5 Tips for a Faster Lightroom Workflow

5 Tips for a Faster Lightroom Workflow


At a recent workshop I joined, several of the attending photographers expressed frustration with the slowness of Lightroom, and were surprised to see how quickly I am able to process my photos in Lightroom. So I thought I’d share some of the workflow tricks that I’ve picked up over the last few years that have helped me get faster in Lightroom.

In addition to specific workflow practices, there are also some important configuration changes you can make to optimize Lightroom performance. However, in this post I will focus on workflow technique, not application configuration. Check out this post for more information on configuring Lightroom for optimal performance.

Note: The tips and screenshots in this article are from Lightroom 4.2, but most of these ideas are also applicable to older versions of Lightroom.

Let’s get on to the tips.

1. Start with Spot Removal, and use the 2003 process

As you begin to stack up edits in Lightroom, some of the tools get slower and slower. This is the nature of nondestructive editing. None of your edits have changed the underlying image data, so the more you do with an image, the more work your computer has to do to update the preview of your image in real time as you move sliders or work with other controls.

I’ve found this phenomenon to be the most annoying when using the Spot Removal tool to retouch portions of an image. Using the Spot Removal tool at the end of your workflow can be painfully slow. To address this, I’ve formed the habit of always doing spot removal first, before applying any other edits to an image. This is much faster, and there is also a creative advantage to removing the small distractions, before you go on to more serious editing work.

To further improve the performance of the Spot Removal tool, you can change to the “2003 Process.” This is especially helpful if you have an older computer. The process version is the algorithm that Lightroom uses to decode your Raw image file and display it in the Develop Module. Different process versions give you different options in the Development Module, with significant improvements in the later versions. The 2003 Process is the most basic, and therefore the fastest. The 2012 Process gives you much more flexibility, but is more resource intensive and forces your computer to work harder.

Check out this post for more information on process versions.

The process version setting is in the Camera Calibration section of the Develop Module:

screenshot showing Lightroom Camera Calibration Settings

In my own workflow, especially for portrait retouching were I use the Spot Removal tool extensively, I start by changing to the 2003 process, doing only spot removal, and then changing back to the 2012 process for the rest of my edits.

CAUTION: since the process versions are very different, some controls get zeroed out when you move between process versions. Avoid making adjustments like contrast, tone curve, noise reduction, sharpening, etc while you’re in the 2003 process as you might lose some of those settings when you return to the 2012 process. Just do your spot removal in the 2003 process, and then go back to 2012 process for the rest of your editing work. Doing this at the very beginning of your workflow saves time and makes for a happier, snappier, spot removal experience.

2. Learn (and use) keyboard shortcuts

There’s a lot going on in the Lightroom interface. Using just your mouse or trackpad to get from place to place can really slow you down. Use keyboard shortcuts to jump straight to the tool you need.

Lightroom has a help screen that will show you the keyboard shortcuts for the module you’re currently in. Look under Help > Lightroom Module Shortcuts, or use this keyboard shortcut:

Mac: CMD /
Windows: CTRL /

screenshot of the Lightroom Keyboard Shortcut help screen

In additional to consulting this screen, I also recommend learning the shortcuts as you go. As you navigate a menu for a certain control, take note of the keyboard shortcut and try to use it next time:

screenshot showing one of the menus in Lightroom

“Note to self, press SHIFT CMD C next time!”

Or when you reach for your mouse to access a tool in the interface, like the crop tool for example, hover over the tool and take note of the keyboard shortcut, then try to remember it for next time.

Screenshot showing a tooltip in Lightroom

“Note to self, press R next time!”

This is a good way to teach yourself the keyboard shortcuts that are most useful for you in your own workflow. You’ll be learning them in the order that is most useful for you personally.

There are lots of keyboard shortcuts in Lightroom, but here are the ones I use the most:

Changing Modules and Views

E – Enter Loupe View
D – Enter Develop Module
G – Enter Grid View

Develop Module Shortcuts:

\ – Toggle before / after view
Q – Enter Spot Removal Mode
M – Enter Graduated Filter Mode
K – Enter Adjustment Brush Mode
V – Toggle between Black and White and Color
W – White Balance Selector
R – Enter Crop Mode
Shift CMD C (Shift CTRL C on Windows) – copy develop settings
Shift CMD V (Shift CTRL V on Windows) – past develop settings

3. Enable Lens Correction at the end of your processing workflow

Lightroom includes lens profiles for many common lenses. Lens Correction works well to remove distortion and vignetting, especially from wide angle lenses. Sometimes this improves the image, sometimes it doesn’t.

If you choose to enable lens correction for a particular photo, enable it near the end of your workflow after you’ve made your other adjustments. Many of the controls in Lightroom, especially the Spot Removal tool and the Adjustment Brush, run more slowly with Lens Correction turned on.

screenshot showing Lightroom Lens Corrections Settings

4. Create Develop Presets for commonly used settings

In addition to using develop presets to quickly apply a desired visual effect, I also use them to reduce the number of mouse clicks required to access certain controls in the GUI, for which there is no keyboard shortcut. This is particularly useful for changing process versions quickly, as mentioned in #1 above, or for toggling lens corrections on or off.

screenshot showing Lightroom Develop Presets

I’m basically using develop presets to pull some commonly used controls to the top of the GUI. It’s like creating a custom button.

