What is Adobe Lightroom?
If you’re asking that question, you’re in the right place. You’ve found part one of a six-part Adobe Lightroom tutorial for beginners.
Throughout this 6-part Lightroom guide, you’ll learn all of the basics to get started with editing photos in Adobe Lightroom. You’ll even learn some intermediate and advanced techniques to make your photos look amazing!
In this first session, you’ll learn (click to jump to each section):
- What is Lightroom?
- Program Layout
- Importing Photos to Lightroom
- Rating Photos
- Filtering Photos
- Reading the Histogram
- Exporting Photos from Lightroom
- Adding Watermarks
These lessons were graciously provided by Udemy‘s expert instructor Phil Ebiner, and recently updated by my Lightroom expert Angela in April 2021.
What is Lightroom?
Lightroom is a photo management and editing application designed for photographers. You’ll be able to organize, edit, export, and share your digital photos with this tool.
While there are many other photo editing applications out there, Lightroom does a superior job of allowing photographers to efficiently and powerfully edit their photos.
Lightroom is not a design tool. If that’s what you’re looking for, you can compare Canva alternatives here.
Classic versus CC
Lightroom comes in two main versions: Classic and CC. In this article, we’ll be talking about Classic, the desktop version.
Classic has the most features and is also the easiest for tasks like downloading a bunch of photos at once.
CC is the mobile version of the software. It doesn’t have quite the same features but can be used on smartphones and tablets.
Confusingly, you can also access CC on your desktop browser. But it doesn’t have all the features of Classic – you only get those through the downloaded desktop app.
For more about the different versions and how to use the right one, check out this article on Lightroom Classic versus CC.
To understand any computer program, the first thing you should be comfortable doing is navigating. Let’s go over the layout of Lightroom.
At the very top left is your file menu. While most of the options in the file menu are able to be chosen through the application windows and buttons, you may find it easier to just find what you’re looking for in the file menus.
For example, to export photos, which we will discuss in depth later, go to File – Export.
Near the top right are module tabs, including Library, Develop, Map, Book, Slideshow, Print, and Web. We’ll be covering the Library and Develop modules in this tutorial. Click on the module button to open that editing module.
On the left are organizational panels, including your Navigator, Catalog, and Folders panels. Basically, this is where you will import and organize your photos for editing.
In the center is your preview window. This is where you will see the work you are doing while editing and preview photos.
On the right are panels that change depending on what module you are in. If you are in the Library module, the right panels include more information and metadata about your photos. In the Develop module, the right panels include all of the photo editing tools.
At the bottom is the filmstrip of photos that shows the set of photos you are working on. In the Develop module, select the photo to edit via the filmstrip. At the top of the filmstrip are viewing options and filtering options, which we’ll cover below.
Shortcuts for navigation
|Go to Library module||Ctrl + Alt + 1||Command + Option + 1|
|Go to Develop module||Ctrl + Alt + 2||Command + Option + 2|
|Go to Map module||Ctrl + Alt + 3||Command + Option + 3|
|Go to Book module||Ctrl + Alt + 4||Command + Option + 4|
|Go to Slideshow module||Ctrl + Alt + 5||Command + Option + 5|
|Go to Print module||Ctrl + Alt + 6||Command + Option + 6|
|Go to Web module||Ctrl + Alt + 7||Command + Option + 7|
|Go back / go forward||Ctrl + Alt + Left Arrow / Ctrl + Alt + RIght Arrow||Command + Option + Left Arrow / Command + Option + Right Arrow|
|Go back to previous module||Ctrl + Alt + Up Arrow||Command + Option + Up Arrow|
The first thing to do when using Lightroom is to import photos.
A key difference between Photoshop and Lightroom (for those of you who have used Photoshop) is that when you import photos into Lightroom, you are only opening the photo file and not creating a duplicate of it. Any edits you make in Lightroom will be attributed to the original photo file itself.
There is an option while importing photos for Lightroom to copy the photos to a new location so that you don’t edit the originals.
To import your photos:
- Click the import button at the bottom left of the Library module.
- Find the folder that contains your photos using the Source panel on the left.
- In the middle preview panel, select all or some of your photos to import by checking the box next to each photo that you would like to import. You can also press the Check All or Uncheck All button to quickly select or deselect your photos.
- In the right File Handling panel, check the Add to Collection box.
- Create a new collection by clicking the + button next to the Add to Collection text. Creating a new collection for your photos is important for organizational purposes. A window will pop up where you can name the collection.
- Click the Import button on the bottom right.
The Library module opens up with all of the photos that you have imported.
On the left, you can see that you are viewing photos from Previous Import.
Click the Collections drop-down menu to see the collection that you just created, which includes the same photos as the Previous Import catalog.
Now that you’ve created a collection of photos, you can also find them in the Collections panel.
