PhotoTuts+ author Ivaylo Gerchev recently published a series of in-depth tutorials aimed at taking you from beginner to pro in Lightroom in only one week. Today we’re following that up with a few quick and easy Lightroom tricks that you can quickly add to your workflow whether you’re just picking up the app or have been using it for years.
The tips and tricks below will help you accomplish everything from navigating around the app better to smoothing out skin wrinkles.
More than One Way
If you’ve been using Photoshop for a few years, then you know very well that there are two or more ways to go about nearly every task. The app is so incredibly huge and powerful that your workflow has a wide range of flexibility. The result is that no two Photoshoppers work quite the same way.
Lightroom is exactly the same and features many seemingly redundant tools and processes for improving your photos. As we go through the tips below, you’ll occasionally see a couple alternative options, and you probably even have more suggestions for each process. Knowing your way around Lightroom gives you the flexibility to try multiple ideas to see which works the best in a given situation.
#1: Use Luminance to Create an Intense Sky
On bright, sunny days, you’d think it would be easy to shoot beautiful blue skies. Unfortunately, if you’re exposing for subjects that are in the shade or with their backs to the sun, you often get blown out or lackluster sky detail due to the fact that your camera is attempting to grab information from the shadows.
In Lightroom, you may first reach for the saturation slider for enhancing your sky, but this isn’t always the best option. For starters, saturation is going to intensify the colors globally, which may not be desirable if all you’re really concerned about is the sky. Further, saturation is a touchy setting and can easily begin to mess with skin tones and other important areas that you don’t want to mess up.
By dropping down to the Hue, Saturation and Luminance panel, you can easily target specific colors, which gives you much more control than a global shift. However, here again, saturation might not be the best way to go as the results can become almost cartoony with even a small adjustment.
A good alternative is to use the blue luminance slider. This does exactly what it sounds like it would and pulls some of the luminosity out of the blues in the image. The result is a darker, bolder sky that you can really tweak on an incremental level without messing up non-blue portions of the image.
#2: Stack Adjustment Brush Effects
The adjustment brush in Lightroom is an awesome tool that allows you to make changes to very selective parts of an image. One of the most powerful aspects of this feature that you won’t find in Photoshop brushes is that the changes you make are nondestructive and always editable, even if there are several brushes applied.
This makes stacking effects an incredibly useful trick. Not only can you combine multiple different adjustment brushes, you can repeat the same one to intensify the effect. For instance, in lieu of a proper blur feature in Lightroom, it’s often the case that users will create an adjustment brush with the Sharpness set to -100. However, this achieves and extremely subtle blur and must be applied several times before the effect becomes strongly apparent.
The basic process is that you grab the adjustment brush, tweak your settings, paint in the effect, then hit “New” to create a new instance of the effect. Repeat this step as necessary until the effect is as strong as you want it. Use this same method to apply different effects to different areas of the photo.
As mentioned above, after applying several instances of the brush, you can go back and edit each of them individually. Each instance of the effect is represented by a dot, simply click on one to see and adjust its settings or hover over one to see a quick preview of where you painted that effect in.
#3: Quick Skin Fixes
There are so many things that can go wrong with skin for a photo shoot. I live in the sunny desert of Phoenix so outside photos tend to really make people look overly red and patchy. Further, the dry climate tends to wreak havoc on our actual skin so there are always plenty of rough patches to clean up.
The image above uses a combination of my favorite techniques for improving skin quality in Lightroom. Let’s briefly go over each so you can combine them how you see fit. Remember to use them conservatively, several small changes amount to one big change.
The first thing to try is simply adjusting the brightness. If the symptom is dark, red skin, you want to brighten it up a little, which should bring the color back towards something natural. Also, as a side effect, some of the detail begins to drop off, which is actually a good thing when you’re dealing with wrinkles and pores that are overly apparent.
Next, we once again turn to our friend the Luminance slider. Here you’ll want to increase the luminance for both red and orange. This has the effect of brightening the skin up immensely in a natural way that’s not too harsh. Specifically, it targets those dark red patches and helps reduce their visibility.
One great method of doing this is to click the little circle in the top left of the luminance palette. This will allow you to then click and drag directly on the problematic portions of the skin while Lightroom automatically targets the luminance values for those areas.
Lightroom has a built-in tool that works quite well for this purpose: the “Soften Skin” adjustment brush (the Spot Removal tool is an obvious but vital tool as well). Dragging the Soften Skin brush over something will reduce the clarity, which means it’s a great way to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and other skin imperfections.
