Many people who are not familiar with photography think that every photographer uses Photoshop all the time to edit photos, but actually, unless serious retouching is needed, most people just stick to Lightroom. I do 99.999% of my editing in Lightroom and I almost never open Photoshop, unless I have some very complex editing to do. Lightroom is just a super handy tool for editing large batches of photos very fast. I usually just spend a few seconds on each of the photos and I can get through a lot in a very short amount of time. Of course, I’ve been using the program for quite a few years now, so I have a lot of practice with it.
If you are new to it, Lightroom can be a bit daunting, but I thought I’d gather the best resources I have found for learning the basics. It is not that difficult to get started, I promise! However, if you are not interested in learning about Lightroom, you will probably be bored out of your mind reading this blogpost, so maybe check one of my other posts, like THIS one on bullet journaling!
Getting Started in Lightroom
Did you really think I’d do my own tutorial on how to use Lightroom? No, come on, there are smarter people on the internet who can do way better ones! Mango Street is my current favorite channel for photography tutorials – they are always really educational, while also being super funny and short. I can’t bear when tutorials spend 15 minutes explaining a 3-minute problem. So most of their videos are actually only around 5 minutes. But, they now put together a 30-minute “Lightroom Masterclass” video. 30 whole minutes? I know, I know, but hear me out on this. What they cover in 30 minutes, I had to figure out through many hours of tutorials. It is likely the best and most concise introduction to using Lighroom you’ll ever find. It covers everything from importing photos, through basic editing all the way to exporting the photos. So go watch the video!
What I Do Differently
Now that you’ve seen the video and know exactly how Lightroom works… Let’s see what I do differently from what you saw in the tutorial. Not that any one way is better or worse, but a blogpost just re-sharing someone else’s content would be pretty boring, am I right? The first difference is that I only use one Lightroom catalog, but I remove all my photos from it after the editing – I’ll explain how and why a little later.
I have a very simple and quick system for culling my photos. By culling, I mean selecting the photos that I want to work on. I use the 1 and 2 keys on my keyboard as I quickly spin through all the photos in the Library panel. The photos that I don’t need (like really, really don’t need) get a 0-star rating, which means I do nothing to them. The photos which are okay-ish, but I don’t want in the final album, but also don’t want to delete get a 1-star rating. Photos of people pulling funny faces, duplicates, etc. all go in here – basically anything that I don’t want to delete, but also don’t want to spend time editing. Finally, the photos that I want to edit get a 2-star rating. I usually add a lot of 2-star ratings and when I go through the photos as I edit, I’ll “demote” a few to a 1-star, if I think it’s too similar to another shot for example.
To edit the photos, I filter so only the 2-star photos appear. I go over to the Develop panel, pop my preset of choice onto a photo, then I select all the photos and hit “sync” to add the preset to all of them. Just make sure you don’t sync the white balance and exposure when you do this! A quick note on presets: people can get really damn lazy and think that editing is just about applying the latest and greatest film-simulation preset, but as you learn Lightroom, you should learn how to edit photos without presets and later develop your own presets or customize existing ones. Presets are a great way to speed up your editing and give your photos a consistent look, but you shouldn’t be completely reliant on them. I usually use a preset which I made myself, very loosely based off an old VSCO preset.
After that, I go through each photo and adjust the crop, the white balance, tint and exposure as needed. I’ll use those tools on almost all photos. If I feel like I need to edit more, I usually use graduated filters or the brush tool (to bring back detail to super bright or dark areas), the heal tool if I need to remove or retouch something and I might also play around with the shadows/highlights/blacks/whites sliders. I occasionally use the dehaze tool and I might also go into the HSL panel to sort out colors if I’m not happy with what I see. But honestly, most of the time I just crop, and adjust WB, tint and exposure.
Now this is when I end up doing some weird things… Because I export photos three times! Don’t worry, I’m not crazy, I have a good reason for it. I select all the edited 2-star photos and export them once in JPEG at a reduced size, setting the long edge to 2048 pixels. This batch will be on my laptop and I use them on my blog and social media posts, because the smaller file size makes life much easier, especially when you have slow internet! Then I export the 2-star photos again to JPEG, but this time at full resolution. I later back up these photos to Google Photos and I keep them on a hard drive if I want some nice prints of photos. Google Drive does reduce image quality, but it is free to use, and I have it as a last layer of backup, plus it is an easy way to share photos with people.
Finally, I change the filter to include 1-star and 2-star photos, select them all and export them as DNG. Why? Well, DNG is essentially a way of keeping all the RAW data, plus your edits from Lightroom in the same file! So, I can just get rid of the photos in Lightroom, but if I ever want to re-edit something, I have the full file to work with, including previous settings which I can build off or get rid of completely and edit from 0. The DNGs are of course the most important to take care of, as these are the “originals” and they get backed up onto multiple hard drives.
Conclusions – Learning More
Lightroom is the best tool for editing batches of photos quickly and efficiently, at least for me! It may be daunting at first due to how many options it has, but really, the basics are easy and you can learn it all from the Mango Street video at the start of the blogpost. If you want to know more (of course you do!), there are a million videos on YouTube explaining every last tool in the program, however I find most of them too boring. My favorite sources for Lightroom tutorials are of course Mango Street, and Julia Trotti. Julia is a super talented photographer and she has many really good tutorials on editing portraits. Finally, I learned a lot about Lightroom, especially about file organizing from Chris Burkard’s Creative Live class – that is of course something you have to pay for, but for me it was really worth it.
Hope you enjoyed this little behind-the-scenes look into my editing workflow and that you will find the tutorials useful – trust me, it’s better to watch those than have me explain everything!