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April 09, 2019

Lightroom is a tool that almost every professional photographer uses and as you progress in your own photography, it's likely you'll be delving into the extensive, all-consuming world of Lightroom too. While it's true there's no right or wrong way to process your photos, there are definitely some adjustments you can make that will be detrimental to the quality of your photos. Luckily for you, these are fixes are easy to make! Here are the top 9 mistakes beginners make when starting out in Lightroom. 

7 Lightroom Tips for Beginners 

1. Not shooting in RAW

Shooting in JPEG is fine if you’re not planning on processing your photos but as you progress in your photography and get more into producing an image from start to finish, it’s likely you’re going to want to delve into the world of post-processing.

When you shoot in RAW, you capture all of the data from your camera sensor. When you shoot in JPEG, the camera does its own process and compresses the image down, losing detail. When you shoot in RAW, you’re able to capture all of the detail, allowing you to do the processing yourself and even making it possible to correct problem images that would otherwise be duds. RAW images are easy to edit without compromising the quality of the photo.

2. Not keeping organized from the beginning

As we mentioned last week, there are a lot of ways to keep organized in Lightroom and if you’re just getting started, learning these organizational tools is probably the last thing you want to do. If you’re anything like us, you’re probably itching to take a look at the photos and dive into processing them but trust us, a little bit of patience and work in organizing your Lightroom catalog will make your life much easier down the road.

Sorting your photos into collections is a good start but there are hundreds of ways to stay organized in Lightroom. 

Most photographers benefit from having a set workflow they go back to each time they start post-processing a batch of photos. There are hundreds of ways to do this but at the very least you should import your photos into collections, review, and rate/star your photos, edit the photos with the highest stars, add keywords to your photos to make finding them later much easier and backing up the original files in at least two places. Lightroom is an organizational freak’s dream so while this is just scraping the surface, it should be the bare minimum you do straight away.

3. Not straightening your horizon

There’s a lot to pay attention to when you’re out in the field taking photos so it’s no surprise that many beginner photographers forget about keeping their horizon straight when capturing the shot. Luckily, this is an easy fix in Lightroom and should be one of the first things attended to when you begin processing a photo. A crooked horizon looks sloppy and screams amateur. A straight horizon is more pleasing to the eye and is less distracting from the image.

how to straighten your horizon in lightroom
A crooked horizon is an easy fix in Lightroom and is one of the first adjustments I make. 

If you don’t have a horizon or you don’t know which way to straighten the photo, look for elements in the photo you know are usually straight: door frames, windowsills, roofs, etc.

4. Not copy and pasting your edit settings

Digital photography has made it easy to overshoot a scene. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve imported my photos to begin post-processing them only to discover I took 10 shots of the exact same scene. At first, it can be overwhelming to edit all of the photos you want but Lightroom makes it easy to batch process.

Syncing lightroom edits for all photos
Use the "Previous" button or copy and paste your settings from one photo to the next. If you want to batch edit a bunch of photos, select all and click "sync."

If you have a photo that is a similar style or scene as the first one, you can simply click “previous” and it will carry over your edit settings. If you want your photo to have the same settings as a photo from the beginning of your edits, simply copy and paste the settings for quick results (Command + C or CTRL +C for copy and Command/CTRL V for paste). You can select if you want everything to be carried over (graduated filters, crop settings, etc) or just a few elements. If you’re really pressed for time and want all of your photos to have the same edits, simply edit the first one, select all and click “Sync.” As you’ll quickly find out, it’s pretty rare to have the same edits for every single photo but it could provide you with a good starting point for further edits. 

5. Being too heavy handed with the sliders (clarify, saturation, contrast)

One of the biggest mistakes beginners make in Lightroom is going crazy with the sliders, particularly clarity, saturation, and contrast. Use the sliders lightly for your adjustments and always refer back to the “before/after” option to compare to see if your image is headed where you want it. It can be easy to get carried away so always keep a perspective of the original file. You’ll quickly learn that your photos probably won’t need much adjusting at all in these areas and you might even find the more you adjust them, the less realistic your photos look.

Over saturation of mountain photo in LightroomThe photo on the left has subtle changes on the sliders whereas the photo on the right has drastic changes and looks more manufactured. 

How to Read a Histogram

6. Not using keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts will save you a ton of time in Lightroom and learning a few simple shortcuts will make your post processing time much more efficient. Command + C for copy, Command + V for paste, Command-delete for delete rejected photos, 1 2 3 4 or 5 for rating your photos based on stars, X for rejecting a photo, hitting F to enter full screen. The list is very long. In fact, if you really want to get into the nitty-gritty, you can check out all of the short cuts here

mac keyboard with lightroom shortcuts


7. Sharpening an image too much

Many photographers sharpen their images as one of the first edits they make in Lightroom and while a sharper image might look more aesthetically pleasing to the viewer, it may come at a risk. On a simplified level, sharpening is the processing of adding contrast between pixels, creating well-defined edges. When you sharpen an image, one side will be made lighter and the other darker, creating a higher contrast that makes the image appear more defined.

sharpening photo of dog in lightroom
The extreme sharpness in the image on the left compromised the quality of the photo. 

While it can be a powerful tool, sharpening too much will give the photos will have an overall negative effect on your finished photo. Too much sharpening will give a textured look and will also increase the noise of the photo and will ultimately be too distracting from the original image. Too often new photographers misunderstand the sharpening tool. This tool is not designed to bring something that was initially out of focus into focus. If you’ve missed the focus in your initial shot, bumping up the sharpening slider is not going to solve your problem.

8. Overdoing it 

Lightroom is an extensive — and let’s be honest, really fun — tool for photographers. I have personally been sucked into the dark, endless hole of editing options in Lightroom but there’s a great skill in learning when to call an image “done.” Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule for when a photo is done and it’s mostly up to your own personal preference but in short, I feel like a photo is finished when the final result evokes the same emotion and feelings I experience when I shot the photo. Certainly, some photos will be easier to edit than others and it’s entirely possible that some photos will need months of editing, There’s no shame in editing a photo and leaving it, mulling it over, and returning to it a week later.

snowy red cabin in the mountains edit in lightroom

In short, there’s no simple answer but don’t feel like you have to edit the photo past the point of recognition. If your photo only takes a few minutes, that’s totally fine.

9. Relying too much on presets

Presets can be a beautiful thing. You can create your own based on your style or you can download any of the hundreds of presets off the internet but whatever you do, it’s dangerous to get into the habit of solely relying on presets. Post processing is part of the journey in creating a piece of art and to blanket edit them without a second thought will do a great disservice to your photos. I’m not saying using presets is bad. I personally use them frequently as a base for my edits and then tweak each one individually based on the particular photo and its own editing needs. Presets can be a powerful tool but keep in mind they are not an end all be all. Don’t let them determine your creative style.

Lightroom presets module



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