My free checklist will help you get organized so you can finally run a smooth food photography shoot!
Lightroom is one of the most powerful tools in the food photographer’s toolbox. Unfortunately, Lightroom for beginners can feel very overwhelming and complicated.
Don’t be intimidated by all those buttons and menus! In this quick guide, I’ll demystify Lightroom for beginners so you can get those images into Lightroom, organized, synced, and ready for editing. Oh, and don’t miss my other posts on editing with Lightroom for food and product photographers.
By now, hopefully you have downloaded Lightroom on your computer and you’re ready to see what all the fuss is about. But how do you get those lovely images of yours into the software? It’s actually pretty simple.
Here’s your Library module, where your images will appear. Across the bottom is a tray (also called the filmstrip) where all the images in the set you’ve selected will show up. The Import button is on your left, just above that tray. Go ahead and click Import to find the photos you want to add to Lightroom.
This window will pop up, where you can select your files. Having all of your files in a dedicated folder is a lifesaver, because you can simply press the Check All button down at the bottom. But if there are only a few images you wish to import, you can click Uncheck All, click on the thumbnails you like (use Shift to highlight more than one thumbnail at a time,) and then check the little box at the top left of your first image to select all of the highlighted images at once.
To the right are some options to save you time later in your workflow. For example, you can apply certain Develop settings to all imported images, or you can send them to a specific collection. (More about collections below!)
Culling is the process of filtering out undesirable images and marking the ones you’ll go on to edit. This is especially important now that digital photography is king. I can easily go through hundreds of shots on one set, and editing every single one just wouldn’t be a smart use of my time.
Once you’ve imported your images into Lightroom, they will automatically load for you. I recommend putting them into a collection right away. When you work as a professional photographer, your catalogs can get very large. Keep all related images together to make it easy on yourself later.
Scroll down the menu that includes Catalog and Folders until you see Collections. When you click the plus sign to the right of the Collections header, you’ll see several options. You can create a collection (which is what we’ll do now) or a collection set. Collection sets are just an extra layer of organization for your images.
For example, if you do both food and product photography you can create a collection set for each one and keep your food collections in a separate set from the product shoots.
Make sure all of the images in your import are selected, then click that plus sign and choose Create Collection. Remember: you can select the first image, hold down Shift, and then click the last image in your import to select them all at once!
Now name your collection. If you have a collection set in mind for this collection, click the box beside “Inside a Collection Set” and choose the set from the dropdown menu. Make sure you check the box beside “Include Selected Photos”! You can also check the box beside “Sync with Lightroom CC” to include this collection in your mobile versions of Lightroom.
Now let’s take a look at those photos! Once I take that first look at my shoot in Lightroom, I remove the photos that are obviously not working right away. As I get further into editing, I’ll remove a few more, but I try to make the first cut the deepest to save time later on in the process.
The fastest way to do this is with a keyboard shortcut: X. This will grey out the photo and flag it as rejected. Once you’ve been through the whole collection, you can press Command + Delete to remove all of the rejected photos at once. You can also go to Photo > Delete Rejected Photos.
If you can’t stand to let go of images so early in the process, you can press P to flag the images you like as “picks”. Any time you press the wrong key, you can press U to remove the flag you’ve given the image.
Another way to rank your images is to give them ratings. Use the numbers 0-5 on your keyboard to assign a rating to your image, based on how much you like it. You can assign color labels using the numbers 6-9.
This is a helpful tool for when you have more than one goal for your shoots. Do you need a certain aspect ratio for social media? You can label the images that have a good composition for that aspect ratio with one color. Images that will go to print can have another color. Use color labels any way that works for you. That’s the best thing about Lightroom for beginners and veterans alike: its versatility!
At the very top right of Lightroom, you’ll see several modules. Here we will focus on the first two modules: Library and Develop. Library is where you’ll categorize and view your photos. It’s where Lightroom will usually open up and it’s where we’ve spent all of our time so far.
