5 HOT Lightroom Features

5 HOT Lightroom Features


A Guest post by Christopher HC Brown

lightroom_3.jpgFirst off I should come right out and say that I think Lightroom is an amazing tool for photographers. Before I got my first copy of this application I was using Photoshop to do all of my image editing.

Don’t get me wrong, I know Photoshop is also a great application and is used by probably millions of photographers and graphic designers as the de rigueur standard. Unfortunately it is the comprehensive scope and vast number of features that is what makes it a problem for many photographers. Photoshop contains many features that are rarely or never used by photographers.

As a result the menu structure and basic interface is quite cluttered. Furthermore, the need to use layers to perform non-destructive editing is for many of us tedious. I must admit that prior to switching to Lightroom, I so much wanted to avoid having to create and manage layers that I created a copy of each raw image I created, then performed destructive edits on the copy. If I made a change that I could not undo, or that I decided I did not like after I had applied other edits, I had to create another copy and start all over again. Certainly not an efficient approach!

Fortunately somebody suggested that I might like to try Lightroom or Aperture as both of these applications are designed with the photographer in mind. This was in my “pre-Mac” days so Aperture was out; I got Lightroom 2.7, and recently upgraded to version 3. Since then I have become a devoted convert to this application, and now I need Photoshop only on the rare occasions that I want to perform some complex Cloneing, or if I want to do some kind of graphic editing that Lightroom, by definition, does not support.

So now that you know how I came to be be a fervent fan of Lightroom, here is the list of my 5 favorite features that make it such a great tool for photographers.

1. Non-Destructive Editing Without Layers

I hate layers! I don’t like creating them. I don’t like setting their properties. I don’t like merging them, flattening them, deleting them or moving them. When I am editing a digital image there are a lot of other things I would rather do than mess around with layers. The problem for me, before I started using Lightroom, was that using layers was the only robust method for making non-destructive edits to a digital image.

As I described above I had way of avoiding using layers, but it was not very efficient. Well fear no more. Lightroom lets us edit our RAW image files (or JPEG if you are not shooting RAW yet), preserves a history of every change we have made, and allows us to move forward and backward in the history. We can even save a snapshot of our images at any time and in this way preserve the edits performed, then make more edits. If we decide we don’t like subsequent changes, we can go back to the snapshot and start again.

If you are like me, your aesthetic is constantly changing and as a result you are re-editing images months after your initial attempt. For us this really is a paradigm change in digital image manipulation.

2. Library Integration


Prior to Lightroom we had to switch between separate applications to manage our ever expanding photo libraries and our editing software. Now we have a scrolling library across the left side of the window, and at the bottom a scrolling screen that allows us to quickly navigate between images.

The navigation bar on the left of the window, by default, includes all of the folders in our library, and the collections of our images. I find this really useful when I am publishing images to my Flickr page (which is supported by version 3), putting together slide shows, and publishing Flash or HTML galleries of my collections.

3. Graduated Filter


The Graduated Filter tool is excellent for adjusting exposure to bring life back to an overexposed sky or for darkening a foreground to place greater emphasis on the subject, as in the picture to the left. Simply click and drag the filter down over the region in the image that you wish to adjust.

Then, if you wish to tilt or change the size of the area covered by the filter, you can drag the area around with your mouse. You can use the graduated filter to apply heavy or light adjustments, and it always provides a smooth transition from the adjusted to the non-a dusted regions in your image. I use it mostly for exposure adjustments, but it can be used to adjust a number of properties such as contrast, brightness, clarity and sharpness.

Also, you can use it to apply a graduated colour effect just like we used to do with glass or plastic filters when shooting film.

4. Crop Overlay Tool


When clicked, the Crop Overlay Tool displays a grid overlaying your image. To change the region to be preserved after your crop, simply adjust the sides of the area by clicking and dragging. There are a couple of features that make cropping in Lightroom a breeze. First, you can choose from a number of standard formats (called the ‘aspect’) such as 8×10, 8.5×11, 1×1, 5×7, 4×6, etc…

This makes changing the format of your image quick and easy. Changes to the aspect is something that photographers should experiment with when processing their images as changing the format has the power to improve final product. Now it is very easy to do.

Furthermore, there is a little padlock symbol that when clicked toggles between locked aspect, and freeform cropping. The second cool feature is very simple, but really improves working with cropping; a preview. Provided that you have the Navigator at the top left of your Lightroom window expanded, the changes you make to the crop of the image will appear there. This makes trying different crops really easy and cuts down on a lot of the clicking through menus that some other applications make us go through.

Finally, if you make a crop, and later think you might like the image cropped differently, or not at all, all you have to do is click the Crop Overlay Tool and you can adjust or remove the crop at your whim!

5. Web Export

This is a feature that I have only recently started to use. Prior to building this website the export functions I used were to local disk, Flickr and Slide shows. I actually built a website using an on-line web tool that included HTML based galleries for my images. It lasted about two days once I figured out that I could use the built in functionality in Lightroom 3 to create slick Flash galleries!