To create a Develop Preset:
1. Apply some settings to a photo in the develop module.
2. Navigate to the Develop menu and select “New Preset…”
3. Check the box next to the settings you want captured in the new Develop Preset

screenshot showing how to create a Lightroom Develop Preset

5. Shoot smaller files

This is not for everyone, and not for every situation, but there are times when you don’t need that full 18, or 22, or 36 megapixel Raw file. Depending on the project at hand, a 10mp file may be more than enough, and shooting smaller files are much faster to work with on the computer. Personally, I have a hard time letting go – when I shoot smaller files I always worry that I’m missing something. But it’s worth considering a smaller file size from time to time. What are you going to do with the photo? If you have a specific usage in mind and you know that you don’t need the full resolution your camera can capture, try shooting a smaller size.

I hope this article has been helpful, and that you’ve found at least one trick that you can use to get a little faster in Lightroom. Studying and processing your photos improves your creative vision, which over time impacts your shooting decisions. So a solid post-processing workflow is essential to developing yourself as a photographer.

Read more from our Post Production category

Jason Weddington is passionate photographer and the creator of PhotoQueue.com, a service that helps photographers maintain their online presence by scheduling uploads to Flickr and 500px. PhotoQueue will soon add support for Facebook, and Tumblr. Jason is also an Associate member of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP).

Some Older Comments

  • Jason Weddington June 8, 2013 12:07 am

    @ Max - glad that was useful for you, it really does make Lr more usable.

  • Max Pagel June 6, 2013 12:26 pm

    Wow Thank you o much for the process version 2003 Tip I was so annoyed by using the spot removal and now with a custom set of presets and the right order of things editing is finally fun again. Before my PC used to freeze for 2 to 4 seconds after every spot removal click... pretty unusable. WIth your proposed workflow there is no lag at all anymore. Wohoo

  • S. Chambers December 30, 2012 11:42 pm

    Thanks for a great article. I'm just switching over to LR4 and this was so helpful!.. I'm going to check out more of your helpful tips????

  • Jason Weddington December 12, 2012 04:03 pm

    @Darlene - you're welcome! Btw, the other article on performance was written by another DPS writer.

  • Darlene December 12, 2012 03:59 pm

    Jason, great tips thanks!

    I already do #2 and 4, but wasn't aware that 1 and 3 had so much impact. I'm off to read your other article on performance.

  • Arthur Ellis November 25, 2012 02:33 am

    Another GREAT article!!!

  • Michael Currin November 19, 2012 10:37 pm

    Hi, thanks for the tips. I might try the 2003 thing sometime.

    I wrote a blog post a while back on how to automate the Lens correction features on import, for multiple lenses and bodies.



  • Jason Weddington November 19, 2012 12:07 pm

    @Michael - wow, interesting. Thanks for pointing this out! I did some tests with my 5D mkIII and saved full size Raw files to the CF card and 10mp Raw files to the SD card. After importing to Lr and converting to DNG on the way in, both files are about the same size. Actually, the smaller megapixel file is slightly larger in every case. (only about 300-400kb larger, but this is still very strange).

    I used "Camera Raw 6.6 and later" and no embedded preview in the compatibility settings for DNG creation. The next step would be to repeat the test using the lastest format, Camera Raw 7.1 and later.

    At this point, I can only speculate as to the cause. Perhaps the DNG converter is carving out enough space on the disk for how much space it "thinks" should be required for a 5D mkIII Raw file, and then not cleaning up that white space after converting only a 10mp file. If I can figure this out, I'll do a quick post on it.

    Working on the smaller images is still faster, but it's strage to see this wasted disk space issue.

    @Chitra - thank you, I'm glad you found this useful! :-)

  • Chitra Sivasankar Arunagiri November 19, 2012 07:09 am

    I love you Jason!!! Great stuff. Thanks for the wonderful tips and the shortcuts. I am so damn lazy to check out and put together everything but it is so dumb to say that I am lazy right :( . And your blog looks wonderful. Just started following. Thank you for some great stuff. :)

  • Michael Frye November 19, 2012 06:18 am

    Great tips - thanks! Since the introduction of Lightroom 3 a lot of people have had trouble with the spot removal tool behaving sluggishly, so the tip about using the 2003 process for this is very smart.

  • Jim November 19, 2012 05:17 am

    For someone who has used LR daily for the past four years, I now know I still have a lot to learn. Thank you for your tips. I'll have to try the spot removal first with the older process version. I had noticed that the spot removal tool had slowed down considerably starting with LR 2.7, but of course I don't want to go back to version 2.6!

  • Michael Delman November 18, 2012 05:20 pm

    Thanks, those are some great tips. About the last one, I've tried this, but when the files are imported into LR4 and converted to dng format they *increase* in size to roughly the same as they would be had I taken a full-rez RAWs. Any idea what that could be about? I've seen some references online but no explanations and no suggestions for how to prevent it. (Under "File Handling" in LR preferences, I have "Embed Original Raw File" unchecked, so that isn't the problem.)