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6 Tips for a Faster Lightroom Workflow

6 tips for a faster Lightroom workflow so you can get back to taking photos

Many photographers rely on Lightroom to organize, edit and share their photos. While the program has a vast array of tools, it’s not exactly known for its speed. Recent updates have helped, but if you’re seeking a faster Lightroom workflow, there are a few simple steps you can take to supercharge your post-processing.

And that’s what I share below: Six easy methods to speed up your editing and organizing in Lightroom. They aren’t hacks or plugins; instead, they’re simple tweaks that are guaranteed to save time, improve your results, and make your life a lot easier.

So without further ado, let’s dive right in, starting with:

1. Apply a preset when importing images

The first thing you can do for a faster Lightroom workflow? Apply a preset on import.

Lightroom’s Develop module has a mind-boggling array of options to try and sliders to adjust. If you use the same types of edits on most – or even some – of your pictures, you can use Presets to shave hours off your workflow time. If you’ve been using Lightroom for a while, you probably know this already, but you might not be aware that you can actually apply Presets when initially importing files.

On the right side of the Import screen, there is an Apply During Import option. Use this to select one of Lightroom’s many built-in presets (or select one of your own presets that you’ve previously saved) and ensure that it’s automatically applied to your pictures on import:

Faster Lightroom workflow tips

In the screenshot above, you can also see an option called Nikon RAW Import. It’s a custom preset that contains specific adjustments I like to regularly apply to my Nikon RAW files, which gets me to a good starting point when editing. That alone has helped speed up my workflow, and applying it to a batch of photos on import is an even greater speed boost.

By the way, there’s no need to worry about messing up your images when applying import presets. Like everything else in Lightroom, the adjustments are non-destructive, meaning you can always go back and change things later.

2. Sync settings across multiple images

If you’ve spent time editing multiple similar images in Lightroom, particularly from an event or photo session with clients, you have no doubt found the Copy/Paste Settings option to be useful. Right-click on any image in the Develop module and choose Settings>Copy Settings. Then check the boxes next to any (or all!) of the settings you want to copy.

Next, go to another photo, right-click, and choose Settings>Paste Settings. (Or better yet, use Ctrl/Cmd+C and Ctrl/Cmd+V as you would with any word processor.) The adjustments will immediately be applied to the selected photo!

This process works great, but what if you want to paste your settings onto 5, 10, or 100 images? Even the keyboard shortcut method starts to feel like a chore.

Fortunately, there’s a better way.

Make sure you’re in the Develop module, then select a single picture in the filmstrip at the bottom of the screen. Hold down the Shift key and select more images. Finally, click the Sync… button to synchronize any (or all) of your edits from the original image to the rest:

Faster Lightroom workflow tips
Image 21 is selected, and Images 17-20 are highlighted. After clicking the Sync… button, all the edits from Image 21 will be applied to Images 17-20.

When I discovered this trick, I almost fell out of my chair. It didn’t just speed up my Lightroom editing; it supercharged it!

Faster Lightroom workflow tips
I captured dozens of photos of this wasp. The Sync Settings option let me edit a single image and then apply those edits to my other wasp images in an instant.

3. Straighten your pictures with the Auto button

I’m always a little leery of using anything that says “Auto” when I’m editing photos. I don’t need my computer to do what it thinks is best – I want my computer to do what I think is best! Therefore, while I occasionally use some Auto options (like when setting the white balance for RAW files), I think of these as providing a rough draft that I then go and refine.

However, there is one Auto setting that I have learned to use over and over again: Auto Straighten. It may seem trivial, but if you want your photos to look professional, it’s important that you straighten (or at least check) each and every image. Learning to embrace this Auto setting has saved me a lot of time and has genuinely led to an overall faster Lightroom workflow.

Simply select the Crop tool in the Develop module, find the Auto button, and give it a click:

Faster Lightroom workflow tips

If your image is crooked, it’ll suddenly straighten up:

Faster Lightroom workflow tips
My tripod was askew when I shot this, but Lightroom fixed it with a simple click of the Auto button.

The reason Auto works so well for straightening images (but often fails in other scenarios) is that it doesn’t try to guess the artistic goals of the photographer. It simply looks for straight lines – such as light poles, buildings, or horizons – and then adjusts images accordingly.

