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Lessons in Lightroom - 01

Getting started with Lightroom


Adobe Lightroom (officially Adobe Lightroom Classic if you are using it with your images stored on your computer rather than the cloud) is arguably the leading RAW processing software available. It seems to be used by the majority of professionals to manage, edit and process their images. This process is an integral part of digital photography - in much the same way that print your images in a darkroom was integral to black and white film photography.

If you are not shooting in he versatile RAW format, then you should be. If your camera has the capability, then it will lead to higher quality results, and streamlined picture taking. It is also much better at recovering highlights, shadows and blown highlights than shooting with the compressed JPEG format.

One of the main drawbacks of using Lightroom is that it is currently only available on a subscription model. There are some older standalone versions available, but if you have a more recent camera then these versions probably won't be able to process the RAW files from it. Currently the Adobe Photography subscription costs 9.98 a month, and gets you both Lightroom and Photoshop - for as long as you keep paying! There are non-subscription alternatives available though, including On1 Photo Raw, Affinity Photo and DxO Photolab.

For this series of tutorials though, I am going to concentrate on Lightroom, and how you can get the most out of it - even if you are relatively new to the program.


The Lightroom window

The Lightroom environment consists of seven modules (Library, Develop, Map, Book, Slideshow, Print and Web). These are available by clicking on the titles in the top right of the Lightroom window. As you click through these modules, the window contents and even the menu items will change.

Some things stay the same though - each window consists of a main window, flanked by two side panels, with a filmstrip of all of the images below. The left panel tends to allow you to select various image locations; the right panel offers various options that you can apply to your images.


These panels can be hidden or shown using the triangle buttons to the edges of the Lightroom window, to give you more space to view the centre panel.


Organising your pictures

The organisation in Lightroom is basically done in the Library module; through Folders and Collections. These are accessible thought the left-side panels in the Library module.

Folders basically mirror the folder hierarchy of your desktop, where as collections allow you to have a virtual selections of images, where an image can be in one or more collection at the same time, without being physically moved from its folder. Collections can either be manual (where you add images yourself), or Smart (where images are added automatically based upon metadata options).


I am planning on dealing with the intricacies of the Import Dialog later, but for now, you essentially have two options when importing pictures. You can choose to 'Copy' them to a given folder (perfect for copying from a memory card), or 'Add' them from an existing folder on your computer without moving them.

Before starting your Lightroom catalog, it is worth giving some thought as to how you want them to be physically stored on your computer. Remember though that if you want to have organisation by subject matter, this can de done using collections, either manually, or based on keywords. I will be dealing with collections in more depth on our next email.

Once you have imported pictures into Lightroom, then you should only move them between folders in Lightroom - and not through your desktop. If you do this, then the images will become 'missing' and unable to be found by Lightroom.


Solo Mode

If you are working on a computer with a smaller screen, you can avoid having to scroll through many individual panels each time you want to access something by right-clicking (alt/option click on a Mac) and select Solo Mode. Now each time you click to open one panel, the others will collapses - an end to panel scrolling!


Edit your pictures

I am a great believer in going through a shoot and deleting the 'bad' pictures ot only does this save storage space, but by actively looking for reasons why a picture should be deleted, you will be able to learn the flaws in your technique - the first stage in improving your photography.

This process can take some time though, but you can speed it up using the edit tools in Lightroom. If you delete each individual picture, you will be prompted to confirm deletion each time. You can flag up a batch of pictures for deletion though using the edit flags. Hit the P key to white flag an image as a Pick; the X key to black flag an image for deletion and the U key to unflag an image.


Once you have flagged images for deletion, you can do this in one hit using the Photo > Delete Rejected Photos... menu command.


Using the filter bar

In the Library Module, you can activate the Filter Bar using the View > Show Filter Bar menu command. This gives a range of filtering options in a bar above the Filmstrip. You can filter images by rating, develop status and Color label. You can also filter by flag status - showing any combination of Picks, Rejects or Unflagged pictures, by clicking on the relevant flags.