As you can see in the image below, the default setting for this brush actually increases sharpness. This is fine for some uses but I often find that I get better results by cranking both the clarity and sharpness down. Remember that you can always adjust the preset brushes and aren’t stuck with the settings Lightroom gives you!
My final trick for smoothing out skin is really quirky and should be cautiously approached. Scroll down to the “Noise Reduction” section to see various sliders aimed at reducing the color noise that is a common side effect of shooting at a high ISO.
To reduce the appearance of noise, Lightroom attempts to blur pixels together slightly. I’ve noticed that, as a side effect, this can be a quick way to slightly smooth out all the skin in an image. There are two reasons why you should think twice before doing this. The first is that it’s a global change, so you’re reducing the overall detail in your image. Secondly, the effect can create super ugly photos if applied in anything but very small amounts
However, there are cases where a slight loss of detail is acceptable, especially if it means smoother skin and less noise. Again, just be sure to take a close look at your before and after snapshot to make sure that you did in fact improve the image rather than destroy it!
#4: Switching Crop Overlays
Cropping images inside of Lightroom seems pretty straightforward, but there is some hidden functionality here that’s shouldn’t be missed. One of the most important of these is that you can switch between multiple crop overlays.
The default overlay is shown below. This overlay is definitely one of the most useful as it makes it easy to apply the rule of thirds to an image.
As it turns out though, this is merely one of six different crop overlay options that you have inside of Lightroom. To switch to the next option, simply tap the “o” key. You can also flip the orientation of any overlay by hitting shift-o.
To see all of the options, click on the “Tools” item in the menu bar. Then come down to the “Crop Guide Overlay” flyout menu to see the options shown below.
#5: Syncing Capture Times From Multiple Shooters
One of the easiest things to forget to do when you have multiple shooters is to sync the clocks on your respective cameras. This wreaks havoc when it comes time to import. It can be extremely frustrating to attempt to sort through photos if they’re bouncing back and forth between two different points in the day.
Fortunately, Lightroom offers a solution. It’s a little tedious, but once you get the workflow down you’ll be able to do it in a minute or two. The trick is two find two photos, one from each shooter, taken as closely together as you can find. The easy way to look for these is to scroll until you see the same event, anything from a laugh to a toast, from two different angles.
Once you find the two photos, select only one of them and scroll down to the Metadata panel under the Library module. You should see the capture time and date for the selected photo. Write this down exactly as you see it.
Next, filter your library results so that you’re only seeing images from the other shooter. Filters can easily be applied via the menu right above the library. Using a Metadata filter, you can easily select a specific lens or camera, which should be a good way to grab images from a specific shooter.
When your results are filtered, find the photo that you previously identified as taken at the same time as the image whose time you wrote down. Select only this image to target it specifically, then hit Command-A to select all of the images. Lightroom has a really nice double selection feature that comes in handy for tasks such as this.
Finally, click the button next to the capture time info that we saw before to bring up the dialog box below. From here, set the time to what you wrote down for the other image. Lightroom will apply the change to the targeted image and is also smart enough to shift every other selected photo by the same amount of time. This should match up the capture times for all of your photos between the multiple shooters throughout the day.
#6: Split Toning: Retro Sweet Spot
Split toning is a fun way to achieve dramatically different effects for your photographs, but the controls can be a bit confusing if you’re not familiar with them.
Given current trends in photography and design, I find a lot of people wanting to bust out a retro effect similar to what you’d see on Instagram or some other popular and trendy photo editor.
In recent years I’ve created and downloaded a ton of retro presets for Lightroom, and almost all of them are very similar in their split toning structure. Note the position of the both the highlight and shadow Hue sliders in the image below. The Highlights Hue is set to the first hash mark and the Shadows Hue is set to the first hash mark past the halfway point. Anything within one deviation of these locations is a sort of sweet spot that almost always yields interesting results.
Note that you also must manipulate the saturation and balance sliders, but their position will depend on what your image is like. I encourage you to have fun experimenting with these. Try different positions with these sliders to get a feel for the results, which will vary dramatically even within the Hue parameters that we’ve established.
Remember that this is only a quick trick to keep in mind and not in any way a hard and fast rule. Split toning, even with a retro goal in mind, can be achieved through any number of different techniques. The slider values above simply seem to be reliable in producing a sort of 1970s aged look.
#7: Fading a Lightroom Preset
We’re all huge fans of Lightroom presets. With a single click you can take your image from boring to amazing, who could resist? However, the inevitable problem that you run into with built-in presets and those that found online is that they’re simply too strong. For the most part, you like the effect, but just wish there was a way to dampen it.
