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Learn Lightroom in a Week - Day 1: Workspace and Preferences

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Read Time: 20 min

In today's tutorial we're going to start the process of learning Photoshop Lightroom from the ground up. Over the course of the seven article series, we'll cover everything from setting up the application, right through to in-depth techniques for post-processing and organising your work.

In this first piece, we'll investigate the Lightroom interface, adjust basic preferences, and personalise the software for your own business. Ready to jump in? Let's get started!


What is Lightroom?

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, or just Lightroom for short, is a complete toolbox for professional digital photographers. It consists of five separate modules, each focused on a specific phase of the photographic workflow.

Lightroom provides photographers with a rich set of tools for every day photographic tasks like importing images to the computer, organizing and sorting them, making edits and adjustments, and finally outputting them for a wide variety of mediums.

And all of this is done in one single program! Lightroom's beautiful and user-friendly interface, easy of use, powerful database management features and non-destructive editing capabilities make it the preferred choice for many photographers all around the world. Plus, the close relation and integration with Photoshop - the most popular professional image editor on the planet.

How Does Lightroom Compare With Bridge, Camera Raw and Photoshop?

Well, you can think of these powerful applications as members of a big (OK, not so big), happy family, each with its own role and capabilities. I personally like to consider Lightroom as a some kind of hybrid between Bridge and Camera Raw with one distinguishing difference - it's better.

First and foremost, Lightroom is especially created for digital photography tasks like organizing, sorting and filtering photos and image files, while Bridge is more of a general file browser and asset management tool. When you need to find a PDF document, sound, or video file, Bridge is the best choice. Otherwise Lightroom is more suitable.

You don't need to worry about Camera Raw because, in fact, it is incorporated in the Develop module of Lightroom (along with some extra features like the Adjustment Brush for example). At some point you'll definitely need Photoshop for performing more complex tasks, such as adding special effects or stitching your images in panorama and so on.

So, the bottom line is: Lightroom is extremely useful when you have to process hundreds or thousands of images without need of adding special touches to each individual image. But when you need to perform more specific tweaks to individual photos (or add a complex special effect), Photoshop is your best friend.

And of course in order to gain all the bells and whistles you have to use them both. And you will learn how later on in this tutorial series! But for now let me introduce you to Lightroom...

Step 1: Lightroom Application Window

When you launch Lightroom, the main window opens with settings and image selections used when you last quit the program. The Lightroom interface consist of the following parts:

The title bar contains information about which catalog is open and which is current module.

The menu bar contains menus and commands for various tasks.

The top panel group contains Identity Plate (left) and Module Picker (right).

By default the Lightroom logo is shown, but as you will see later this can be changed to show your name and logo. It's good to know that sometimes when Lightroom is working on a process, the Identity Plate is replaced with the Activity Viewer, which shows one or more progress bars.

Lightroom can perform several processes at the same time. This means you don't have to wait for a particular process to complete before moving on another task. For example, during the process of importing images you can still work on your photos in the Library or Develop module.

The Module Picker is used to activate the different Lightroom modules.

The left and the right panel groups contains various panels with tools and commands for specific tasks and operations.

The main view area is where your images are shown in various different layouts. At the bottom of it you can see the Toolbar where you can choose different view modes, find tools for sorting, flagging and rating, and change the size of your images or rotate them.

You can choose which tools are visible by selecting them in the fly out menu at the far right of the toolbar. You can toggle Toolbar visibility by pressing T key.

The bottom group contains only one panel called Filmstrip which shows thumbnails for the images contained in current source.

Step 2: Understanding Modules

There are five modules inside Lightroom, and each one of them represents a specific phase of the photographic workflow. When you activate a module, the Lightroom interface is changed according to it.

For example, if the current module is Develop, then the menubar, main view area and side panel groups are filled with menus, commands and tools specific for that particular module. Only the Filmstrip panel remains the same throughout all the modules. Of course, the Identity Plate and Activity Viewer also remain the same.

Library (Ctrl + Alt + 1)

In this module you have different possibilities to import, export or publish photos. Also here you will find a whole bunch of tools and methods for organizing, sorting, rating, flagging, labeling, filtering and finding the images you've shot.

Besides this you can add keywords and all kind of metadata to your photographs and many, many more. In addition you can make initial edits in Quick Develop panel.

Develop (Ctrl + Alt + 2)

This module give you the ability to perform a variety of post-processing tasks, like cropping and straightening, tone and color adjustments, sharpening, noise reduction, lens corrections, and so on.