I tend to filter by Unflagged status, which allows me to work through an edit flagging images as Rejected or Picked; giving me a dwindling pool of images to work on.


Show the metadata

As you are editing images, it is helpful to show the image Metadata, which allows you to see what camera settings you used. This will allow you to refine your future technique, by showing you what shutter-speed and ISO were used if you detect camera shake. It can also allow you see which lens was used - helping to flag any technical focus issues you might have with a potentially damaged lens.


To turn on the relevant metadata, select the View > Loupe Info > Info 2 menu command.


Zoom to edit

The only way to accurately check the focus in your pictures is to Zoom to 1:1 (100%) or sometimes 2:1 (200%) if viewing on a higher resolution Retina screen). This can be done in a number of ways.

If you are viewing pictures in the grid mode, where the main centre panel looks like a lightbox of images, you can switch to the Loupe View (or Fit, where the image fits the whole centre panel), using the E key. Switch back to the Grid view using the G key.

In Loupe view, you can click anywhere on the image (the cursor should magically show a magnifying glass) to Zoom to 1:1 wherever you click.


In 100% mode you can move the image around by clicking and dragging, or by moving the zoomed box in the top left Navigator (Preview) Panel.

You can jump straight to 1:1 from Loupe or Grid mode by hitting the Z key. Hitting the Space bar toggles between Loupe and 1:1 mode. If you select 1:1 above the Navigator Panel, then all of the above commands will subsequently zoom and toggle to 2:1 not 1:1 views.


Understanding previews

Lightroom can have up to three previews per image, which will be redrawn to take into account any changes made in the Develop Module.

When the image is imported or viewed in Loupe view for the first time, Lightroom will create a Standard Preview. This is used when viewing instead of the embedded preview in the imported RAW file. If your screen is bigger than the default Standard Preview, you can increase the size of the Standard Preview in the Catalog Preferences (Lightroom Classic > Catalog Settings >File Handling). Alternatives, let Lightroom decide based on the size and resolution of your screen (Auto)


When you zoom, a 1:1 Preview is created. You can speed up this process by selecting Library > Previews > Build 1:1 Previews. I will often do this on the road, just after I have imported all of the images, but before starting the editing process. This can be done as an option when importing pictures into Lightroom. 1:1 Previews will dramatically speed up the editing process.

You can customise in the File Handling Settings how long the 1:1 Previews are stored. Mine delete automatically after 30 days - a good balance between storage space and efficiency.

You can also create Smart Previews by selecting Library > Previews > Build Smart Previews. These are really useful if you store images files on a removable hard disc, away from your Lightroom Catalog. A Smart Preview will allow you to make Develop edits without having the original image present: you can even output small versions of the image. What Smart Previews are not good for though is checking focus, as their preview size is smaller than 1:1.


Optimising performance

Apart from building 1:1 Previews in advance, there are a few ways that you can ensure that Lightroom runs faster on your machine. Lightroom Classic > Preferences > Performance dialog allows you to increase the program Cache. Take this up to at least 20 GB if you have a big enough disc.


If your computer has a compatible GraphicsProcessor, then enabling this can speed things up too.

Lastly, if your Catalog starts to slow down, then purging the cache and also clicking the Optimize Catalog... button can also help.


A few useful short-cuts

There are a number of really useful keyboard shortcuts that you can use to control the Lightroom interface. Many of these are really useful if you have a smaller screen, such as a laptop. In general, when you select a menu command, you will also see the corresponding keyboard shortcut, which allows you to select it from the keyboard.

A few really useful Keyboard shortcuts are below.

Tab key - Toggle between showing and hiding the left and right panels - making the image on the centre panel bigger.

Shift + Tab - Toggle between showing and hiding the left and right panels and the filmstrip panel.

F key - Toggles between the full screen mode, where the selected image preview fills the screen.

L key - Toggles between progressively dimming everything except the central preview image


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That's all for our first set of Lightroom tips. Am aiming to send out the next series of tips next week. Hope that you find this usefuly - please drop me a line and let me know what you think.




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