I have used Lightroom for a number of years now for everything from my wedding photography to commercial work to portraits to landscapes. I use it alongside Photoshop, but for the average photographer, Lightroom will be able to handle the bulk of the work.
In this article, we are going to go through 40 ways to speed up your editing and make the most of this powerful tool.
1) Rate your images. After every shoot that I do, wedding, commercial, landscape, whatever – the first thing that I do is separate the wheat from the chaff. I do this by assigning each of my images a rating. Anything with a rating of 0 will be deleted. Anything with a 3 will be kept. Anything with a 5-star rating will be edited. Of course, you can right-click on every image and set the rating but a much faster way of doing it will be to hit your number keys (1-5).
2) Create a flag. I don’t often flag my images, but when I do it is because I need to have a further way of sorting my images (perhaps I have shot with 2 different subjects and each subject will be their own colour flag). In a similar vein to tip 1, use keys 6-9 to assign a flag (6=Red, 7=Yellow, 8=Green, 9=Blue).
3) Create a custom filter. Use the section just above the filmstrip in the Develop or Library modules to set your filter to work on the images that you want.
4) Quick collection. This is a tool that I use all the time. In fact, my quick collection forms the last 12 months of my landscape photography portfolio. You can either select the little grey circle on the thumbnail of an image (top right) or hit keyboard shortcut “B”
5) Smart Collection. Assuming that you have assigned keywords to your images upon import, you can quickly create rules to create smart collections. For instance, in this example below, I have created a smart collection whereby it will only search my library for 5 star rated images that contain the words “model” “outdoor” and “portrait”. This is a great way to create specific portfolios.
6) Plugins. Make Lightroom do more, whilst often doing less. There are hundreds of plugins out there for Lightroom all doing different things. My favourite is probably the Fader Plugin which allows you to adjust the strength of a preset a bit like opacity in Photoshop.
7) Presets. Chances are you have experimented with presets but if you haven’t, Lightroom comes with some pretty basic built-in presets. And a quick google search will see literally thousands upon thousands of paid and free presets. Presets are a great way for quickly changing the feel of an image and can also be used to colour grade a photoshoot. But a word of caution – they are not usually a one-click wonder. Your images will still need colour correcting first (white balance and exposure as a bare minimum. I would avoid any presets that change white balance).
8) Create your own preset. Love an image that you have just edited? Why not create your own preset and apply it across all of your set? To do this, simply click on the little + icon on the preset panel and select create preset. I select all the boxes apart from white balance and exposure. Just remember, every photo is different so you will still probably need to tweak your settings once the preset is applied.
9) Solo mode. Keep things neat and tidy by selecting Solo Mode. Right-click on the basic panel and select solo mode. This will ensure that whichever panel you select (Basic, Tone Curve, Effects etc) will be the only panel that is showing at the time. You can also do this on the other side (presets, navigator etc) Perfect.
10) Lights out! Press L to turn the lights out. See your image without all the distractions.
11) Change your background colour. I usually edit with the background colour grey. But I like to change it to black and white to make sure that it “looks” properly exposed. The change in background colours helps me visualise it and will also help you see what your images will look like on Instagram (white background). Bonus!
12) Make some room. Want some more room when cropping or straightening? hit the tab key to collapse the panels either side.
13) Make the sliders wider. Sometimes it is hard to be precise with the sliders because even the smallest movement with the mouse moves the slider too far. Make the sliders bigger by hovering your mouse at the side of the panel and dragging the panel to the left to make it bigger. This will allow for even more precise controls.
14) Total Control. Want even more control? Click on the adjustment slider that you want to adjust and use the +/- key to go up and down in tiny increments. Go a bit faster by holding down the shift key at the same time.
15) Before and After with one button. See the changes you have made in a click of a button. Toggle the before and after by hitting the backslash key. Check that you haven’t overdone or underdone your edit by playing with this one key.
16) Reset the adjustment. Reset the adjustment by double-clicking on the adjustment name. This will zero the adjustment or reset it to the default for the temperature.
17) Tone Curve. Use the tone curve to great effect and completely transform your images. This is down in the same way that curves are used in Photoshop. The left side of the curve controls the blacks and the right side controls the whites and in between are the shadows, midtones and highlights. You can control RGB in one or individual channels by selecting the corresponding circle at the top. Want a bit of contrast? Then click the dropdown box and select one of two.