Also you can apply local adjustments or add some basic effects to your photos. We will see the real power of this module when we start working on some projects. The cool thing is that all adjustments you have made here are non-destructive and can be turned on or off.

Slideshow (Ctrl + Alt + 3)

This module provides you with extremely easy way to design and play visual presentations of your work. You can produce impressive slideshows, and export them to PDF or video.

Print (Ctrl + Alt + 4)

Here you can print your images in a variety of pre-built layouts or you can create custom templates.

Web (Ctrl + Alt + 5)

Creating HTML or Flash based web galleries is breeze in this module. You have many different templates to choose from and you can tweak them as needed. Finally, you can upload your gallery via FTP to your site.

Step 3: Working With Panels And Panels Groups

The panels are arranged in two main groups - left panel group and right panel group. To expand/collapse a panel, just click on the title bar.

To open or close panel simply right-click on panel title bar and choose its name. The asterisk after the panel's name means that this is the panel you clicked. The Navigator/Preview and Histogram panels can't be closed. If you want to have only one opened panel at a time, choose Solo Mode. In this mode opening one panel close all the others automatically.

Notice that below the panels there is a small graphic ornament. It's called the "End Mark" and serves as a visual sign that there are no more panels below. You can change it if you want - just right-click on it or around it, go to Panel End Mark in the bottom of the pop-up menu and choose a different ornament from the list.

To Show/Hide the Panel Group, click on the outer edge. Right-click on the edge to see options for showing and hiding the panel groups. In Auto Hide & Show mode you can temporarily show the panel group by hovering your mouse cursor over the collapsed panel at the outer edge of the window, when a panel group is hidden.

If you prefer to open and close manually, choose Manual mode. In addition you can select Sync with Opposite Panel. That way when you open left panel group the right panel group is opened simultaneously.

Visibility of the panels persist for each module until you change them.

Here is a little secret for you: At some places in Lightroom's interface, pressing the Alt key shows some additional hidden features. For example, in the Quick Develop panel, pressing Alt changes the Clarity and Vibrance options to Sharpening and Saturation. So, remember this tip for the future use!

Step 4: Using Screen Modes

Lightroom interface has three screen modes which can be accessed in the Window menu by choosing Window > Screen Mode. Here's an overview of how these work:

Normal (Ctrl + Alt + F) - In this mode you can resize the main window by clicking and dragging its sides or corners and move it around by clicking and dragging the title bar at the top.

Full Screen with Menubar - Here the title bar is hidden, the window fills your screen entirely and it's not resizable.

Full Screen - Both the title bar and menubar are hidden. The window fills your screen entirely and you can't resize it. This is the most efficient mode because it frees additional space to work on and you can access the menubar at any time just by putting your mouse cursor at the top edge of the screen.

To cycle through modes press F repeatedly.

There is also one additional mode called Full Screen and Hide Panels (Ctrl + Shift + F). Keep in mind that when you use it and then switch to Normal mode the panels remain hidden. In order to bring them back press Tab key.

Step 5: Understanding File Formats

Here I will give you a basic understanding of different file formats used in the Lightroom workflow, and which each is best for. When we get to import, export and publish images I will give you tips what to choose but for now it's good to know some basics!

DNG (Digital Negative) is developed and standardized by Adobe. DNG has three main advantages in comparison with others raw formats: 1) DNG is an open source format. This mean the photographers may be sure that in the future they will be able to access their files, 2) DNG files are smaller than many other raw formats, 3) DNG don't use sidecar files to hold metadata. It's good habit to convert your raw images to DNG format considering the advantages mentioned above.

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) is used to display photographs and images containing smooth gradients and plenty of colors in web sites, web photo galleries, slideshows, etc.

PSD (Photoshop Document) is the standard format used in Photoshop.

TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) is an extremely flexible bitmap format used to exchange files between applications and different computer platforms. It is supported by virtually all kind of software programs and devices. When you need to exchange files between Lightroom and Photoshop this is the recommended format.

Step 6: Color Management Basics

Fortunately, color management in Lightroom is quite simple. The program perform this internally and you don't have to worry about choosing color settings or color profiles until you are ready to export your photos. In order to view accurate colors, all you need is a properly calibrated monitor.

Color Space is a mathematical model describing the range of colors possible in an image file or on an imaging device, such as monitor or printer. The range of colors that a device can reproduce, or that an image file contains, is called the color gamut.

A color gamut is described by an ICC Profile which is a small file that describe the color space of an image or imaging device. In many image file formats, the profile for the image's color space can be embedded in the file. The embedded profile tells the color management system the parameters for translating the photo's colors to different devices, such as printers, monitors, etc.

