiple photos in grid view, or you can use filters or collections to find specific sets of pictures. For example, from the grid view, you might want to filter the results by a particular lens you own that needs the profile applied. Once the program has displayed the appropriate photos in the grid view, control + A (command + A on a Mac) will select them all, and you can apply the preset via the quick develop module.

Advanced Post Edit Tools: Spot Removal, Graduated/Radial Filters, and Adjustment Brush Tools

Lightroom is absolutely great for cropping, exposure, color, sharpening, and noise adjustments. Anything more is usually best saved for Photoshop. But there are three exceptions which can save you a lot of time and editing.

The spot removal tool works similarly to the healing brush in Photoshop. It takes a selectable surrounding area and blends out blemishes. It is super easy to use, and like all edits inside of Lightroom it is entirely non-destructive and can be undone at any time. For simple blemish removals or even sensor dust that needs to be removed, the spot removal tool works like a charm.

The graduated and radial filters allow you to apply light adjustments to a portion of the photo. This is perfect in specific instances, like landscape photos where the sky needs more contrast or the foreground needs to be brightened. The exact area and range of the filter can be selected during post editing.

The adjustment brush allows you to make edits to specific spots on the photograph. This is somewhat analogous to the dodge and burn tools in Photoshop, but a bit more potent in that any adjustment may be made including color corrections, sharpening, and noise adjustments.

Adobe Lightroom is a long-time photographer favorite for many reasons. Once the program is mastered, your photography workflow will never be the same and you’ll wonder how you ever functioned without it!