File Under: Multimedia, Software

Get More Out of Photoshop Lightroom

Digital cameras have become close to ubiquitous. They’ve gotten easier to use, they continue to come down in price, and they’ve grown to be more powerful than ever — we can capture 10 or 12 megapixel images using a device no bigger than a pack of cigarettes. Storage is faster and cheaper, too — both the memory cards within the cameras and the hard drives we use to store our images. As a result, there’s little reason not to use the highest quality settings your camera affords. Shooting at higher resolutions and bit depths gives you an advantage, because it lets you do more with your images once they’re on your computer.

Enter tools like Photoshop Lightroom, an image editor that’s made for processing high-quality RAW and JPG images and getting them web-ready in little more than an instant. Lightroom is Adobe’s version of Photoshop for the photographer on the go, and the software (and other apps like it, such as Apple’s Aperture) have taken off among bloggers, Flickrers and others who want to post their work quickly but still have it look professional, polished and stunning.

Lightroom 2.0, the latest release, has new features like better file browsing, more filters, a new graduated filters tool and the ability to mask and selectively edit portions of an image. But the new features also add more complexity and, as with its older sibling Photoshop, that complexity can be overwhelming at times. Powerful features and extra options can lie hidden or out of sight.

Here’s a collection of tips, tricks and slightly hidden features to help you get more out of Photoshop Lightroom 2.


  1. Image Adjustment Tricks
    1. Vignettes
    2. Gradient Filters
    3. Change the Adjustment Brush’s Highlighting
    4. “Soften Skin” Setting
  2. Shortcuts and Context Menus
    1. Get Additional Drive Information
    2. Finally, a Use for Caps Lock
    3. Jump Between Folders
  3. Organizing Tips
  4. Suggested reading
  5. Conclusion

Image Adjustment Tricks


The Lens Corrections panel ostensibly corrects issues from wide-angle lenses, but some people have come up with other uses for it — like darkening corners for a vignette effect or a “Fake Lomo” treatment. While there’s a new vignetting tool, other Lens Correction tricks exist. The problem is that they didn’t work once you’d cropped an image. Lightroom 2 now offers a Post-Crop slider in the Vignettes panel to get around that issue, so you can apply your favorite vignette settings over and over again as you try out new crops.

Example: Some “Fake Lomo” vignettes applied in Lightroom 2.0:

Tip: Also check out Mikkel Aaland’s “Super Vignette” trick he employs using Gradient filters.

Gradient Filters

Lightroom’s new gradient filters can be used to correct corners of an image that are too dark, too bright, or the wrong color. They can also be used to adjust the exposure of the sky or the ground in landscape shots — think of the classic sunset photo where the sky is perfect, but you can’t see the details of the beach in the foreground. Using this trick, you can adjust the brightness of the beach so that it stands out without disrupting the exposure or colors of the sky.

To apply a gradient filter, select the Gradient tool in the Adjustment Brushes panel. Click on the edge of the image closest to the region where you want to make the adjustment. For the sunset example, you’d click in the bottom center of the image. In a portrait, you’d click in the dark corner you want to brighten. Then, drag the gradient marker towards the center of the image, stopping where you want the adjustment to fade out. Use the buttons and sliders in the Mask panel (just below the brush selector) to adjust the selected portion.

Example: Here’s a before and after. The bougainvillea peeking into the top left of this portrait was too dark, so it was brightened and sharpened with the gradient filter before the rest of the image was adjusted and cropped.

Change the Adjustment Brush’s Highlighting

The new Adjustment Brush allows you to tweak Exposure, Brightness, Contrast Saturation, Clarity, Sharpness and Color. When you hover over places you’ve retouched, they’re highlighted in red. But what happens if that part of your image is red too? Just move your cursor over the area to trigger the red highlight and then press Shift-O to cycle through different highlight colors.

“Soften Skin” Setting

There’s also a “secret” eighth Adjustment Brush setting: Soften Skin. If you look at the Adjustment Brush panel, you’ll see the Exposure, Brightness, Contrast Saturation, Clarity, Sharpness and Color options. But if you click the pulldown menu, you’ll see the additional Soften Skin adjustment.

Click the pull-down menu to choose your Adjustment Brush to expose the "hidden" setting.

Shortcuts and Context Menus

Lightroom is loaded with Context menus and shortcuts. Unfortunately, a complete list of them doesn’t seem to exist anywhere. Here are a few new context menu tricks we’ve discovered in Lightroom 2.0:

Get Additional Drive Information

Lightroom 2 offers a much improved file browser interface. It even displays attached drives and shows how much disk space is left on each drive. If you right-click on a volume name, you’ll get a drop down list with some other options like Photo Count and Status.

Right-click on any volume name to see additional info about that disk.

Finally, a Use for Caps Lock

When you’re ranking pictures in the Library Module, engage the Caps Lock key — as soon as you rank an image, Lightroom will automatically move to the next image. If you’ve got thousands of images to sort through, this hidden feature can speed things up quite a bit.

Jump Between Folders

In Lightroom 2, you can now jump between folders by right-clicking on the filmstrip, which runs along the bottom of the workspace by default. For example, say your editing an image in one folder and want to jump to another folder without moving back to the Library Module. Just right-click on the top portion of the film strip and you’ll see a list of recently viewed folders.

Organizing Tips

  • Lightroom 2 supports Smart Collections, which are dynamic collections of photos filtered by nearly any criteria you can imagine. For more advanced filtering, try Alt/Option clicking to add new criteria. Instead of simply adding a new filter, this technique nests the filter beneath the existing filter for even more fine grained sorting.
Create Smart Collections by building nested sets of rules.
Create Smart Collections by building nested sets of rules.

  • The new Target Collection functionality allows you to specify any Lightroom collection as the destination of the Quick Collection shortcut key (which is Shift-B by default). Just highlight the collection you want to use and select File > Set as Target Collection.

Suggested reading


There are loads of other features and shortcuts tucked away in the corners of Lightroom 2 so be sure to add your favorites to the list.