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Tutorial On Using And Understanding Lightroom

Robin Whalley introduces Lightroom and explains why it's a piece of sofware photographers will find useful.

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Article by Robin Whalley -

I have spoken to sufficient photographers to realise Lightroom is like Marmite; you either love it or hate it. What’s interesting though is that many of the people who “hate it” do so because they struggle to understand its purpose and why it exists separate to Photoshop. If you find yourself amongst the Lightroom haters then this article might be just what you need.

The first thing to appreciate before is that Lightroom has been built around the workflow of Photographers.

A typical high level workflow might involve the following steps:

1. Import image from your camera to a central database or library where they can be stored for future use.

2. Review and rate the images in the library so the best images can be identified for further work.

3. Store information about the images e.g. location and descriptions so the library can be searched quickly identifying images that match a requirement.

4. Process selected images ready for use as well as keeping track of different versions of the same image.

5. Share finished images with others as a screen show, on the web or in print.

Lightroom provides great flexibility and power built around the idea of a simple generic workflow. If you compare this to Photoshop, it is aimed very much at image editing with limited capability to add keywords and output work to the web or in print. The difference with Lightroom is that it provides great tools to support every step of the workflow rather than being exceptional in just one aspect.
Let’s turn our attention to each of the steps in our workflow and how Lightroom can support us.

Importing Images

There are a few ways you can import images to Lightroom. My simple approach is as follows:

1. Open Lightroom then plug your media card into the card reader attached to your PC.

2. Select [File | Import Photos...] from the menu. It is possible to configure Lightroom to display the import dialog (see the illustration below) when a new media card is detected so this step may not be required.

3. When the Import dialog is displayed it will have the "Source" from where the files are to be imported, on the left side. Select your media card and folder from the list.

4. The files on your media card will now be displayed in the central part of the screen.

5. On the right hand side of the dialog there are a number of options (which we will discuss shortly).
The most important thing you need to do at this point is select the “Destination” to which the new files will be copied.

6. When you have done, click the Import button to start the import process – except don’t do this yet as you might want to review some of the other options available to you first.

Lightroom Import Dialog

If all that seems simple it is, however we have skipped quite a lot of the power of Lightroom in the process. Here are just a few things that you might want to consider when putting together your workflow:
  • There is an option on the right hand side of the Import dialog that tells Lightroom “Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates”. When this is selected Lightroom does a check of the files selected as the Source and automatically removes these from the display of selected Thumbnails.
  • By importing through Lightroom as mentioned above you can select to automatically create a duplicate of the file to a second location which might be a backup hard drive. Activate this by ticking the “Make a Second Copy To:” option and then select your location.
  • You can automatically rename your images as they are imported. I tend to rename all my images so that they start with my name, then the camera model e.g. 5D and then the year and month they were shot e.g. RWhalley_5D_2012_02_ followed by the file name.
  • You can apply development settings as the files are imported. These are the development settings that you have in the “Develop” module of Lightroom and which we will cover later.
  • And my favourite, you can automatically apply Meta Data to the files as they are imported. This is information such as your contact details and copyright notice and ensures all the files you produce will carry this important detail. In fact I think this is so important I’m going to show you how to do it next.

How to create a Meta Data Template

1. Before you can do this you will need to close the Import dialog if you have this open.

2. Select [Metadata | Edit Metadata Preset...] from the menu. This will display the presets dialog.

3. Select the Preset you want to use as your basis from the drop down list at the top of the screen.

4. Enter the Metadata that you want to use in your template e.g. IPTC Copyright and IPTC Creator.

5. In the Preset drop down at the top of the dialog select the option "Save Current Settings as New Preset...".

6. Give your preset template a new name e.g. "Robin Default Import".

7. Finally click the "Done" button to close the dialog.

Meta Data Template

You have now created a Meta Data Template that can be selected and automatically applied as part of the Import process.


With your images successfully imported to Lightroom it’s a good idea to organise them by rating and labelling them. This is where the Library module comes in as shown below.

Lightroom Library Module

In the central panel of the screen you can see all the thumbnails of images within your library. To the left hand side there are a number of useful panels. The top panel you can see is a navigation tool for when you switch to a larger view of the currently selected thumbnail (also called the Loup view). This allows you to quickly select an area of the image to view rather than needing to scroll around. Also visible in my screen shot is a list of folders which form part of my library and which contain images. When one of these is selected the images in the folder are displayed as thumbnails on the central panel.

