Five Things Every New Lightroom User Should Know

Early morning mist rises from the crystal clear waters of Reflection Lakes as Mt. Rainier towers overhead, Washington. Copyright Bret Edge.

I’ve been using Adobe Lightroom as my RAW converter and photo editor of choice since version 1 launched a few years ago.  Until last year I still relied on Photoshop to complete the bulk of my editing work.  Why?  Because I was stubborn – an old curmudgeon who didn’t want to change.  Looking back, I wish I’d taken the advice of my friend and Lightroom guru Nat Coalson, who for years has been extolling the virtues of completing as much work as possible within Lightroom.

Finally I got smart and listened to Nat’s advice.  I now do about 90% of my processing within Lightroom, only using Photoshop to blend multiple exposures or for complicated cloning – both of which just can’t be done in Lightroom’s current version.  Even then, I import the finished product back into Lightroom so my entire image collection is in one place and easily searchable.

Lately I’ve noticed that many of my photo workshop clients are just now diving into Lightroom.  Many of them are doing so with trepidation.  Some of them are taking the plunge because I’ve badgered them into it.  Regardless, if you’re new to Lightroom I’ve got a few tips to share that are guaranteed to save you time and effort down the road.  These tips come from my own hard won experience.  I hope they help you find Lightroom bliss.

Keyword From the Start

You may not be a professional photographer or even have any aspirations to become one.  It doesn’t matter.  Metadata is king and you should keyword your images from the very beginning.  I also recommend that you enter a title and description for each photo.  Why?  If you ever plan to upload your images to flickr, your own website or any other photo sharing sites, the title, description and all of your keywords will automatically carry over.  I didn’t keyword from the start and as my stock photography business grows, I’m really wishing I had.

Buy A Lightroom Reference Book

The Adobe engineers did a remarkable job of designing Lightroom to be extremely powerful while remaining user friendly.  Nearly every adjustment in Lightroom can be accomplished through the use of sliders.  However, some of the terms may be confusing to those who are new to Lightroom.  Clarity, vibrance, black point – huh?  Additionally, there are keyboard shortcuts, presets, camera and lens profiles, catalogs, collections, ratings and more that aren’t exactly intuitive.  A good reference book, like Nat Coalson’s “Lightroom 3: Streamlining Your Digital Photography Process” will save you get you up and running with a minimum of time and frustration.  There are also several fantastic websites with tons of useful information.  One I visit regularly is The Lightroom Queen.

Keep It in Lightroom

This one took me a while to adopt.  I really wish it hadn’t.  I use Lightroom for 90% of my processing, switching over to Photoshop only to do exposure blends, complicated cloning and image prep for print.  Until Lightroom offers layers and a better cloning tool I’m forced to use Photoshop for these techniques.  However, Lightroom does have a powerful printing module that I simply haven’t yet explored.  I will soon.

Why keep everything in Lightroom?  Lightroom’s database capabilities are second to none.  By cataloging all of your images inside Lightroom you’re ensuring that they’re always easy to reference.  You can search for images using a number of variables, including keywords.  If you’re a stock photographer this is especially important as it eliminates the hassle in trying to find images for photo submissions.  All of your images under one roof?  Nice!

Back-up Your Lightroom Catalog Early and Often

This is probably the single most important advice I can offer.  We all know the value of backing up our data yet not all of us do it as often as we should.  I’m guilty of it in some regards but not when it comes to my Lightroom catalog.  Luckily, Lightroom makes it stupidly simple to ensure you never forget this critical step.  Lightroom can be set up to prompt you about a back-up every time you quit the program.  At that point you have the option to back-up the catalog or just close the program.  Take it from someone who learned this lesson the hard way: back up your catalog every time you close Lightroom. In my early days of using Lightroom I was far too lax about this.  My catalog became corrupted and, because I’d never backed it up, I lost all the work I’d done on every single image in the catalog.  All of it.  Hundreds of hours worth.  Don’t let this happen to you.

Presets Speed Up Your Workflow

Lightroom allows you to create presets for certain functions, such as exports and keywords.  Generally speaking, you’ll save quite a bit of time and effort if you set up presets for commonly used actions.  For example, if you spend a lot of time photographing in Arches NP you can create a preset containing keywords that apply to all images from Arches.  One click and the keywords are automatically populated.

I also frequently use export presets.  A recent photo submission consisted of almost 200 images that needed to be at a specific size and in jpeg format.  First I added all the images for the submission to a “collection”, then I created an export preset, selected the entire collection and started the export.  A few minutes later the entire submission was ready to be burned to a CD and shipped off to the client.  You can read more about how I use Lightroom collections to speed up my workflow here.

Bonus Tip: Plug-ins Are Your Friend

No, you don’t have to use plug-ins to really benefit from Lightroom.  But, I find that they make my life much easier.  Unless you’re new here, you already know I’ve got a love affair with the Nik Software Complete Collection (use coupon code BEDGE for a 15% discount).  There are dozens of other plug-ins that allow you to work faster and smarter, some of which are even free.  This link to the Adobe Lightroom website will give you an idea of what types of plug-ins are available.  If you find a few that work for you, you’ll soon realize just how much of a timesaver they are.

So, there you have it.  My five – okay, six – tips for new Lightroom users.  If you’ve got a tip to share I hope you’ll do so in the comments section below.  I’m certainly not a Lightroom expert and would love to hear how you’re using it to speed up your workflow!

3 Responses to “Five Things Every New Lightroom User Should Know”

  1. David Pinkhnam says:

    My LR4 arrives tomorrow!

  2. Greg Vaughn says:

    Bret: Do give the Print module a try soon. The ability to use Presets, and make your own, really speeds up the process and I’m finding that I can get better results quicker with Lightroom.

  3. Bret Edge says:

    Greg: Do you find that not having the ability to soft-proof prior to printing causes problems? I know Lightroom 4 has added this capability but I can’t upgrade to it because it would require the purchase of a new machine. In my own workflow soft-proofing is absolutely critical to arriving at the best possible print.

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