Your First Steps in Lightroom

So, you have a fresh copy of Adobe Lightroom installed on your computer. Maybe you read my last article Lightroom: Getting Started with Your Digital Darkroom, maybe you’ve just heard good things, but there it is, on your desktop.

**Please note: this article is geared towards using the Lightroom Classic desktop version and not the mobile app.

You also have a memory card full of photographs after a wonderful snap-session with your camera. What happens now?

Lightroom is an almost complete package for photographers, and it starts with getting your shots into the system.

IMPORTING YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

You have two choices when it comes to getting your pictures onto your computer. Lightroom can either import a folder of images that are already on your hard drive, or it can move the images from the camera onto the hard drive for you, organizing and importing them on the way.

It makes sense to use the software to its full potential, so let’s import them from the camera itself. With Lightroom running, either connect your camera via USB, or plug in your memory card. The import window should just pop up on its own (but if it doesn’t, make sure you’re in Library view and hit the big ‘import’ button on the bottom left).

Lightroom Import & Export buttons

Now the screen should be full of pictures – your pictures, ready to be brought across. By default, all of them are selected, but you can uncheck any images you don’t really want. If you have multiple shots of the same subject and you can’t quite decide which one you want to keep, don’t worry about that at this point – Lightroom has some excellent tools to help you pick out the best of the bunch. For now, if unsure, leave it checked.

Of course, Lightroom doesn’t just grab all of your files and thrown them into a folder. On the right there are a ton of controls for pre-organizing your files, and it’s worth spending some time here, especially on your first import.

If you have an established folder structure already, then it’s easy to get Lightroom to play nice. If not, there is no right way to do it – the most important thing is to organize your photos in a way that makes sense to you.

A specific, important feature here is file renaming, which takes all the tedium out of manually renaming your files in almost any system you could be using, letting you set up flexible, custom rules for how names are applied.

PROCESSING YOUR SHOOT

With your images in Lightroom, you’re still left with a memory card dump. On the previous import screen, which is where you should be at this point, you can see all of the images you’ve just uploaded onto your computer.

Now is the time to sort through them. On the bottom of the view pane, just above the filmstrip, are a series of buttons for changing your view. The default, the grid, is fantastic for taking a wide overview, but it one of a few useful alternative options.

Lightroom Grid View
Lightroom Grid View

Particularly useful right now is the survey view (which looks like three boxes and a ‘…’), which is designed to make picking out the best image in a set easy.

Survey View button on Lightroom
The lightest box above is the survey view

After selecting a small group of images from grid view, hopping over to survey puts your chosen images onscreen with a special function – there is a little x to click which removes them from the selection.

This side-by-side comparison really speeds up the selection process, but there’s more: there are dark gray flags that appear when you hover over an image. If you click the flag on the left, it is now marked as a pick. The flag to the right of that will set the picture for rejection. When you’re done, you don’t have the hassle of going through and manually deleting each picture you rejected, potentially getting confused or forgetting. A single click on photo>delete rejected photos is enough to clear the whole lot. (Personally I use the shortcut: command + delete button on my iMac).

Lightroom's Photo Menu
Lightroom’s Photo Menu

ORGANIZING THINGS JUST RIGHT

Now your catalog isn’t empty and you have at least one shoots worth of images, it’s time to organize them.

Lightroom has several powerful organization tools built in that are useful at all levels, whether you want to organize a project or a lifetime of footage.

Collections

The first of these is Collections. A Collection is just what it sounds like, a group of images. The clever part is that those images do not need to be moved around on your hard drive. You could make a Collection, for example ‘beach’ and you could add every beach shot you have to that Collection.

They would stay untouched in the rest of Lightroom, and in their original storage location, but if you want to see all your beach images at a glance, it’s as simple as selecting that Collection. You can even have Collections-within-Collections, and there is nothing stopping you from putting the same picture in as many Collections as you want.

That category-like flexibility might be Lightroom’s most powerful organization tool, but what about when you need something a bit more dynamic? Maybe you want to pick out your best landscape for a contest. Defining a whole Collection just for that would be a lot of work.

Quick Collections

This is where Quick Collections come in. Hover over any image and a little circle appears in the bottom right. Click that, and that image is now in your Quick Collection – a temporary little group that just disappears when you’re done.

You can also assign colors to your pictures – and of course, those colors can be filtered. Color coding your shots make it easy to find small subcategories that don’t fully merit a sub-collection but do need to be preserved over time.

Lighroom's Library Filter
Lightroom’s Library Filter (click the image to see bigger)

The other end of that spectrum is Keywords. Perhaps the most complicated option, but certainly the most thorough.

Keywords function like tags in that you can pick out words or phrases and then label your photos with them. Keywords can nest and potentially get very complicated but they do allow you absolute control in how you file away your hard-won snaps.

That’s about all you need to know to keep your collection tight and easy to browse in Lightroom. In the next article, we’ll talk about how you can develop your images to bring out that little bit of extra shine. 

Next up: Digital Development: A Guide to Processing Your Photos in Lightroom

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