Over to the right hand side are a series of panels showing information such as the histogram, IPTC and keyword information. There is also a “Quick Development” tool where you can quickly see basic changes to an image rather than switching to the Develop module. Personally I don’t find this very useful and tend to ignore it.

How to apply star ratings & labels

The next step in my Lightroom workflow is to apply a star rating to each image from 0 to 5. I do this based on the more stars an image has, then the better I believe it is (I hope to cover this properly in a future article we are planning). I also apply colour labels to each image once I have applied to keywording to indicate what use I am putting it e.g. I am sending it t a Stock Library, it is exclusive to a particular client etc.

Lightroom is incredibly flexible and there are lots of ways to apply star ratings so here are some pointers:

1. Hover your mouse cursor over a thumbnail and to the bottom left you will see 5 dots appear. Clicking on these allows you to apply a number of stars to the image.

2. If you have multiple images selected and repeat the above step you will apply the same star rating to all the images.

3. You can also right click on an image or a group of selected images and chose to apply a star rating from the popup menu using the “Set Rating” option.

4. There is also the spray painter tool that allows you to paint star ratings to images. This is found on the toolbar immediately below the thumbnails and looks like a paint spray can. When you click this you pick up the spray can and a small fly out menu appears to the right of the space where the can was located. Click on this and you can select to use the spray can with star ratings. Now when you click on a thumbnail you will paint the star rating to the image. When you are done, click on the empty space where the can was located to return it. The spray can is a very useful tool that can be used with a number of image attributes such as keywords.

5. To Label an image just right click on the image and select “Set Color Label” from the menu. As you do you will see the label options available for selection. You can also use the other methods described above e.g. right click with multiple images and spray.

In the next part of this article we will look at Keywording, Developing and outputting your images.

Article by Robin Whalley -

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JackAllTog Plus
11 6.2k 58 United Kingdom
28 Feb 2012 10:06AM
Super start to a series which I'll be avidly reading - thank you very much.

Lightroom to me is a cataloguing system with limited editing, if i process lots of similar shots - e.g. 20 in a single pose/lighting set its great as i can process 20 at once - if they need further editing then really it may be better top step out to another package.
If I take a shot then move to another setup/scene etc then light room has no real value for me if my shots need further processing.

Can I ask you for examples as to what you assign the colours to - green Landscapes etc?
Also above key words seems to sometimes apply ok, other times i can't seem to add them properly - user error but i can't see where sometimes.

Is you are still planning the series, I'd love to see more on "Where its best to step out of LR and process elsewhere" & "How to use export templates" - OK the latter should be fine as I read the the manual. Also managing large data stores across multiple drives and catalogues.
28 Feb 2012 3:29PM
Hi Stuart,

I'll pass your questions on to Robin who'll be in touch with some answers.


28 Feb 2012 8:14PM
Great to hear that you like the articles and yes there are more in the pipeline.

I deliberately didn't say too much about how I use Label colours as this will be covered at a later date in a keywording article. However as you ask, I use colours to indicate the purpose to which I am putting images. Black for images I am in the process of keywording. Green is fully processed but which I am doing nothing further with. Red and Silver for two of the stock libraries I supply but want to ensure they receive exclusive images. Finally yellow for images I am placing directly with clients.

Regarding the keywords I would need a little more information about how you are trying to apply. If you want to discuss drop me an email to describing what you are doing when you encounter the problem and I will try to help.

Hopefully I will be able to cover most of the points you mention in future articles. Thanks for raising them as its always great to get ideas.

All the best
redken60 12 4 United Kingdom
29 Feb 2012 2:23PM
I have a lot of problems printing from Light Room.I leave the prifile set to printer but it always prints over saturated and very red.
If I use Picasa,all as on screen?Any Ideas as I love to be able to use it.By the way,Elements 10 prints OK as well????

many thanks Mike
29 Feb 2012 8:53PM
Hi Mike,

Do you have the correct printer profile set up in the Print Module? It's right at the bottom under "Color Management". I think it's set to "Managed by Printer" as the default. It's much better to select the correct printer profile here for the paper and printer combination you are using. If you do this you will also need to set up your printer driver to have colour management as "Managed by Application". This then hands over all the colour management to Lightroom which will then use the printer profile you selected.