18) HSL. The H(Hue) S(Saturation) and L(Luminance) panel is probably the most powerful tool within Lightroom, and as I always say, it is where the magic happens. Turn a summer scene into Autumn, change the colour of clothes, hair, buildings – whatever you want. And the best way to use it (in my opinion!) is to click the little circle in the top corner of the panel, hover over the thing you want to change and then drag the cursor up and down to taste. That way, if you are unsure the colour make up of something within your image, you can let Lightroom do the leg work for you.
19) Calibration. In a similar vein to HSL, you can make some massive changes within this panel. In fact, if I am doing global changes to an image, this is where you will find me. As a little bonus tip, drag the Blue Primary Saturation slider to the right to really bring out the warm tones of an image.
20) This is a great and overlooked feature. Imagine you have a set of images which were shot in Aperture Priority (maybe a wedding) and the exposures end up being significantly different from one image to the next. What happens when you try to copy the Develop settings from one photo to another? Since the images have different exposures, some will appear darker or lighter after you’ve synced the settings – the entire sequence won’t look consistent. To fix this, you’ll need to click on the image with the exposure you like, then select the rest of the images from the collection you’re working on. After that, go to ‘Settings’ and select ‘Match Tonal Exposures’. And voila! Nicely matched images.
21) If you want to be trendy on Instagram (and who doesn’t?!) then you will probably want to achieve that “faded” film look. And in Lightroom, it is easier than you think. Just make a tone curve adjustment similar to the screenshot below and you will have a lovely faded look for your Instagram feed.
22) Edit directly within the Histogram. I am not a massive fan of this but thought I would include it as you may find it useful. It is actually possible to edit directly within the histogram by hovering over it until you see the little arrows appear and then drag left or right. This will allow you to make the whites, highlights, midtones, shadows and blacks sections darker or lighter depending on which way you drag. Not super accurate, but maybe a good way to give you a quick idea of which way to go with your edit.
23) Sharpen with masking. We all love a sharp photo, but really we only want to sharpen the subject of an image. Take the image of the castle below. The sky and the grass add nothing to the overall image so I don’t want to draw attention to it. Just the castle. To do this, in my sharpening section (details panel) I hold down alt/opt and drag the masking slider to the right. The white parts of the image are what will be sharpened, the black won’t be. The aim here is to sharpen as much of the subject as possible whilst sharpening as little of the sky and grass as possible. It’s not a perfect science but will give you great results. It also allows you to add a bit (lot) more sharpening then you would do ordinarily.
24) Visualise Spots. This is an incredibly handy tool to use when you are trying to get rid of those pesky dust spots from your camera sensor. Select the spot removal tool (keyboard shortcut Q) and then at the bottom of the image there will be a little checkbox that says “Visualise Spots”. Check this box. Now, I move the fader most of the way to the right which should show up all the little dust spots that I need to get rid of. (You may notice that the overlay looks very similar to the sharpen mask)
25) Personalise your Lightroom. Maybe one more for YouTubers and professionals who share their screen with clients, but it is possible to personalise your Lightroom. Go to preferences (or edit if on a Windows) and click Identity Plate Setup. From here, you are faced with a pretty self-explanatory setup. I use a specific typeface for all my work, so I selected that. You can select whatever works best for you :)
26) Speed up your local adjustments by using duplicates. If you’re like me and use loads of local adjustments in your editing then this is going to save loads of time. Instead of starting from scratch each time you want to create another graduated or radial filter, try duplicating the filter you already have and then just adjust it to your current need. All you need to do to duplicate a local adjustment is to right-click the locator pin and select ‘Duplicate’.
27) Creative Vignetting. Graduated filters can be used for many more things than darkening a sky or brightening a foreground. Drop your exposure by a stop or 2 and drag in from the edges for a more targeted vignette. Maybe even add some blue to cool down those shadows or drop the clarity. The possibilities are endless.