The most commonly used RGB color spaces in digital photography are sRGB, AdobeRGB (1998) and ProPhoto. sRGB has the smallest gamut, while ProPhoto has the largest gamut.

Step 7: Basic Preferences

Before we start using Lightroom I will show you how to set some basic preferences and how to reset others to their defaults. Go to Edit > Preferences to open the Preferences dialog window.

In the General Preferences you can change the language in which the menus, options and tooltips in Lightroom are displayed, if needed. If you choose not to display some prompts or dialog boxes, clicking on the button "Reset All Warning Dialogs" will restore them to the original setting if need be.

In the Presets Preferences in the Lightroom Defaults section you can reset  Lightroom presets to their original settings.

In the File Handling Preferences, pay attention to Camera Raw Cache Settings. In order to increase Lightroom performance set the value for Maximum Size to 10 or more gigabytes (if you have the free space).

In Interface Preferences, you have options to change End Marks and the font size of panel titles. To change the background of Main View area choose Fill Color and/or Texture under Main Window label. We will see how to use Secondary Window in another tutorial, as there's quite a bit to discuss here.

Basically, that is all you need to set up for now! We will explore the other specific preferences in context during the rest of these tutorials.

Step 8: Identity Plate Setup

Identity Plate is a cool way to personalize your copy of Lightroom and also to add personality to your prints, slideshows and web galleries. I bet you'll definitely want to change it, so let's get started. Knowing how to set up your Identity Plate and Watermarks is important because they can be used in many different ways to enhance the look and feel of your prints, slideshows and web galleries.

 Go to Edit > Identity Plate Setup. First check Enable Identity Plate box, type whatever text you want and highlight it. Now you can choose font, font size and color. If your text consists of two or more words you can edit them separately by highlighting each one and choosing settings for it.

Now if you want your logo to instead be a pre-created graphic, check "Use a graphical identity plate" radio button and click on "Locate File"./p>

If you want to modify the look of module picker buttons, click on Show Details button. Then click on the buttons and choose font options and colors for active and inactive states.

When you are ready with your identity plate, save it by choosing Save As from the Custom pop-up menu.

Now your preset is saved and you can access it from the Custom pop-up menu (or later delete it by choosing Remove).

Step 9: Edit Watermarks

You have ability to include a watermark in your work in Slideshow, Print and Web modules

Go to Edit > Edit Watermarks. In the  Watermark Editor dialog box, type your watermark text under the preview area and specify the Text Options in the right. Look at the preview area to see the result.

If you want a graphical style watermark, click the button below Image Options and choose a file. Finally specify Watermark Effects which are available for both Text and Graphic based watermarks.

If you have more than one image selected, use the left and right arrow buttons to preview the watermark on each selected photo. Click Save to save the current settings as a preset.

Now if you open Watermark Editor again you can view your preset listed in the Custom pop-up menu. To create another preset, specify the new settings and choose Save Current Settings as New Preset from the same menu.

When you select a saved preset in the menu, you'll see options appear to delete or rename it.

Step 10: Getting Help

The help menu in Lightroom gives you several choices to get help when you need it.

The first one is to choose Help > Lightroom Help or just press F1. This will launch the Adobe Community Help application where you can explore the user guide for the Lightroom. Also you can search for specific topic in the Search area at the upper-left corner.

The other two options are context sensitive, which means that you will get different results depending on which is the currently active module. If it is Library module you will get specific help for it.

Here you can get a very handy list of the available keyboard shortcuts in every module by choosing Help > Library Module Shortcuts which is the active module in this example. Of course you can just press Ctrl + / for short.

Tooltips are also really handy when you need additional information about what particular tool or control can do. If there's a keyboard shortcut assigned to that tool or command it will also be shown in the tooltip.

For example, if you hold your mouse cursor on the title bar for a few seconds without clicking or moving, the tooltip will appear telling you the location of the currently opened catalog. The example below shows the tooltip for the Crop Overlay tool with the shortcut assigned to it.

Step 11: Create a Custom End Mark

In the next three steps I will share several quick tips on how to create your own graphics in Photoshop and how to use them in Lightroom.

Let's begin with the End Marks. The purpose of end marks it's not only to enrich the Lightroom interface but to serve as a visual mark informing you that there are no more panels below. So I think a graphic with text "The End" will be good choice for our exercise.

Start by creating new document named "End Mark" with dimensions 75x50.