Good luck
29 Feb 2012 9:22PM
I have been using Lightroom since version 1 and am using LR4 Beta at present. For me the most useful feature is being able to rename files when using auto import. When I changed from my Sony A700 to an A900 the files had the same name and numbers. Importing into Lightroom I was able to change the prefix to A900 automatically to prevent confusion, (I am easily confused). When the A900 reached 10,000 exposures it went back to number 1. With Lightroom I was able to change this to 10,001 and keep my sequences in order. I am one of the lovers of Lightroom and find that I am doing less work in Photoshop than previously.
29 Feb 2012 10:01PM
That's a really good point about using the rename feature to exceed the numbering of the camera. When I rename my files I prefix the file name with the Camera name followed by the year and then the month. This ensures I always have a unique name (with a bit of additional information) even when I am shooting a lot.

Good tip, thanks for sharing.
29 Feb 2012 11:42PM
Really looking forward to the rest of this series - although I do use Lightroom and am becoming more proficient finding my way round, it was a very steep learning curve and at first I kept retreating back to the safe world of Photoshop.
1 Mar 2012 6:59PM
Stick with Lightroom and you will save a huge amount of time. You only need to drop out to Photoshop to polish up your best work. Hopefully I can make your life a little easier in the future articles.

All the best
9 May 2012 12:01PM
I'm currently using CS5 and have been using Photoshop for quite some time now
I recently tried a 30 day free trial of Lightroom and got completely confused with it and eventually gave up on it
I was interested in your "how to use" series and will continue to follow it as I still feel I would like to use the programme if it would give me better quality results than photoshop
My approach to photography is that everything is aimed at Camara Club competitions with the occassional exhibition entries
This means that I only keep my best shots and then put a lot of time into getting the best out of each individual image
The key benefit of LR seems to be handling large numbers of images which is not an issue for me and that Photoshop is my best option
Would welcome any comments before either upgrading tp CS6 or going for LR4
9 May 2012 9:46PM
This is a hard one to call as my photography is possibly quite different to what you describe. I have large numbers of images that I need to process and catalogue but I do go on to process certain selected images to get the best out of them.

Lightroom is probably best suited to managing and organising library of images where as Photoshop is best suited to editing individual images. In terms of actual image processing Lightroom can save lots of time through the application of presets which you can create yourself. It also has an excellent RAW converter and I really like the results that can be achieved from the latest version, especially the changes made to the gradient and brush tool. Having said all this, I feel the images produced are only about 80% finished and I will almost always perform additional editing in Photoshop to give my work an extra edge.
The downside to Photoshop is that itís a relatively slow process and needs quite a lot of knowledge to get the best out of it. Oh, and did I mention the price.

As for upgrading from CS5 to CS6, Iím not sure what benefits this would bring. Iím still with CS3 because I find it does everything I need and more. Unless you have a specific reason to move to CS6 I would be tempted to stick with CS5.

In terms Lightroom, I get the impression you are thinking of it as a replacement to Photoshop which is definitely isnít. The two applications really should be used together although I admit there is an area of overlap.
27 Sep 2012 12:11PM
I found your advice/article really helpful, Robin. Thanks very much. Already altered settings in LR as a result of your advice. Smile
27 Sep 2012 7:05PM
Thanks for the positive feedback. Always good to know when the articles hit the right spot. Robin
28 Sep 2012 11:54AM
Without sounding too much like a cheapskate would Lightroom and Elements be a workable combination prior to buying a full copy of CS6? I've downgraded to a Panasonic FZ150 recently and will upgrade back to an EOS kit at some point.

Great articles by the way.

Thank you.

28 Sep 2012 9:06PM
Itís difficult to say without knowing a little more about your processing workflow, skill level and what you want to achieve with your work. However, most people donít make full use of programs like CS6 and find the majority of the adjustments they want to make can be carried out in Elements. So unless you can really justify the difference in expenditure put the money towards a nice lens for that EOS kit.

A few months back, if you had asked this question I would have said you need Lightroom and another image editing package such as Photoshop or Elements. Recently I have begun using plug-ins with Lightroom from Nik, Topaz and PhotoWiz. I now find I can achieve almost 100% of my adjustment in Lightroom using these tools (and its faster). Most suppliers of plug-ins for Lightroom offer a free demo version so why not take a look at this as another option.


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