No, it’s not perfect, but it works far better than I initially anticipated, and it certainly speeds things along!

4. Automatically organize images with Smart Collections

Lightroom Collections are an easy way to organize your images. You can create as many Collections as you want, and one photo can exist in multiple collections. What you may not realize, however, is that Lightroom lets you create Smart Collections, which are populated dynamically according to your specified rules.

To create a Smart Collection, choose the + button at the top-left of the Collections panel. Then select Create Smart Collection… and specify your parameters as required:

Faster Lightroom workflow tips

I create Smart Collections that sort my photos by month. I do this each January, and for the rest of the year, my photos are automatically sorted month by month:

Faster Lightroom workflow tips

These Smart Collections don’t include any photos with the keyword “PhotoSession,” which I apply to any images taken for clients. Photos with that keyword go in another set of Smart Collections that I use to keep client images separate from personal photos.

You can use Smart Collections to organize your photos by adjusting dozens of parameters, including Rating, Pick Flag, Color Label, Keyword, and even metadata such as the camera model and lens focal length. They are an incredibly powerful yet amazingly simple way to make your day-to-day Lightroom organization significantly faster!

5. Use multiple export presets

Lightroom has long offered customizable export presets. These allow you to export photos with certain parameters, such as file type, image size, quality setting, and even with custom names.

Faster Lightroom workflow tips

Yet starting just a few years ago, Lightroom now lets you perform a single export operation that utilizes multiple Presets. This means you no longer have to do an export operation for full-size JPEGs at 100% quality, another export for low-resolution proofs at 80% quality, and so on.

Just check the Export presets you want to use, and Lightroom will take care of the rest:

Faster Lightroom workflow tips

This is a great way to save time when you’re ready to export your images, and though it’s not the kind of workflow addition that will change your life, it’s another effective process that’s guaranteed to shave precious minutes from your editing. (And as someone who exports a lot of photos regularly, those minutes add up!)

6. Cull using Lightroom Mobile

One of my favorite aspects of the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan is the synchronization between Lightroom Classic and Lightroom Mobile. While the mobile version of Lightroom isn’t as full-featured as its desktop-based big brother, it does one thing incredibly well that has made a huge difference for me when editing photos for clients: culling.

Here’s how it works:

First, click the checkbox next to any Collection to sync the photos with Lightroom CC. This means you’ll be able to access low-resolution previews of those files on the web, on your phone, or on your tablet. (Note that this doesn’t work with Smart Collections, only regular Collections.)

Faster Lightroom workflow tips

Open up Lightroom Mobile on one of your devices, load a picture in a Collection that you’ve already synced, then click the Star icon in the right-hand corner:

Faster Lightroom workflow tips

This switches to a mode where you can quickly assign star ratings or flags to any picture. Tap one of the Flag or Star icons at the bottom of the screen, then swipe with your finger to load the next image.

All your edits on Lightroom Mobile, including Star ratings and Flag statuses, will instantly be synced back to Lightroom Classic on your computer.

And here’s another little trick that will send your culling into overdrive:

Instead of tapping on the Star rating and Flag icons, simply slide a finger up or down on the right side of the photo to change the Flag status. Slide a finger up or down on the left side to assign a Star rating. Then swipe to the next image and repeat.

I used to dread the arduous culling process, but thanks to this clever syncing technology, I can work so much faster. A few weeks ago, I returned from a photo session with over 1,100 images. In about an hour, I was able to cull them to a fraction of that amount in Lightroom Mobile.

I don’t find Lightroom Mobile particularly useful for detailed editing, but it absolutely runs circles around the desktop program when performing culling operations. If you have an iPad, it could honestly change your entire approach to culling your images. It also works pretty well on other mobile devices, too.

Faster Lightroom workflow tips
There were hundreds of images from this session that I had to sort through. Lightroom Desktop makes this a burden, but with Lightroom Mobile, it’s a breeze!

Tips for a faster Lightroom workflow: final words

I hope you found this article helpful; all six of the techniques I shared have saved me a huge amount of time over the years.

So head over to Lightroom and test out a few of these suggestions. See what you think. With any luck, they’ll dramatically speed up your workflow!

Now over to you:

Do you have any other tricks or suggestions for a speedier Lightroom workflow? Share them in the comments below!

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Simon Ringsmuth
Simon Ringsmuth

is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.

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