There are something like 30 templates included with Lightroom. None of them are terribly fancy, but they provide a very simple and elegant presentation of your images. There is even a “Postcard” gallery included that spreads thumbnails of your images across the screen that enlarge for viewing when the user clicks on them. You can change the look and feel of the galleries by changing colour schemes, image and thumbnail sizes, and which metadata to display. Finally, publishing is a ‘one click’ excercise after you enter the address of the FTP server and sub-folder of your website.

Well there you have it, my favorite 5. Get to know Lightroom and I am sure you will find many more useful features for the top of your list.

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Some Older Comments

  • Ferdie Montoya December 29, 2010 10:09 pm

    @ photog1107, I was able to figure it out by myself but thanks to your reply. I'm beginning to like Lightroom and will be needing some more help, again thank you.

  • photog1107 December 24, 2010 11:30 am

    You are right there is no save. You don't save files in Lightroom--you "export" them to another location when you are done working with them. The working versions remain as you last left them in Lightroom until you wish to edit them further. Hope that helps.

  • Ferdie Montoya December 10, 2010 04:43 am

    I've been using Photoshop Elements to process my photos and was thinking on using Lightroom. I can see the similarity in their commands but I guess my (dumb) question is how to save the files. I don't see any save or save as command in any of the menus. Can somebody please guide me on how to save files in Lightroom. Thanks.

  • Bryan Grant December 5, 2010 12:35 pm

    TIP.... check out more presets and lightroom plugins. tun out there most for free

  • douglas December 5, 2010 05:10 am

    As a keen amateur, I find the combination of Lightroom and Essentials 9 gives me all I want...and more.
    Also I think it is worth considering storing your pictures on an external hard drive rather than your computer hard drive...easy to set up.

  • Andy December 5, 2010 12:07 am

    I love Layers!

  • Jack Vargo December 4, 2010 09:34 am

    I am currently testing Aperture and plan to test Lightroom soon and hopefully make a decision. Aperture appears fairly simple to use and a step up from iphoto. My guess is that Lightroom would be a more professional approach especially if Photoshop is used for more advanced editing. Most professional photo articles refer to LR and rarely mention Aperture as their organizing and editing tool. Any feedback on LIghtroom vs Aperture would be appreciated.


  • Christopher HC Brown December 3, 2010 12:51 pm

    Thanks everybody for your comments on the article!

    Clay - go to the 'Develop' module in LR and check out the toolbar panel on the left side of the screen. I should have the following titles; Navigator, Presets, Snapshots, History, Collections.

    Click on the arrow to the left of the word 'History' until it points down. Now you are displaying the history of what you have done with the file in LR. You can go back to any point in the history by clicking on that step in the list. If you want to create a 'Snapshot' to save a version of the file at that moment in time that you can go back to, simply click the '+' symbol beside the 'Snapshot' word.

    The LR approach is different from PS in a few ways, but most significant is that in LR you don't have to save the file and loose your history after each session. LR remembers the history of the image from session to session and allows you to move forward and backward through your adjustments to the image until you have a final product you are happy with. Change your mind and want to re-adjust the image, no problem. Simply go to an earlier point in the history and start again. Pretty cool, eh!


  • David December 3, 2010 09:47 am

    I also got the student discount version and it seems to have everything. I even contacted Adobe and one of there employees told me it was exactly the same.

  • Clay Morehead December 3, 2010 09:46 am

    Good introduction to Lighroom.
    One thing I question, is it really accurate to say that Lightroom maintains a history? Photoshop of course does while the file is open, but Lightroom has Undo or Reset... no history that I'm aware of.


  • Boofer December 3, 2010 03:27 am


    Excellent in-depth article. You've definitely motivated me to upgrade to newest version. Got the original Lightroom and have only been using basic raw conversion, exposure, color and fill light features and nothing else.

    I have been doing everything else in Photoshop which is crazy time-consuming.

    Thanks for sharing the article!

  • Christopher HC Brown December 1, 2010 01:52 pm


    Check out Helen Bradley's tutorials here on DPS and at her website helenbradley.com. She has a lot of photoshop and Lightroom content that is really helpful.

  • Brian November 30, 2010 02:14 pm


    I got the education discount. Don't worry. It's the full version, just costs a lot less!

  • Luke November 30, 2010 02:16 am

    i love Lightroom. I recently upgraded from 1.3 to 3, and it was great. Some of the main things I like about the new version is the adjustment brush, I use that frequently. The gradient filter is another one I really like. In general, I find the quick collections in Lightroom indispensable, I can't live without them anymore. It also looks so clean, everything is accessible, but not cluttered. I have been using Photoshop for a class at college, and I learned very quickly how much more efficient the work flow is in Lightroom. Great program. I would love it if there were more tutorials on here for it. Thanks for the article.