Using only the default Lightroom functions, there are a number of ways to do this, all of which are a pain. The first and most obvious is to go through and attempt to spot all the changes and lessen them one slider at a time. Another popular option is to import an edited and a non-edited version into Photoshop, stack them together and reduce the opacity of the edited version until you like the result.
Both of these methods take too long and would be completely unnecessary if Adobe would just include a “Fade” command like the one found in Photoshop. Fortunately for us, there are some third party developers out there just as frustrated with this problem as we are!
Jarno Heikkinen, recently released an amazing free plugin on his site Knobroom.com. This plugin, simply titled “The Fader”, gives Lightroom the ability to fade presets!
After you download and install the plugin, grab a photo and navigate to the File>Plug-In Extras menu and click on The Fader. This will bring up the dialog below where you can select a preset and then reduce its opacity.
#8: Lights Out
This is one that I’ve known of for a while but frequently forget exists. Any time you want to draw focus to a specific area, you can use the Lights Out command to dim everything but the selected photos.
To try this out, go into Grid View, select a few images, then hit the “L” key. The lights will fade and the result will be something like the image below.
Notice in the screenshot above that the interface is merely dimmed and not completely black. Hit “L” again and this time everything goes completely dark.
This trick even works in the develop module. Interestingly enough, the dimmed interface doesn’t interfere with functionality so you can still continue to make changes while maintaining a strong focus on the image.
#9: Solo Mode
We touched on this briefly in our recent Lightroom in-depth series but it’s such a great feature that it’s worth taking a closer look at.
As you know, even though the Lightroom interface is incredibly efficient, there are tons of settings, especially under the develop module. With all of the panels expanded, it can be difficult to find what you’re looking for. Even if you’re experienced enough to know where everything is, you still lose lots of valuable time scrolling back and forth. Also, opening and closing a panel manually every time you want to use it quickly becomes tedious and annoying.
Fortunately, Solo Mode saves the day and makes Lightroom much more usable by auto-collapsing any panel that you have open as soon as you begin interacting with another panel. This makes navigating around the interface a breeze. If you’re skeptical, just try it out once and you’ll likely never go back.
To activate Solo Mode, right-click on either set of panels (it works on both the left and right side) and select the option shown below. With that one change your productivity can skyrocket!
To turn Solo Mode on and off even quicker, option click on any panel.
#10: Helpful Keyboard Shortcuts
To finish out this set of tips, I’ll list some helpful keyboard shortcuts that help perform all kinds of actions. Like Photoshop, Lightroom has all kinds of keyboard shortcuts, some of which are listed in the menu, many of which aren’t. Let’s take a look at some of the rarer shortcuts that can really save you a lot of time and extra clicks.
- Caps Lock Auto Advance: From Loupe view, enable Caps Lock and rate a photo (you can use the numeral keys to help assign ratings quickly.). As soon as you do, Lightroom will advance to the next image. This trick also works with flags and color labels.
- Library Views: Hit G to go to Grid View, E to go to Loupe View, C to Compare, N to survey and D to develop or edit the photo.
- Toggle Panels: Use F5-F9 to quickly turn on and off the four different tool panels orbiting the central area.
- Alternate Options: While in library view, hold down Option (Alt on a PC) and you’ll see a few changes. Import and Export become Import Catalog and Export Catalog and Quick Develop toggles the Clarity and Vibrance settings to Sharpening and Saturation. Also, holding Option on startup will allow you to choose a catalog.
- Reset Sliders: Holding down Option (Alt) in the develop module turns control titles into reset buttons. You can also double click a slider to return it to its original position.
- Straighten Tool: When using the Crop Tool, hold down Command (Control on a PC) to bring up the straighten tool. From here, just drag a line across anything in the photo that should be a straight line.
- Quick Slideshow: From grid view, select the photo that you want to start from and hit Command+Enter (Control+Enter) to start a slideshow.
- Moving Sliders: Use the arrow keys to move sliders forward and backward. Hold down Option (Alt) for smaller increments and Shift for larger increments.
- Show Shortcuts: Press Command+/ (Control+/) in any module to bring up a quick preview of the shortcuts for that module.
As promised, we bounced around from interface navigation to actual editing techniques, all aimed at making you more a more proficient Lightroom user.
I hope the information above taught you a thing or two that you didn’t already know or had forgotten. Whether you learned anything or not, share your favorite Lightroom tips, tricks and hidden shortcuts in a comment below!