Shortcuts for importing photos
|Import photos from disk||Ctrl + Shift + I||Command + Shift + I|
|Open catalog||Ctrl + O||Command +Shift + O|
|Open Preferences||Ctrl + , (comma)||Command + , (comma)|
|Open Catalog Settings||Ctrl + Alt + , (comma)||Command + Option + , (comma)|
After you’ve imported photos, the next step is to rate the photos so that you know which photos you’ll want to edit later on.
To go through your photos one at a time, press the Loupe View button at the bottom of the preview window. It’s second from the right, next to the Grid View button.
Now you can scroll through your photos either by clicking them in the filmstrip below, or by using the right and left keys on your keyboard.
Lightroom has a five-star rating scale. How you rate your photos is up to you. Typically a photo rated at five stars is better than a one-star photo.
For simplicity, use the following rating scale:
- 5 stars: An amazing photo that you love
- 4 stars: A great photo that you like
- 3 stars: A decent photo that you still want to edit
- 2 stars: A bad photo that might be a duplicate, slightly out of focus, or otherwise just doesn’t make the cut
- 1 star: A terrible photo that you should probably just delete
To assign a rating to your photos, click the star rating button at the bottom of the preview panel. Note that you must have only one photo selected in the filmstrip.
You can also easily add ratings to your photos by pressing the corresponding number on your keyboard (1-5). This keyboard shortcut will apply the star rating to that photograph.
Go through all of your photographs and give them a rating.
Shortcuts for rating photos
|Set star rating||1 – 5||1 – 5|
|Set star rating and go to next photo||Shift + 1 – 5||Shift + 1 – 5|
|Remove star rating||0||0|
|Remove star rating and go to next photo||Shift + 0||Shift + 0|
|Increase/decrease rating by one star||] / [||] / [|
|Assign a red label||6||6|
|Assign a yellow label||7||7|
|Assign a green label||8||8|
|Assign a blue label||9||9|
|Assign a color label and go to next photo||Shift + 6 – 9||Shift + 6 – 9|
|Flag photo as a pick||P||P|
|Flag photo as a pick and go to next photo||Shift + P||Shift + P|
|Flag photo as a reject||X||X|
|Flag photo as a reject and go to next photo||Shift + X||Shift + X|
|Unflag photo and go to next photo||Shift + U||Shift + U|
|Increase/decrease flag status||Ctrl + Up Arrow / Ctrl + Down Arrow||Command + Up Arrow / Command + Down Arrow|
|Cycle flag settings||‘ (back quote)||‘ (back quote)|
|Refine photos||Ctrl + Alt + R||Command + Option + R|
After you’ve rated all of your photographs, you’ll be able to filter your Collection according to your rating. This will help you easily find only the best photos that you’d like to edit.
To filter using the star ratings, click the Filters menu at the top right of the filmstrip. There are a variety of ways that you can filter your photos. To filter according to your ratings, click the Rated option.
A five-star rating scale appears, and you can select the number of stars you want to filter out. For example, you can click the third star and filter out any photograph with a rating of two stars or lower.
You can even change how you filter the ratings by clicking the greater than or equal to button on the left side of the star scale. You can change how it filters toRating is less than or equal to or Rating is equal to.
Shortcuts for filtering photos in Lightroom
|Show/hide Library Filter bar||\||\|
|Open multiple filters in the Filter bar||Shift-click filter labels||Shift-click filter labels|
|Toggle filters on/off||Ctrl + L||Command + L|
|Find photo in the Library module||Ctrl + F||Command + F|
Reading the Histogram
Before diving into actually editing photos, it’s important to know how to read the photo’s Histogram, which appears in the top right of the Library and Develop modules.
What is a histogram?
A histogram is basically a graph that visually represents the exposure of each pixel in your image.
On the left side of the graph, the blacks and shadows are represented. On the right side, the highlights and brighter areas are represented. The middle section includes mid-tones.
The higher the peak in each section means the more pixels at that exposure.
The graph goes from 0-255 (0 being black and 255 being white). Each tone is one pixel wide on the graph.
In Lightroom, you can see in the histogram how individual colors are exposed. In the histogram above, notice that there is a big spike on the right side. This shows that a portion of the image is overexposed.
How can we use the histogram?
First, we can tell if the image is well exposed. If the graph has pixels going from 0 to 255 (from black to white) without any crazy spikes, then you have a well-exposed image.
While editing a photograph, pay attention to how the histogram changes. If you are editing an image too dark, the histogram will show a spike on the left end of the graph. If it is too bright, there is a spike on the right end.
If a photo already has a histogram with spikes on either side of the graph, this is not good because the data in these spikes can’t be recovered.
Remember when you can ignore the rules.
As in all creative endeavors, there are times to ignore these rules.
Some pictures that you want to take will have completely underexposed parts of the frame that will result in a spike. For example, night photography – pictures of the sky will often have pure blacks.
Sunsets will sometimes have pure whites (coming from where the sun is).
Just because you know what the histogram is telling you to do, doesn’t mean you should follow it.
The histogram is yet another tool. You’re the artist.
The other main feature you will use from the basic layout functions is to export photos.