28) Use the radial filter. I use this tool on almost every image that I edit in Lightroom. My go-to settings are a pop of exposure and a dash of clarity with the feather at 100. Then I just drag the filter out from the centre of my subject to draw in my viewer’s attention. Having the feather set to 100 also means there will be no obvious weird haloing. Want another great tip about the radial filter? Hold down Ctrl/Command and double click on the pin and the filter will magically fit the image. Wow.
29) Talking of halos… Use the little preview box in the navigator to look for obvious haloing or over-editing. Due to the downsampling that takes place, these things will become more pronounced and, maybe counter-intuitively, will become easier to spot.
30) Be more accurate with your filters and brushes. Lightroom has had some awesome masking features for a couple of years now for brushes and filters. Get to know them. This will allow you to hone in on specific areas of your image when making adjustments. Unfortunately, they are too complex to go into too much detail in this post, but there are dozens of tutorials on them on YouTube and Google.
31) Clone v Heal. When you use the Spot Removal tool you will be able to use either the Clone or the Heal feature. 9 times out of 10 the Heal feature will give better, smoother results but sometimes it is more prudent to use the clone tool – especially if you are working with repeating patterns (such as brickwork or tiles) I find that the clone tool can give a little bit more control and less weird ghosting. Play with both and learn the difference.
32) Crop with purpose. Now when I run photography workshops, I talk about this a lot. Cropping your images is the biggest thing you can do in your edit to make changes to the composition of your photo. So crop like you mean it! Also, think about where the image will be displayed – if it is just going on Instagram, a 5×4 crop will work best, but if you are printing it then crop to the ratio that your final print will be.
33) Know your image size. I always have my Loupe overlay display set to Info 1. This will tell me my image dimensions in pixels. This is particularly useful to know when cropping. For instance, if you only need 1080 pixels width for your website you can crop LOADS! In fact, on my A7Riii my image starts at 7952 pixels wide which means I can crop into approximately 15% of the original image and still get a nice sharp image on Instagram. Who needs a zoom lens?!
34) Used an adjustment brush but not sure what it is affecting? Or want to fine-tune it? Then hit O in your keyboard to see the Mask Overlay. From here, fine-tune your mask to only affect the areas you want. Still not clear enough? Hit Shift+O to cycle through different mask colours – Red, Green, White and Black.
35) Navigator. When you are zoomed in, use the navigator to help you move around the image without having to zoom out and then back in again. To do this, just click on the navigator at the point of the image that you wish to view. A real-time saver!
36) Profiles. Now, this is something that I mainly use when going to black and white. But if you click on the Profile section in the Basic Panel and then click browse you will be presented with lots of different profiles you can use. Use this as a starting point for your image to get a feel of which direction you want your image to go in.
37) Clipping Warnings. Clipping is when a part of an image loses all of its details because it is too bright or too dark. Lightroom has a handy little feature built-in that stops this from happening. On the Histogram, there are two little boxes in the top corners. Make sure they are both selected. If things start clipping they will go either blue (shadows) or red (highlights).
38) In a similar vein to the previous point, holding down the alt/opt key when using the highlights, whites, shadows or blacks sliders will bring up an overlay that will tell you if you are in danger of blowing your highlights or losing detail in your blacks. Obviously there are creative times when you may wish to do this, in which case don’t worry about it!
39) White balance. If you are shooting with a grey card, you probably don’t need telling this. But there is a way to choose the correct white balance for an image. Click on the little dropper icon in the top left of the basics panel. Then click on the most neutral (grey) colour in the image. You will notice 3 numbers appear: R, G & B. For the most accurate white balance, you are looking for those 3 numbers to be as close as possible. A grey colour will be your best bet and that is why most of us professional photographers will use a grey card when colour reproduction is of vital importance.
40) Straighten your image. Lightroom does a pretty good job of correcting an image’s horizon but it isn’t always perfect. If the upright transformation doesn’t want to play ball then you can do a manual job. In the crop panel, select the spirit level and click and drag along any horizontal or vertical line to straighten your image. Just remember, not every vertical line should be vertical in your image!
So there we go, 40 hints and tips for you to make the most of Lightroom. Enjoy!
About the Author
Matt Ward is a landscape, wedding and portrait photographer based in Scotland. You can find out more about Matt on his website and follow his work on Instagram. This article was also published here and shared with permission.