3 Tips for Streamlining your Lightroom Workflow

Establishing a solid Lightroom workflow can enormously reduce the amount of time you spend sorting and processing your photos. We’ve all been there. You come home from a fantastic trip with a card full of thousands of images. Now comes the daunting task of separating the wheat from the chaff. Don’t waste energy processing images that should have been passed over, or become paralyzed because you are overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. Here are three simple tricks that are big timesavers.

Create a develop preset. 

Pay attention to how you develop your images. There are probably adjustments that you make that are common to all your photos. So, make a custom Develop Preset and apply it to all your images upon import. This is an enormous timesaver. For example, I routinely lift the shadows, recover some of the highlights, reduce contrast, and bump up the vibrancy slightly on all my images. These settings are specific to my taste and my style, so starting out with a predefined preset saves me tons of time in processing.

Here’s how you do it. Navigate to the Develop module. Modify the image — any image — with the values you want in your preset. Adjust exposure, highlights, shadows, sharpness — whatever adjustment you want in your preset. When you’re satisfied with the adjustments, go to Develop > New Preset (or click on the + icon in the left panel Preset window). 

Lightroom Workflow: Create Presets

Lightroom Workflow: Create Presets

A window will pop up asking you which settings you want applied from your current image to your preset. Select which settings you want, then click “Create.”

Lightroom Workflow: Preset Panel

You’ll notice that your new preset now appears in the Preset panel. You can now apply your preset to any image or set of images with one click. To apply your new Preset to all of your photos upon import, on the Import screen in the Library module, go to the Apply During Import section on the right panel. There’s a Develop Settings pull-down menu where you can select your develop preset. Your new preset will remain the default import setting.

Separate the wheat from the chaff.

Culling is the toughest job for many photographers. It can be enormously time-consuming to determine which images to delete and which images to flag for processing. Here’s one way to do it. Create a target collection and use it to group your best photos in one place. To do this, create an empty Collection folder and name it whatever you want. I use something like the “Best of” with the location followed by the date. Right click on the folder and select “Set as Target Collection”. Then, as you go through your Library of photos, you can assign any image to that target collection with one keystroke. Hover your finger over the “B” key (shortcut to assign an image to a target collection) and the “X” key (shortcut to mark an image for deletion later). I use the “X” key only for images that have some obvious flaw, like focus issues, sun flare, or unwanted movement. Those “X”’d images can be deleted later with a single command.

Lightroom Workflow: Creating Smart Collections

Lightroom Workflow: Creating Smart Collections

Once all your best images are assigned to the collection, you can further cull the images in the collection by reviewing each one and removing the weaker images. The “B” key can be used again, and in this case hitting the “B” key un-assigns an image from the collection. It’s okay to be brutal here because you are not actually deleting your images, just removing them from the collection.

Finally, create your own system for rating your images. Lightroom has three ways to prioritize and sort images — flags, stars and colors. I’ve developed a three-star system. I assign one star for images that are good enough to warrant a second look. Two stars are assigned once I’ve determined that an image should be processed and I’ve made further Lightroom adjustments to it. And, finally, I upgrade the image to three stars after I’ve processed it in Photoshop. I don’t use the four or five star rating, nor do I use Colors for sorting. Once I’m satisfied with the processing, I give the image a title and put the name in the Title field for easy retrieval later. 

If I need to select images for a specific project, such as an exhibit or an article, I use additional Collections to group and cull further. I’m sure there are creative ways to use Lightroom’s filtering systems, so go ahead and create your own rating system.

Memorize the keyboard shortcuts for the actions you use most.

Move quickly between the Library and Develop modules, which are the two modules where I spend most my time.

  • G for Library (or Grid) and D for Develop.
  • The F key lets you view the current image in full screen mode.
  • Shift + Tab will hide all of Lightroom’s side panels, leaving only your images on the screen. Or, L (for   Lights out) will remove all distracting elements from the screen.
  • Z to zoom in and out. Automatically set exposure, black, and white point by holding down the Shift key double clicking on the words “Blacks”, “Whites”, and “Exposure”.

For a complete list of shortcuts, hold down the Command + / to display the keyboard shortcut for that module.

Lightroom Workflow: Creating Smart Collections

Lightroom Workflow: Memorize Shortcuts

While I have developed my own editing process over the years, I’ve only covered a few items in this article. In the comments below, feel free to share your own tips or tricks that you have found to help speed up your Lightroom processing.

About Author Charlotte Gibb

Charlotte Gibb is a contemporary fine art photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area specializing in landscapes of the Western United States. Her images are often taken in familiar places for the well-versed landscape photographer, but she prides herself on her keen an eye toward the subtle and sometimes overlooked beauty of the natural world. Charlotte earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and has exhibited her work in several solo shows throughout California. Her darkroom, long gone now, has been replaced with digital darkroom tools, and her style has evolved from a somewhat journalistic approach, to one that pays tribute to the natural world.