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5 Practical Lightroom Tips for Newbies

One of Lightroom’s most important assets is also its Achilles Heel. It is such a powerful program that many of its useful features can take a long time to discover, and are often hidden beneath a blanket of keyboard shortcuts and obscure menus.

When I first started learning Lightroom I was already a longtime user of Apple’s image processing program Aperture, and for a while after making the switch I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available. With so many menus, buttons, and sliders at my fingertips I thought there was no way I would ever be able to make sense of them all. After much experimenting, online searching, and good old-fashioned trial and error, I have figured out a workflow that suits my needs; the same holds true for most photographers. You may not use every single feature and option available to you in Lightroom, but the key is to find the tools that work for you and learn to master them.


Adjusting the RAW file to arrive at this final image took a while, but was a lot easier thanks to some simple tips and tricks described below.

That being said, here are five of the most practical, useful features that I use on a daily basis. Try them out and they may greatly enhance your own experience with Lightroom as well.

1. Create import presets

five-lightroom-tips-for-beginners-PresetsYou probably already know that Lightroom contains dozens of presets to get you started when editing your photos, which can be quite handy when you need a quick adjustment or effect such as Aged Photo, Bleach Bypass, or any number of black and white conversions. These presets are not special filters like what you might find in Instagram or other such image-sharing programs, but in fact are pre-made manipulations of the various sliders and controls available to you in the Develop module. The Cold Tone filter, for example, is a collection of saved values for the White Balance, Tone, and Presence adjustments in the Basic Develop pane.

You might also be aware that you can create your own presets by adjusting any of the Develop parameters and then choosing New Preset from the Edit menu. But you can extend this functionality a step further by automatically applying a given preset, even one you create yourself, to all your pictures upon import. This is incredibly useful if you have a given set of values that you like to use as a starting point. Rather than making similar adjustments to things like Highlights, Shadows, and Clarity for every image you can simply apply default values to every picture you import. To do this, use the Apply During Impor” pane in the Import dialog, and select any of Lightroom’s existing Presets or one that you have made on your own.


As an example of how this can be useful, I often found myself applying similar adjustments to every picture that I took with my Nikon D7100 because I was not happy with Lightroom’s interpolation of my RAW files. This became somewhat time-consuming, so I saved my common adjustments as a Preset called, D7100 Import. Now every time I import photos from my D7100 memory card, I apply that Preset. I have a unique Preset saved for each of my cameras, and applying these settings on import has saved me untold hours and a great deal of frustration. It’s a fantastically useful feature that could greatly improve your own workflow as well.

2. Use number keys to fine-tune adjustments in the Develop Module

When working in the Develop module it can be a bit tricky to get the exact values you want by manually moving the sliders. One way to fix this is to give yourself a bit more real estate by hovering your cursor over the left side of the panes and dragging until the panels are much wider.


Another handy trick is to use the arrow keys to adjust the number values in very small increments. For example, click on the White Balance numerical value, and press the Up or Down arrow keys to change it in increments of 10. Or highlight Clarity and press Up or Down to change it in increments of 1. For greater adjustments, hold down the Shift key while you press Up or Down, which will alter White Balance in increments of 200, Clarity in increments of 10, and so on.

3. Customize the Develop Module

If you’re like me, you may have been overwhelmed at the massive number of options in the Develop module, but thankfully there is a way to tame this beast by right-clicking anywhere in the adjustment panels. Doing so brings up a menu that allows you to disable the adjustments you don’t want so you have a cleaner and less cluttered working environment, and don’t waste time clicking on features you never use.


One especially useful element of this right-click menu is called Solo Mode, which is a way to de-clutter the Develop module even more by collapsing all the panels except the one you are currently using. I used to waste all sorts of time scrolling up and down through the various open panels, expanding or collapsing them to get to the one I really wanted. But by using Solo mode every time I click on a new panel, the other one I was using is automatically shrunk to just its title. This one little feature has single-handedly saved me not just a lot of time, but a great deal of headache medicine as well.

4. Create Smart Collections to automatically sort photos in the Library Module

Lightroom’s Library module is a great way to help you keep your images organized. You can create virtual folders called Collections (e.g. Ceremony, Reception, and Speeches for a wedding) that can even be placed inside of Collection Sets (e.g. Smith-Miller Wedding).

But what I find even more useful is the Smart Collections feature which allows you to dynamically organize your images, based on any number of conditions you specify. To create a Smart Collection, choose New Smart Collection from the Library menu and specify the parameters you want to use. Any picture that meets these criteria, at any point in your editing process, will automatically be placed inside the virtual folder you have just created.


In the above example I have created a Smart Collection that automatically sorts through all my photos, including any that I import after the Smart Collection is created, that meet specific criteria. Using Smart Collections are a great way to enhance your organization process, and help you sort through your images to focus on the ones you really want to work with.

5. Hold down the Option/Alt key when adjusting Develop sliders

The effects of many of the adjustments in the Develop module are self-evident; increase the Exposure and your image will get lighter. Increase the Saturation and your photo will lose a bit of color. But what about the adjustments that are not so easy to see? One particular set of sliders I use all the time is under Sharpening in the Detail pane, but the exact effects of the Radius, Detail, and Masking are sometimes difficult to see. This problem can be solved by holding down the Alt/Option key when moving almost any slider in the Develop module, which will show you a realtime display of exactly what is happening when you make the adjustment.


As I was editing this photo I needed to make some adjustments such as dialing down the Black levels, but I didn’t want to go so far so as to make any part of the image completely black. (That is, I did not want to clip anything in the picture.) By holding down the Option key as I adjusted the Black slider I was able to see a realtime display of what areas of the image were being affected:


In the above image the bottom of the pastry has become completely black, which means it cannot get any darker while the red areas will soon become entirely black if I continue to move the slider to the left. The yellow areas are being affected, but not so much just yet that I am losing my color data. This works for almost every adjustment slider in the Develop module, and can greatly assist you in making sure you are doing the edits precisely how you mean to.

These five Lightroom tips and tricks have been a major boon to me as I have worked with the program over the years, what about you? What are your favorite aspects of Lightroom that you find particularly handy? Or do you have any hidden gems that others might not know about? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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Simon Ringsmuth
Simon Ringsmuth

is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.

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