This article is about making your LR experience more productive using some of the lesser known techniques and shortcuts.
Software is the conduit by which digital photographers create their images. As such, it is good to have access to as many software tools as possible, onOne Perfect Layers, Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, Mediachance Dynamic-Photo HDR, Alien Skin Snap Art, and of course, the mother of all digital imaging software, Adobe Photoshop.
Even so, I have often said the only software a digital photographer needs is Adobe Lightroom. If you have this one piece of software you can do any and everything necessary to create images that are ready to be hung in a gallery or viewed on a website.
I am surprised at how few photographers know that enabling Caps Lock on their keyboard while selecting images in the Library Module automatically moves the cursor to the next image after any attribute is selected (pick, unpick, delete, star, label, etc.). This greatly speeds up the selection process.
A Tale of Two Brushes
The Adjustment Brush (Develop Module) has provision for two brushes for masking, A and B. I keep the A brush set for a soft edge with a large amount of feathering and the B brush set for a hard edge with little or no feathering. This allows me to move quickly back and forth between blending the mask and creating a sharp edge.
The size of the brush is quickly changed using the square bracket keys, [or]. The left bracket, [makes the brush smaller and the right bracket], makes it larger. Using Shift + [makes the brush edge harder, while Shift +] makes the edge softer.
When only one circle is shown for the brush cursor it means the hardness is at its maximum of 0. Any time you see two concentric circles it indicates a softer brush. The space between the two circles is called the “feather zone” and is where the brush transitions from 100% coverage (inner circle) to 0% (the edge of the outer circle). The larger the feather zone the greater the feather area (Figure 1).
Speaking of brushes, choosing the Auto Mask setting does a pretty good job of finding edges. The brush reads the area under the + in the middle of the cursor and determines the edge based on that. This means you can move the + sign right up to the edge you are trying to define and the mask will paint around it.
But when masking large open areas, such as the background on Figure 2, Auto Mask can cause the brush to skip areas. By disabling Auto Mask the brush will paint over everything, ignoring hard edges. When you get close to an edge you don’t want masked, turn Auto Mask back on. In Figure 2 Auto Mask was turned off on the left side. On the right side Auto Mask was enabled and the mask missed the light area on the edge.
There are many shortcuts in LR that speed up pro- ductivity. For example, when using the brush you can turn on the Adjustment Brush Overlay so that you can see what has been masked (Tools>Adjustment Brush Overlay). While you are there you can choose the color of the mask, red, green, white or black. A more efficient way is to use the shortcut letter ‘O’ to cycle the mask on and off. To cycle through the colors use Shift + O.
At the bottom of each panel is a small graphic known as the panel end mark. It is possible to change the end mark from the default Flourish (Figure 3), by Ctrl + click (Mac) or right-click (Win) on the end mark. At the bottom of the options panel choose Panel End Mark, then choose whichever preset end mark you want. If you don’t want an end mark then choose None.
You can create a custom end mark using your own photo, logo or custom design. You will need to size the end mark to fit within the panel (side-to-side). The size will vary depending on the size of the screen you are using. You can determine the width of the end panel by taking a local area screen shot of the panel and opening the screen capture in a program that will tell you the width in pixels. On my Mac the panel is 372 px across, though it is not necessary to use the entire width of the panel.
To use a photo first size it to fit the width of the panel with a resolution of 72 ppi then copy it. For the end panel in Figure 4, I used 216 px. To move the photo into the list of available End Panels, once more click on the Panel End Mark to open the option panel, and then go to Panel End Mark>Go to Panel End Mark Folder, and paste the image into the folder. The next time you click on the Panel End Mark it will be one of the available options. You can accomplish the same thing in the Preferences dialog (Mac: Library>Preferences>Interface>End Marks; Win: Edit>Preferences >Interface>End Marks).
If you prefer to use your company logo follow the same procedure. Size your logo to fit the panel width with a resolution of 72 ppi then paste it in the Panel End Mark Folder. It will be in the list of Panel End Marks for you to use (Figure 5).
Latest and Greatest
If you have just upgraded your catalog from an earlier version of LR you will see an exclamation point (!) in the lower right hand corner of the main window. This indicates that you are using an older process version to edit your image. To upgrade to the current process go to the Develop Module then scroll to the bottom of the right-hand panel and open Camera Calibration, Ctrl/ Cmd + 8 (Win/Mac).
In Figure 6 there is a checkmark next to the process version that is in use, in this case, 2010, the process version used by LR3. As this copy of LR has been up- graded to 4.1 the version to use would be 2012. Click on 2012 and the ! will disappear and the new version will be active.
Conversely, should you ever wish to return to an earlier process (which would make the earlier version of tools available for you to use), simply enable that process version.
If all of your images are still using an older process version use Cmd/Ctrl + A (the ‘A’ stands for ‘All’), to select all of the images in your film strip and when you choose the new process they will all be upgraded at the same time.
While you are still in Camera Calibration have a look at the Profile, just below the Process version. These profiles are similar to the preset profiles found in many cameras. LR will read the EXIF metadata file from your camera and if it is one that is supported (Nikon, Canon, Pentax and others) you will see camera specific choices (the default is Adobe Standard). Try each one until you become used to them. You can also make Virtual Copies and compare them with each other in Survey Mode (N). Figure 7 shows a dramatic change in the image of model Rochelle Ikeda from Adobe Standard to Camera Vivid.
Even the highest end digital lenses will show some distortion or lens aberrations. Some, such as the Lecia Summicron-M 50mm f/2, show minimal distortion. Others can be substantial. For me, the best software to use to correct digital lens distortion is available from DxO Labs. Even so, LR4 does a pretty good job of it. The most common lens distortion is pincushion distortion. Barrel distortion is also sometimes encountered. In Figure 8 I have used software to create grossly exaggerated examples of these two common distortions. Profiles to correct most lens distortions can be found in the Develop Module under Lens Corrections (Figure 9).
To begin, check Enable Lens Corrections. In most cases the camera brand will automatically appear under Make. If it doesn’t you can manually select it from a list of supported cameras (if your camera is not in the list it is not supported at this time by LR). If you are using a third party lens, such as Schneider, Tamron, Zeiss, Sigma or Tokina, select the lens instead of the camera.
Next choose the closest lens to the one you used. If you’re not certain which lens was used return to the Library module, go to Metadata at the bottom of the right-hand panel, choose the Default metadata, and scroll to the bottom where you will see the lens recorded (under the Histogram, at the top of the panel, you will see the focal length, but not the actual lens). If all the photos were made with the same camera/ lens you can Select All (Ctrl/Cmd+A) and make these corrections on all of your images at once. If you used two or more different lenses, upgrade them one at a time.
These are just a few insider tips for you to use with Lightroom.
Resources: Adobe Lightroom 4.1-adobe.com; Alienskin-alienskin.com; DxO- dxo.com; Mediachance-mediachance.com; Nik-niksoftware.com; onOne Software-ononesoftware.com