Develop is where all the magic happens! Double click an image in your collection to bring up a larger view of it. Now click the Develop module to see what you can do with it. You’ll still be able to see your collections to the left, as well as the other images in your collection in the tray below.
On the right, you’ll now see all of the options for editing your photo. (Each of these sections has a small arrow. Click it to hide the section and make more space for your image.) Since you’re just getting started, we’ll stay in the Basic section.
The graph at the top is called the histogram. This will help you see how light and color are balanced in your image. Below the histogram are six symbols. From left to right, you have the option to crop, spot retouch, remove red eye, add a graduated filter, add a radial filter, or use an adjustment brush.
Most of what you will need in Lightroom for beginners is below these symbols, in the Basic panel. Here you can work on the white balance of your image, boost the brightness, desaturate it, or add some clarity using a series of sliders. Have fun playing around with these to see what appeals to you.
Don’t worry if you need to backtrack! There is now a History menu to your left, above Collections. This shows all of the changes you’ve made. You can click through them to revert to a previous state.
Above History you will now see Snapshots. Click the plus symbol next to Snapshots to save different versions of your image. Now you can go back and forth between different edits on the same photo to see what works the best!
Lightroom has two ways to speed post-processing along. You’ve probably heard of Lightroom presets. There are a lot of these available for purchase or for free online, or you can create your own.
A preset is just a set of instructions for Lightroom. It tells the software which changes to make in the Develop module to achieve a certain look. Keep in mind that one preset may cause different results depending on the original look of your image, but in general a preset is a great starting point.
Presets will be on your left, above Collections, History, and Snapshots. You can import presets into folders here for easy access. Open these folders using the arrow next to them. Hover over individual presets to see a sample of that preset’s effect in the small image box above Presets. Click a preset to apply it. If you have an edit that you know you’ll want to use often, apply that edit to your image and click the plus symbol next to Presets.
Now you can select which instructions you want to include. Adjustments that affect your image as a whole lend themselves well to a preset. Spot retouching and adjustment brushes may not translate well to a different image, since the composition will not be the same. Feel free to play around with presets! Click Create when you’re done.
Here’s a quick Lightroom for beginners tip for an edit you’ll only use once or twice. You might prefer to simply copy and paste your settings from one image to another. You’ll see copy and paste at the bottom of the menus on your left. When you click Copy, a similar window to the new preset window will pop up asking you which settings you want to copy. Now go to your next image and click Paste, which is right there next to Copy. Voila! Now you can tweak the settings as needed without having to start over completely.
An easy way to keep up with your work is to keep it synced across your devices. Lightroom’s mobile app is actually pretty decent for basic fixes. The real draw, though, is the access to your catalog on the go. When I run across a potential client somewhere unexpected, I can pull up samples and ideas on any device I have with me!
You can get started with a sync by clicking on your name at the top left of Lightroom. Or, go back to Library and right click on a specific collection to apply sync settings to only that collection.
Once you’ve edited your images, you’re ready to say goodbye to Lightroom for a little while. It’s time to export those shiny new edits and send them on their merry way! Select the images you want to export and go to File > Export (or use the keyboard shortcut: Shift + Command + E) to get started.
The pop-up window will allow you to choose where your images will go. You can send them to your Dropbox, external hard drive, or wherever you think is best. For a large export, you may wish to name your files in sequence, which you see in the image above under “File Naming.”
You will also choose a file type, color space, and include any sizing information you’ll need. Lightroom offers output sharpening to offset the fuzziness you sometimes get when saving a JPEG image. You can also add a custom watermark to each image!
Now you are familiar with the first steps on how to use Lightroom for beginners. You can start importing your images and playing around with the editing capabilities! If you’re excited to dive in, don’t miss my next posts in this three part series. I also highly recommend the Lightroom Magic course for anyone interested in learning more.
Your food photography will be noticeably better with some post-processing, and it will be so much easier to keep track of shoots with an organized catalog. You’ll be a pro in no time!
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