Lightroom is by far one of the most popular tools amongst photographers. Since it has both a powerful RAW editor and an efficient library module, it’s become a go-to software for both complete beginners and seasoned experts. However, there are many who aren’t fully exploiting the powers of this software due to a few minor mistakes. These mistakes aren’t necessarily large but in the grand scheme, they might cost you a lot of time and even lower the quality of your images.
In this article, I’ll introduce you to 3 mistakes beginners make in Lightroom and how you can fix them. Keep in mind that I’m referring to beginner Lightroom users not necessarily beginner photographers (though at least one of these mistakes might be most relevant for amateur photographers).
#1 You Don’t Organize Images
It’s not hard to understand why most of us want to start viewing and processing our images as soon as we import them to our computer. However, before you begin selecting and processing them, there are some steps you should follow. In fact, these steps start already before installing Lightroom.
The first step is to create a folder hierarchy on your computer or Hard Drive. Exactly how you choose to do this depends on your preferences but it’s crucial that you take the time to organize your images. In our Lightroom 101 series, I mentioned how it took me well over a year to realize that I had to organize my images. With more than one thousand images laying in one single folder, it took me more than a day to organize and put them into appropriate folders.
My folder structure looks something like this: Photography (Main Folder) -> Country (Subfolders) -> Year (Subfolder) -> Region (Subfolder).
Depending on the location I might even add another subfolder which names the specific area the image was captured. Since I travel quite a bit, I’ve found this system to work quite well for me. However, if you’re mostly photographing around your local area, you might want to find a system that suits you better.
The main benefit of organizing your folders like this is that you can easily locate images at any given time. It’s also easy to import new images to these folders later on.
Keywording, Ratings & Labeling
When the images are imported to Lightroom, there are still a couple of things you need to do before starting to process them. The first is to give the images appropriate keywords. While the keywords might not be a tool you need on a daily basis, it’s worth spending the time on it. Let’s say that a client wants to purchase a specific image of you or perhaps an image of a specific subject such as a flower. If you haven’t used keywords, it can be quite difficult to go through thousands of images looking for that one photo. When you use keywords, however, you simply search for “flower” or “red flower” in the search box and you’ll find it within a few minutes. What sounds best?
Adding keywords to images in Lightroom doesn’t take a lot of time, even if you’re importing hundreds of images. Simply select all of them and add the keywords that are the same. After that, you can add more specific keywords to certain images if that’s needed.
So, what about rating and labeling? Should you also add this to your images? The answer is yes. This is yet another tool that will make it easy for you to find images at a later point and keep an organized library.
Just as with building a folder hierarchy, people have their own preferences regarding rating and labeling. This is how I rate my images: images for stock & articles (2 stars), images I like and want to process (3 stars), images I have processed (4 stars) and images I have printed (5 stars). Again, this is a system that works great for me but you might prefer something different.
I use labeling less frequently than ratings but whenever I’m doing focus stacking or blending multiple images for dynamic range, I will add a red label to the images.
#2 You Use Only Global Adjustments
The second mistake I see commonly see amongst new Lightroom users and beginner photographers are that they only use global adjustments. Since Lightroom is a RAW editor, it’s most known for this exact purpose; making global changes to color, contrast and other settings. However, you’re also able to add several of these adjustments selectively.
Let’s use an example to explain this better. It’s very common to see someone increase the Clarity slider to +100. I’m not a big fan of this slider in general and I rarely see the purpose of using it on the entire image. However, every now and then you want to add clarity to specific parts of the image (let’s say rocks in the foreground) to make them stand out. This can easily be done by using an Adjustment Brush.
While you’re not able to make all adjustments using an Adjustment Brush, you’re able to make changes to the basics such as Temperature, Tint, Highlights, Shadows, Contrast, Clarity, Sharpness etc. These are adjustments that, in many cases, you want only on certain areas of the image. You can also add these adjustments with the Radial Filter and Graduated Filter (see this article for more info).
By using these selective adjustments, you’ll quickly see a significant difference in your images. In fact, I suggest that you open Lightroom right now and do a quick experiment. Select one image and make a Virtual Copy of it. In the first image, increase the Clarity Slider to +70 and in the second, use an adjustment brush and brush only a specific part of the image with the same settings. Jump back and forth between the two images and you can see just how big the difference is.
You Only Use Presets
Lightroom Presets can be very useful in certain scenarios and especially when you’re in a hurry but you shouldn’t rely on these pre-programmed settings 100%. Regardless of how often you use them, you should still learn and understand how you can make these adjustments yourself. This will give you a much better understanding of the software and be helpful down the line.
Spend some time learning the different modules and tabs in Lightroom. See if you can recreate some of the presets without looking at their actual settings. Try experimenting and attempting to create certain effects or techniques. It’s ok if you go back to the presets at the end of the day; just make sure that you understand what they actually do.
By learning how to use the settings yourself, it will also become easier for you to continue processing the image even after you’ve added the preset. Perhaps you’ll even find your own style or look by doing so!