Now choose Type Tool (T) and select a script font. I'm using French Script MT, 24px and color #4e4e4e. If you have it, use it, otherwise choose whatever you like. The important thing here is to be script font (so it looks stylish!)

Type the text "The End". Grab the Move Tool (V) and select both the Background and the text layers, then align their horizontal centers from the options bar.

After that, choose the Custom Shape Tool (U) and select Floral Ornament 3 from the Ornaments category in the pop-up menu in the options bar. Set the same color as for the text layer.

Shift-click to constrain proportions and drag to create the flower. Right-click on the shape layer and select Rasterize Layer (you have to click on the name of the layer to get the right menu).

Now duplicate the layer by dragging it to the Create a new layer icon at the bottom of Layers panel. Go to Edit > Transform and choose Flip Horizontal. Now you have all parts done! For the way to position them properly, see the image below.

One last thing you have to do is to hide the background layer by clicking on the eyeball icon in front of it. This is because we need a graphic with transparent background, if we want our newly created end mark to appear correctly in Lightroom.

The final step is to save the file as PNG. Choose File > Save As and select the PNG file format from the Format pop-up menu in the Save As dialog window.

Now you have a custom end mark, but still need to include it in the Lightroom interface. To do that in Lightroom right-click on the end mark and choose Panel End Mark > Go to Panel End Mark Folder. Now grab the file you've just created and place it in that folder.

And that's it! Now your end mark is listed below the defaults and you can choose it to see what is look like. Go ahead and get creative with your end mark!

Step 12: Create Custom Identity Plate

The text style for a basic Identity Plate may be good enough for some people, but I think a well crafted graphical logo will fit much better in a professional setting. So, let's create one!

Create new document called "Identity Plate" with dimensions 500x50. Fill the background with black. Type "VIVID" in uppercase, and use the following settings for font and color: Futura Md BT, Medium, 36px, #e4e4e4.

Next type "PHOTOGRAPHY" with these settings: Garamond, Regular, 24px and color #878787. Now choose Custom Shape Tool (U) and select Registration Target 1 from the Symbols category.

Shift-click and drag the shape. Now apply a Gradient Overlay effect on it with following settings:

Now arrange the three elements you've just created in following manner.

Here is how it will look when you put it inside Lightroom. Beautiful, isn't it?!

Step 13: Create Custom Watermark

You may think a watermark is just a simple copyright graphic with your name, but in fact it can be much more (and it can be used much more creatively than you imagine). I will show you what I mean in the next example.

Create new document "Watermark" with dimensions 200x250. Create a new rounded rectangle shape layer using Rounded Rectangle Tool (U). Set radius to 10px and the color to black, and align it with the background layer.

Now add Bevel and Emboss effects and a Stroke effect with the following parameters.

Name the layer "Plate" and lock it by clicking on little icon in the layer panel.

The next step is to create a little frame with the Custom Shape Tool (U) by choosing Check Box from Symbols category and setting the color to this value: #949494.

Create another element with the same color by choosing the Tree shape in the Nature category. Try a few of these until you're happy. To hold them on one layer, press and hold Shift key while you make them.

Create a Crescent Moon shape with the same color by choosing it from Shapes category.

Here is how the three elements could be arranged:

Here is the layer arrangement:

Create a new Lightning shape from the Nature category and add the Gradient Overlay effect to it:

Now we will create two text layers. The text for the first is "PHOTOGRAPHS BY" with these settings: Arial, Regular, 10px and color #3c3c3c.

For the second, type "lights playground" with these settings Arial, Bold Italic, 14px. The color for the first word is #bebebe, and for the second is #606060.

The distance between the two words is six hits of the spacebar. See below for visual reference:

Add two shapes with Custom Shape Tool (U). Choose the Forward shape, which you will find in the Web category, for the first one and the Copyright shape, which is in the Symbols category, for the second one. The color for the first is #ffe348, and #606060 for the second.

Arrange them something as follows:

Create a new text layer with this text - "where the magic is born" and with this font: Papyrus, 12px, color #48a9e7. Now add new shape layer choosing Nuclear shape from Symbols category with this color #ffcd33.

See below how to arrange the last two elements. When you are done, turn off the visibility of the background layer and save the file as PNG. And that's it! We'll be showing you how to actually watermark your images in another tutorial, so stay tuned!


That concludes our introduction to Lightroom, the interface, finding help, and customising various aspects for your own business and branding.

I hope you found it useful, and I look forward to seeing you again next week when we continue our exploration of Lightroom in more depth!

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