  • YodaBalboa November 29, 2010 11:19 am

    @ Mark
    Not sure if you are missing something but I will explain as quickly as possible how I manage my files with lightroom without losing any info.

    I transfer all files from card to computer in 1 file titled for whatever I shot that day. I then import the location of said file into the lightroom library. Once I am working on one and am please with the result I right click and choose "export". I have a seperate file created titled "lightroom exports". I export the photo to this file.
    With this manner I have kept my original untouched photo and have the edited photo in seperate files.

    I don't know if this helps you or not but I hope it does : )

    Oh and to the OP, Amen! I hate layers and get way to overwhelmed with photoshop. I LOVE lightroom!!

  • Melissa November 29, 2010 09:14 am

    I'm considering buying Lightroom. There is a considerable rebate for the "education discount". I am a teacher and can receive the discount, but I don't want to purchase that version if there is a lot missing or something. Does anyone know what the difference is?

  • Rick November 28, 2010 06:17 am

    Nothing new here for LR users, but a good starting point for people who are considering it.

  • clare Scott November 27, 2010 01:17 pm

    I have never used a photo editing program except Piccassa or the one that comes along with microsoft but has anyone had problems uploading photos to an iPad if their pictures are stored in LR? Also I would like to crop photos for painting and my painting surface is typically 9 x12, a 3:4 ratio would work as well since it doesn't have to be exact, I just need to be able put on a grid so I can replicate it for a painting.

  • Christopher HC Brown November 27, 2010 12:41 pm


    Here is what I do to import files using LR. Hopefully by seeing the steps I take you will find the file system a little less frustrating. BTW I use a Mac too.

    First a couple of assumptions:
    - you have never imported these specific image files before
    - you have lots of disk space to create a library of your images, as well as backup copies of each file
    - you are importing directly from your device (camera), rather than from a memory card or other media

    1. Click the 'Import' button from the Library module (bottom left). The 'import' window opens.

    2. From the 'Source' tab on the left side of the window, select your source. Mine us usually a D90 or iphone. This causes the centre window to change to display all of the images on your device, check marked and ready to import.

    3. On the right side of the screen there are a number of options to choose:
    - 'File handling' click "Make a second copy to:" accept the default setting
    - 'File rename' - set nothing
    - 'Apply during import' - set nothing
    - 'Destination' click 'Into Subfolder', 'Organize' by date, then choose your date format.
    - In the file tree that appears below, find and click your 'Pictures' folder. This will result in LR creating a sub-folder for the year, then a folder for each individual day within your Pictures folder on your hard disk.

    By following these steps you should end up with all of the images imported from your device and organized into sub-folders by year, then sub-folders by day. I find this a very organized approach, however it can be a tad frustrating because it creates an awful lot of sub-directories if you shoot frequently! You will also have a backup of the images in a subfolder at... /Pictures/Lightroom/Download Backups.

    Finally, remember that the folders that Lightroom creates during the import for each year and day are also available via the Finder on your Mac. Contrary to what you said in your post, I don't think that the files systems are separate, if I understood you correctly. A way of proving this is to right-click on any image in the image 'dock' at the bottom of the main LR window and choose 'Show in Finder'. This will open the sub-folder that the image is located in, in a new Finder window. Voila!

    Good luck, and thanks for commenting on my article.


  • Mark November 27, 2010 01:48 am

    I shoot in both RAW and JPEG (the latter because my camera won't burst fire in RAW.)

    I find the file system very frustrating. Prior to trying LR, I loaded photographs into the computer in an intake folder, and after deciding which photos to keep, into a master (unmodified) folder. I distribute the finished photos to other folders.

    The problem I have with the file system in LR is that it is a separate system form the files that exist on the computer, and I've lost pictures trying to coordinate the two. As a result, I still use the Mac Finder-based folders, and Adobe Bridge to manage (and edit RAW) files.

    Is there something I'm missing here?



  • Frank November 26, 2010 04:59 pm

    And some more things I like very much about LR:

    - Dodging and burning (e.g. to pop a subject)
    - Spot removal (e.g. removing bread crumbs from a table)
    - Lens correction (e.g. remove vignetting, lens distortion, tilt correction of (high) buildings)

    And yes, I hate layers too, but what I miss is the ability to combine different images, such as copy a subject from another image (e.g. replacing a background), stack partially transparent images (e.g. combine different exposure settings), or making photo compositions.


  • Nick November 26, 2010 07:48 am

    The main one after processing is exporting. Right click, export to 8x12 print, right click, export to Flickr 1000px watermarked, right click Export to Facebook 720px watermarked, go away for an hour or two and it's all there sitting in subfolders ready for distributing

  • MRMARK November 26, 2010 06:25 am

    If you use the "Lights Dim" mode with the crop feature, it makes it even better. Simply press L to dim the modules on the sides so your crop has all the attention it deserves!

  • Jennifer November 26, 2010 05:38 am

    These reasons and why I love the new LR, so much easier to use with incredible features! Great article!