File Under: Multimedia, Software

Lightroom Tutorial Lesson 1

Welcome to the first lesson in our Adobe Photoshop Lightroom tutorial. We’re going to cover the ins and outs of using Lightroom in a production setting, and most of our time is going to be spent learning about how the application enforces a particular workflow for dealing with images.

But first, a question: What does Lightroom offer that Adobe’s other apps, namely the image editor Photoshop and asset manager Bridge, don’t?

The basic premise is that Lightroom is a unified package — rather than storing your images one place (Bridge) and editing them in another (Photoshop), both those tasks are handled within Lightroom.

While we admit that this goes against the tried-and-true philosophy of software — do one thing and do it well — in this case, it works and it makes sense.

A big problem with using Bridge and Photoshop in tandem to process RAW files is that every time you want to open a RAW image in Photoshop, you need to use the app’s Camera RAW dialogue. The Camera RAW dialogue is essentially a stand-alone app stuck inside Photoshop, so you really aren’t opening your images in Photoshop anyway.

Hence, Lightroom was born. Think of it as Adobe Bridge with Camera Raw baked in. Is it a replacement for Photoshop? Not at all. You’ll still want Photoshop around to handle fine-grain adjustments and tweaks to your final output image.

However, while you made need to make some fine-grained tweaks in Photoshop, for the most part, Lightroom is where your average Camera RAW fan lives. Unless, that is, they’ve opted for Apple’s Aperture software, which is Lightroom’s main competitor.

When we say Lightroom is “Bridge with Camera RAW baked in,” we mean that literally — Lightroom uses the same Camera RAW engine that you’ll find in Photoshop, which means when you do need to jump over to Photoshop, all your Lightroom adjustments will come with you.

For More on RAW: Check out Webmonkey’s Camera RAW in Photoshop tutorial for tips on using the built-in RAW functions of Bridge and Photoshop.


  1. The Lightroom Database
  2. The Lightroom Interface
    1. Lightroom Modules
    2. The filmstrip
    3. The Panels
  3. Keyboard shortcuts
  4. Conclusion

The Lightroom Database

Lightroom is not just a photo editor. It also handles the task of organizing, sorting and searching your images.

To do so, Lightroom uses a database that holds all of your image metadata. And by metadata, we mean everything — image edits, camera profiles, tags, keywords and even your favorite web export settings. All of that data is self-contained within your Lightroom catalog.

Naturally, you can have multiple catalogs if you like and you can store your images wherever you want — locally, on an external drive or on your network. The Lightroom database just uses a pointer to the image file.

In fact, in Lightroom 2 the catalog is essentially just a disk browser inside Lightroom, making it simple to manage your images both from within Lightroom and from outside programs.

And the best part about Lightroom’s database is that it means all your editing is non-destructive. Rather than writing your changes to the actual image file, Lightroom simply stores the information about the adjustments you’ve made in it’s database. If you want to erase all the changes you’ve made to an image, it’s trivially easy to step backward in time. Whether that means undoing the last adjustment, or heading all the way back to the pristine slate of your original RAW file, all the steps within your editing history are preserved.

Now you may be thinking — what happens if something better comes along and I decide I want to switch to another Camera RAW software? Well, we’ll be honest, the process is a bit bumpy, but Lightroom can export all your RAW files along with XMP files (which hold the metadata and adjustment data) and most other RAW software can then import the data.

The Lightroom Interface

When you first open Lightroom you’ll be greeted by dark, subdued interface that looks — regardless of what platform you’re running it on — like it came from the moon. It takes a bit of getting used to, but the black chrome isn’t a random decision by Adobe. It’s designed to help you focus on and get a better look at the color in your images.

Lightroom Modules

The five modules of Lightroom.
The five modules of Lightroom.

Lightroom 2 is divided into what Adobe calls “modules”: Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web. You can switch between the modules using the menu links at the top left of the screen.

The five modules mirror the basics of your workflow. The first two are the meat of Lightroom, and are all about organizing and adjusting your images. The last three help you get your photos to where ever you want them, be it a slideshow, finished prints or a web photo gallery.

The filmstrip

Along the bottom, you’ll see the filmstrip, which holds all the images you’re currently interested in. That could be just one folder’s worth, or it could be several. It could also be a quick collection you’ve put together on the fly.

The Filmstrip runs along the bottom edge of the work area in Lightroom's main interface.
The Filmstrip runs along the bottom edge of the work area in Lightroom’s main interface.

The main point of the filmstrip is to provide quick access to your images without needing to jump back to the Library view. In other words, the filmstrip is how you move images through the various modules in the Lightroom workflow.

The filmstrip acts as the source for all the actions in each module — click an image on the filmstrip in the Develop module and you’ll blow it up nice and big in the work area so you can adjust and edit it. Click on the same image in the Web module and you’ll be able to export it. And so on.

The Panels

Above the filmstrip, occupying the bulk of the interface, you’ll find Lightroom’s main center pane as well as the two side panels.

The panels on the left and right change based on which module you're working in. This is Library view.
The panels on the left and right change based on which module you’re working in. This is Library view.

What you see in each of these panels depends on which module you’re currently using. The side panels contain all the actions that apply to that module.

For instance, say you’re in the Library module. The center pane will show your current images. The left panel will show your folders, keywords, search box and other filtering tools. The right panel holds some quick editing tools, as well as panels to apply new organizational info — like keywords.

In general, the left panel shows you what you’ve done so far, and right panel is where you do new stuff. The action happens in the middle.

Each of the sections that make up a panel can be expanded and collapsed by clicking the section header so it’s easy to show only the elements you actually need.

Keyboard shortcuts

One of the many nice features of Adobe Lightroom’s interface is its plethora of handy keyboard shortcuts. Here the primary ones worth memorizing.

  • Tab – Shows and hides the side panels. Great way to focus on an image without distractions.
  • Shift+Tab – Hides and show all panels, including the filmstrip
  • Shift+F – Toggles full-screen mode
  • Shift+L – Adobe calls this “dimming the lights.” There are actually two modes, hit the shortcut once and everything but the currently selected image will be blacked out. Hit it again and everything will be slightly dimmed out. Hit it a third time and you’re back to normal.
  • Command+/ – Show a complete list of module-specific shortcuts

The last one in that list is worth special mention — it’ll pull up a list of all the available shortcuts for whatever module you happen to be in. It makes a great way to quickly view your shortcut options and is an invaluable reference for memorizing some more shortcuts.

Also note that many of these settings — like how much the “lights out” feature dims — can be set in the Preferences. Just head to the Interface tab of the Preferences window.

Tip: We’ve also wrapped these up as a separate Lightroom Keyboard Shortcuts Cheatsheet. Bookmark our cheat sheet page for your reference and add your own favorites to the list.


Now that you know the basics of the Lightroom 2 interface, it’s time to get started actually using it. In our next lesson we’ll walk your through the basics of the Library module and show you different ways to store, sort and catalog your images.

See you then!