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Photography: Hitchhiker's Guide to Lightroom

I spend a lot of time in Lightroom 2 these days. I’m nobody’s pro, but I shoot a lot of photos, and after having used Lightroom (and now Lightroom 2) for a while now, I think I have a pretty good, simple, enthusiast-style workflow sorted out. I’ll summarize the workflow itself (importing through working up images) in follow-up post. Here are a few general tips that seem to work well for me:

Essentials, or Stuff I use constantly: I use Picks and keywords extensively. Reviewing newly-imported photos, I mark anything that I like right off the bat as a Pick by simply hitting shift-P as I scan through the gallery (and shift-X to immediately mark others as rejects; the shift modifier will mark the current photo and move on to the next shot). As I revisit a set of shots later, I find myself repeating this process; while those subsequent passes primarily identify further Rejects, I do occasionally find more Picks after starting to work up other photos. After each pass through a gallery, I use cmd-DELETE to remove (and delete) all the Rejects.

This has been a nice insight for my process: It means that I am fairly conservative when it comes to Rejects. That is, I don’t mark as Rejected 1) unless a photo is obviously bad (bad focus, blur, composition I really dislike, etc.) OR 2) until I’ve spent some time on photos in a set that I do like right from the get-go. This frequently helps give me a sense for appealing qualities of photos that I might not have noticed or thought of initially.

With a gallery through at least a first pass of identifying Picks and Rejects, I apply keywords. As with many aspects of processing photos, Lightroom has lots of ways to do this. There’s a jobber called Keyword Painting that I don’t use, because it’s always been much faster to simply select sets of photos and then apply keywords to the selection. In Lightroom 2, cmd-K focuses on the keyword entry box, which will auto-complete as you type. Lightroom 2 also has “recommended keywords” functionality, so that as keywords are assigned to a photo or set of photos, a new set of co-occurring keywords is identified and displayed for easy additional assignment.

Although I like to use a large-ish image preview (hit = to increase the size of preview images in the gallery grid) for screening for Picks and Rejects, for keywords I like to shrink the grid size (keyboard shortcut -). This fits more images into the grid and allows me to select larger sets for group assignment of keywords.

Lightroom allows for keywords to be nested, and there’s a great shortcut for accomplishing this: When entering keywords, separate child from parent keywords with a > sign: flickers > birds, for example, or burgers > food.

Simplifying, or Things I don’t use in Lightroom: Beyond keywording, Lightroom has at least a trio of way to identify and categorize photos: You can flag photos as Picks, label them with colors, and rate them with zero through five stars. I don’t use colors or stars at all. They may be highly useful for some situations, but they just clutter the cognitive space where I think about my photos: “Is this a three-star green photo, or a four-star blue one?” So except in the rarest circumstances, I haven’t yet found a use for ratings and color labels.

Indispensable keyboard shortcuts: There are grundles of these, but the shortcuts I use all the time are:

  • G, E, D: Gallery, Editor, and Develop modes
  • P: Mark as Pick (modify with shift)
  • X: Mark as Reject (modify with shift)
  • cmd-delete: Remove Rejects (optionally delete from disk)
  • cmd-K: Assign keywords
  • W: Jump to White Balance selector in Develop mode
  • R: Crop tool in Develop mode
  • J: Show clipped darks and highlights (Developer only; in gallery, changes display of thumbnails)
  • L: Cycle the lights (view on black)
  • tab/shift-tab: reveal/hide menu panels

Next time: The library filter, file organization, workflow, and Lightroom+Flickr?