Once you’ve made all of your edits to the photo, you will have to export them so you can share them with the world!
You can select as many photos as you want to download at one time.
Go to your filmstrip and simply select the first photo, then hit Shift and select the last photo. All of the ones between will be highlighted.
Or you can select individual photos by holding shift and clicking them to highlight them.
Once all the photos to be downloaded are highlighted, you go to File > Export.
An Export window will pop up with a variety of export options.
There are lots of settings to choose from. You can stick with the defaults, or follow along with the rest of the tutorial below. This will make it easier to find your photos later!
First, choose the export location. This is where your files will end up.
Choose a folder that already exists on your computer, or choose Put in Subfolder and type in the folder name. This will create a new folder and put your exported photos into that folder.
Next, choose how you want the exported photos to be named.
There are a few different options in the Rename To drop-down menu. Or, you can choose Custom Name to come up with your own names.
If you are exporting multiple photos, choose Custom Name – Sequence. Write out the Custom Text, which will be the actual name of the photo. Then type in the number you want the sequence to start at.
For example, if you are exporting 5 photos from a recent trip to Paris, maybe you want to the custom text to be Paris and the start number to be 1. The exported files will then be named Paris-1, Paris-2, Paris-3, Paris-4, and Paris-5.
Skip the Video section.
Next, choose the file settings.
Choose an image format. JPEG is great for sharing online or on a disk because the file sizes are small.
Choose a quality with the quality slider. I generally just set this to 100 for final exports.
Typically, you’ll want to leave the color space to sRGB, unless you know you want a different color space.
And lastly, check the Limit File Size To checkbox if you want to make sure the exported photos aren’t exported larger than you want. This is helpful if you are posting photos online and can’t upload a photo larger than a specific file size.
Next, adjust the image size.
For most cases, leave this unchecked to get the best quality export.
If you do have a specific size that you want, you can set the Width and/or Height limit. This is also beneficial if you are posting online and need a specific dimensions.
Setting the resolution to 150 will result in high-quality photos.
The rest of the options can be used on a case-by-case basis.
When you are happy with the settings, click the Export button on the bottom of this window. Lightroom will then process all of the images.
You can then find the exported files in the folder where you saved them.
Shortcuts for exporting from Lightroom
|Export selected photo(s)||Ctrl + Shift + E||Command + Shift + E|
|Export with previous settings||Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E||Command + Option + Shift + E|
How to add a watermark in Lightroom
To add a watermark to your photos, when exporting your photos check the Watermark export option.
In the drop-down menu, click Edit Watermarks. The Watermark Editor will pop up.
Here you can type in the text that you want to appear as a watermark. You can also upload a graphic that can be used as a watermark.
Use the Text Options to adjust the character settings. You have options for font choice, style (bold, italics, normal), alignment, and color.
Below that, you can add a shadow to your text. Check the box on or off to include a shadow or not. The opacity, offset, radius, and angle settings have to do with how the shadow appears.
Use the Watermark Effects to adjust to size and position of the watermark.
Click Save and name your watermark to be used in the future.
Then export your photo and the photos will have your watermark.
If you didn’t add a watermark when exporting and want to do so later, you could try one of these free watermark tools.
Learning the basics of Lightroom
These are a few of the basic functions of Lightroom you’ll want to get familiar with.
Then you are ready to move on to the next stage, Basic Photo Editing Tools.
If you haven’t purchased it yet, you can subscribe to Adobe Lightroom here. I will earn a referral fee if you purchase via my link.
Parts of this Adobe Lightroom tutorial, What Is Adobe Lightroom?, originally appeared on Udemy and are used by permission.
Bruce Blackwell says
“Lightroom is a photo management and editing application designed for photographers. You’ll be able to organize, edit, export, and share your digital photos with this tool. While there are many other photo editing applications out there, Lightroom does a superior job of allowing photographers to efficiently and powerfully edit their photos.” “A superior job…” Big talk. I don’t buy it. Superior to what? In what way? Non-destructive? I use a zillion well-organized layers in Photoshop. No side-car files to worry about? Only if I ruin my .raw originals by converting them to DNG (what were they thinking?). Plus, the GUI that is immutable, the black background I hate, the tiny little adjusting sliders and on and on. I’ll grant you that if I were a sport or wedding photographer who had no artistic pretensions I’d be in heaven with Lightroom. Spending my time humping out 100’s of images where “good enough is good enough” and praying that my clients spend a dollar or two every once in a while for an uninspired edit. No thanks.
Louise Myers says
I can see you speak from experience. Thanks for sharing your opinions.
As a retoucher, I can understand where you are coming from. I have strong preference of using Photoshop and Capture One for the majority of my post production work. However, I will never knock how powerful of a program Lightroom is for speeding up a photographer’s workflow and organization. It’s all dependent on the photographer’s genre, style, client, and software preferences; rather it Lightroom (or any other program is a good program for them). I also think it’s worth learning and playing with if you are in the photography world, there are many perks to using Lightroom rather you’re a professional or hobby photographer.