It was interesting to read Scott Kelby’s 10 Things I Would Tell New Lightroom Users. In fact, I was a little surprised to see how many of his points would also be on my list. So items 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7 are good, though 10 is dubious and I’m with David Marx’s demolition of point 9.

Scott’s post was actually inspired by another article, recent Aperture refugee Scott Bourne’s 10 Things I Wish I Could Tell Every New Lightroom User which was mainly a run through of learning resources.

As I was preparing a “Lightroom not Photoshop” talk this evening for Richmond and Twickenham Photographic Society, I thought a top 10 would be a useful exercise for me too. So…. hello, I’m Scott – well, actually John – and here are….

10 Things I Wish I Could Tell A Slightly Less New Lightroom User:

  1. Until you know what you’re doing, use a single catalogue. And even then, think twice – remember that more than one catalogue means breaking up control of your picture collection. Three additional thoughts come out of this:
    • Tens of thousands of pictures is not a lot in database terms and plenty of Lightroom users have hundreds of thousands of pictures in a single catalogue.
    • Lightroom stresses the parts of your computer system that other programs don’t reach and any slowdowns tend to be caused by factors other than the number of pictures. Optimize your catalogue
    • Lastly, don’t worry about having all your eggs in one basket – cover yourself by backing up your catalogue and your images.
  2. Never use Explorer or Finder for moving or renaming files that are catalogued in Lightroom. Apart from affecting your image backup/recovery plan, moving files in Explorer or Finder is a bit like the local bookstore’s overnight cleaners getting high and spending their nights moving books to different shelves. How would the bookstore’s inventory system know where anything now is? Lightroom is in the same situation if you move stuff with Explorer or Finder. Ignore this warning and you’ll be spending a lot of time telling Lightroom where you’ve moved your files. On the other hand, tidying up after ignoring this advice will be a good learning experience….
  3. Put effort into learning to use smart collections, not into building dumb collections or into the filter panel. This is why Scott K’s point 10 – that you can cut down on keywords if you use collections – is such a leaky vessel. As well as keywords travelling with your files if you ever leave Lightroom, adding keywords means smart collections become an even more effective way to categorise and find your pictures.
  4. Switch on Develop’s Auto Sync mode and leave it on. This makes every slider movement or other adjustment affect all the images you’ve selected and is the most efficient way to work. Efficiency isn’t for its own sake though – the less time it takes you to get the whole shoot up to scratch, the more time is left for making the winners really stand out. Don’t worry if you sometimes forget AutoSync is switched on and you’ve adjusted the wrong images – you soon learn.
  5. Never pay a penny for a Develop preset.
    1. Presets are fine when you know what you’re doing, but they impede your learning. Learn Lightroom, and make your own once you know what you’re doing.
    2. Don’t be fooled by “Ilford FP4+” or “Fuji Velvia” or other film presets. They’re just using well-known brands to dupe you! B&W films’ characteristics are not so simple and the same film stock can look very different when it’s processed in different developers (eg grain can be sharper and more obvious) and its spectral response can be changed by using lens filters. If you want to shoot film, get a film camera – nowadays you’ll save yourself money.
    3. Somewhere out there is a monster preset generator spewing out presets with mild variations and stamping ludicrous prices on the bundle. A fool and his money are soon parted….
    4. If you’ve collected more than a few presets, you’re relying on others’ judgement about their pictures, not on your own eyes and your own creative instincts. Photographers should be hunters, not sheep.
  6. Use the targeted adjustment tool for colour adjustments or black and white conversion. Using the TAT means you keep your eyes on the picture and are evaluating its changing appearance without having to distract yourself by looking back and forth to the sliders.
  7. Learn a new keyboard shortcut every day. Keyboard shortcuts are the fast track to seeing Lightroom’s modules as simply “compulsory workspaces”.
  8. Wherever you drag a slider or click a button, try holding down the Alt/Option key. In many cases something useful will happen – you’ll see clipped colours in Develop, nest complex smart collections criteria, use the number pad with the Keyword sets….
  9. If you’re using more than one computer or other imaging programs, think twice before you adopt a hierarchical keywording system. Keyword spellings, cases, and hierarchies can easily diverge on different computers, or your third party programs won’t understand the hierarchy and will return the images to Lightroom with flattened keywords. Keeping keywords and hierarchies in sync takes discipline which you may not have. Just because you can create hierarchies doesn’t mean you have to do so.
  10. Be consistent with your metadata. Keywords are terms that describe a picture, not aspects of your workflow. Ratings are for your long-term evaluation of a picture’s quality, flags for temporary pick/reject decisions, and labels for whatever makes sense to you at the time. Here’s a way to remind yourself.