Speaking of pictures post production, I often gather the frustration of other fellow pro photographers or amateurs, complaining Lightroom extreme slowness.
But if on one hand, there are some tasks and settings that can be directly applied on Lightroom to improve its performances, often this slowness is not directly related to the software, but rather to an inefficient workflow or to a lack of knowledge of all the tools provided in the Adobe product.
As a wedding photographer, I constantly try to optimize my images and Lightroom workflow, trying to save even a single second for each processed photo. Delivering about seven hundred images on average for a wedding service, it’s easy to understand that a handful of seconds, multiplied by the number of photographs delivered, will lead to hours of work in front of your screen.
Fortunately, there are few simple tips you can immediately follow, to dramatically improve your Lightroom workflow.
01 – Smart Previews
One of the most interesting, but even one of the less known feature Adobe has included starting with version 5, is “Smart previews”. Designed to synchronize your catalog with the iOS / Android “mobile” version of Lightroom, allowing you to work without the need to have your original RAW files, you can select “Smart previews” creation right from the beginning, while importing your pictures in a catalog. Even if you don’t use any mobile version of Lightroom, this single tip alone, will speed up your work dramatically. “Smart previews” are light weight copies of your raw files, downsampled to a slightly lower resolution, but still able to produce a zoom level that’s more than enough for any post production workflow.
Using “Smart previews”, Lightroom will start to fly, with no awful waits moving from one image to another, due to the rendering of your full resolution RAW files. All the tools from the “Development” module will amaze you for their speed.
PAY ATTENTION: Lightroom will always use your original RAW files if available, completely ignoring “Smart previews”. The trick consists in deceiving Lightroom, closing it and renaming the folders that contain your RAW files, for instance appending a “_detached” suffix to your folder name (Example: “MyRawFolder” becomes “MyRawFolder_detached”). Once you will restart it, Lightroom will no longer know where your RAW file are located and it will start using “Smart previews”, allowing you to work at the speed of light. Obviously, after you will complete your post-production tasks, in order to export your images with any development settings, you will need to remove the “_detached” suffix from your RAW folders name, allowing Lightroom to properly access your original RAWs.
02 – White Balance
Whether your work as a professional wedding photographer, or an amateur in need to develop holiday pictures, you will have a common enemy to fight: white balance.
Kill the auto white balance mode on your camera and life will return to smile to you. On the contrary, continue using it, and you will find yourself spending hours and hours in front of a screen, correcting colors of your photographs, one by one. Our digital camera, if set on auto white balance, will try to achieve the best possible color tone, modifying color temperature every shot, even in the same lighting conditions and even fractions of a second away.
There are two possible solutions. The first is to set a custom white balance in the scenario where you will be taking your pictures. This process is slightly different between Canon and Nikon, but can be completed in few seconds, using a neutral gray 18% target card or a filter like the ExpoDisc. Once your custom white balance will be set, all your images will be consistent, presenting the same color temperature. This will result in an improved speed on Lightroom, because once you will correct your first image, you will be able to apply the same preset to all the others, with a considerable time saving.
In our experience of wedding photographers in Florence, this solution is difficult to apply. During a wedding, events unfolds at a frantic pace and scenery change too quickly to allow us to set a custom white balance. Therefore we prefer a second solution, using one of the available white balance modes on our camera bodies. We always use the “Cloudy” mode all day long during a wedding. All of our images come out of camera as “wrong” pictures in terms of colors, but fortunately all of them are “wrong” in the same way: on Lightroom, once the first picture is corrected, we can apply the same development setting to all the others (taken in the same environment and lighting conditions).
03 – Sync function
Lightroom Sync function, if properly used, can save additional time while processing your photographs.
Once color temperature variability is removed, as described in the previous paragraph, you will be able to fix an image in Lightroom “Development” module and apply the same settings, with a single click, on all the others you made in the same scenario. It’s easy as selecting the first image you already developed, and with it, select all of the subsequent ones, and then press the “Sync” bottom on the right: suddenly all your images will have the same settings.
04 – Import presets
Why my images on camera display, are much more vivid and brilliant, compared to what Lightroom shows me after I import my RAWs in a catalog?
Our cameras, show a JPG image preview on their display, applying a preset specially designed (by Nikon, Canon or any other producer) to make them immediately “appealing”.
If you are going to import your RAW files in Lightroom…these will be precisely managed as RAW… ie without any correction, showing the image as it was recorded by your camera sensor, a cold digital representation of the colorful world that we see through our own eyes. RAWs, compared to any JPG preview on the back of our camera, are usually darker, presenting a very low contrast and colors not so vivid.
Given that each camera behaves very differently, a good tip is to create a Lightroom development preset , working at its best on the “average” of all of your images, being able to apply it during any RAW import process within a catalog.
You’ll probably be slightly distant from the desired result, but at least, you will got a good starting point without having to reinvent the wheel every time.
05 – Keyboard shortcuts
The last advice is to experiment as much as possible on Lightroom, trying to memorize keyboard shortcuts for all those functions you will use the most, without having to click a menu item with your mouse: this will allow you to work without ever taking away your eyes from the screen, and from your images, greatly increasing your productivity.
Enjoy your post production !