Making Lightroom Work for You: Processing Pictures in Bulk

In our last article, A Guide to Processing Your Photos in Lightroom Classic, we walked through all the steps of developing a photograph in Lightroom, from start to finish. If you’ve been following along, you now know what the Adobe Lightroom software is, how to get your images into Lightroom, organize them, and make them the best they can be.

The problem is, developing your photos one by one can be very time consuming. The final piece of the puzzle is efficiency – avoiding your snaps being stuck in a ‘maybe later’ pile, without turning image editing into your full-time job.

So how is it possible to process several pictures at once?

Surely every photograph deserves to be developed into its full potential?

The key here is to remember that most of development is just choosing how your camera should interpret the world it sees, and that many of your pictures are taken in the same place, with similar lighting.

The Reference Image

The idea is to develop only one image for every set of similar images. One of the big advantages to Lightroom is that it’s entirely non-destructive. There is nothing stopping you from applying your first development to every photograph in your set – if it isn’t quite right for some of them, then you’ve just identified another group.

Generally, once you’ve developed your reference image, it’s worth at least trying those development settings on every other image taken in the same place (so long as it was the same time of day!).

The Advantages of Consistency

While this approach can save you a lot of time, it’s really a better workflow even if you do have the time. The reason for that is consistency.

Most of the settings we play with in development don’t have a single, perfect spot, but a range of perfect options. When looking at photographs, we can’t really see a difference within that range – it all looks good.

But if those pictures are put together, they suddenly look a touch off. And that’s because they don’t match when we expect them to. The biggest culprit here is white balance – even small changes that you could never detect in a single image become obvious side-by-side.

Applying Your Edits

Once you have your reference image developed, it’s time to make the others match. Lightroom makes this process really simple: with your image selected, ctrl-click on other images to add them individually, or shift-click to add all between the two. With your pool selected, hit the sync button on the bottom right at the very bottom of the development panel.

sync button on adobe lightroom classic

A panel will pop up asking you which settings you want to sync. This really is up to you and how much time you have. Some photographers like to sync white balance only, and tweak other options like contrast separately. Depending on what I’m editing, I select most of the options and then go through and tweak. (My pro tip is to edit in reverse order of the pictures taken, but that’s a story for another day).

synchronize settings on adobe lightroom classic

However, you probably don’t want to sync cropping or spot filters, under normal circumstances. Matching edits like that tend to apply to more advanced techniques such as exposure bracketing landscapes.

Fine-Tuning

At this point, you may well be done. However, a couple of small tweaks often improve things (and don’t take long, now most of the work has been done).

Not every image needs cropping, but many do benefit from it. With the resolution of modern cameras, many photographers deliberately oversize their framing to make sure they have room to crop just right, and now would be the time.

This is also the time for photographers who like taking fine control of exposure with curves to have their fun. Depending on how you choose to set contrast initially, this could be a matter of editing the synced curve, rather than setting a completely new one.

And with those last few tweaks, your image is fully developed. Anything more (with the possible exception of split-toning) would be considered image editing, and while some small edits can take place in Lightroom itself, it’s really the domain of the software’s older sibling, Photoshop.

Processing multiple pictures at once has an alternative way to the one outlined above! And you’ve probably heard about about this one more than the sync option.

The Other Option

There is one other workflow worth mentioning, and that is the preset. A preset is exactly what it sounds like – a collection of saved development settings, ready to be applied again and again with a single click.

Presets Menu already installed on Adobe Lightroom Classic

Lightroom has a few of these pre-loaded in their updated Cloud software, but personally I haven’t used them yet (they weren’t there when I was creating presets before the Cloud software was available). You can either create your own or download them from the internet (and there are many available). I have authored presets on one popular website, written several reviews on other presets, have tutorials & step-by-step edits with other presets, and of course I share presets I’m currently using in my Facebook Group. Presets are a big deal, and a huge time saver.

Check out these two places where I provided a how to and which presets I used for these images:

The procedure we’ve just talked about effectively creates a custom preset, and really doesn’t take very long, so why would you use an existing one? Well, there are three main reasons:

Why would you Use an Existing Lightroom Preset?

  • You have a consistent location, subject or pattern to your photography. Wedding photographers, for example, often find themselves taking essentially the same picture (as far as lighting is concerned) over and over again. There is no need for them to redesign a development setting every time.
  • You have the time and inclination to spend it on your photographs. Some photographers just want to go through their images one by one, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, why start from the beginning when the ‘auto’ white balance option is going to be closer? And a touch of extra contrast always looks good. For this kind of work, a preset still helps you work faster, but without stifling your creativity.
  • You have some creative images and you aren’t sure what you want to do with them. A collection of presets lets you scroll through a large number of possible ‘looks’ quickly, and can help inspire you to create one all of your own.

Ultimately, presets represent an alternative workflow, which, while no better or worse, can be a better fit for some photographers.

And that’s all you need to know to be a Lightroom productivity ninja. Now you can leverage the incredible power of the software to not just bring out the best of your photography, but save you time on the way.

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