Lightroom offers a ton of useful features, but some are pretty well hidden. Want to see some of the best editing tools you might not be using?
What do I mean by hidden? I’m talking about things like modifier keys changing what buttons do or how double-clicking on something that isn’t even a button can perform an action. While you can edit in Lightroom just fine with what’s immediately apparent, there are a number of useful tools hidden away behind shortcuts and actions that are never really explained to the user.
While most of these have been available in Lightroom since the early days, I’m not sure how many have made it into CC. Instead, expect to be able to use these in any modern version of Lightroom Classic.
Lightroom’s interface isn’t nearly as customizable as other editing tools, like Photoshop and Capture One, but you can make some changes. You can already expand and collapse entire panels (the bank of menus on each side of the display) by clicking the small triangle in the middle edge of the panel, but if you only need part of the panel, considering hiding or rearranging the individual menus within the panel. To do so, just right-click on the name of the menu, like “Tone Curve” or “Folders.”
You can choose to hide or show each menu in the Library, while the Develop module allows you to not only turn menus on and off but even rearrange them. This feature is really helpful when you’re working with limited screen space, like on a laptop. Having only the important menus showing means less scrolling, while being able to rearrange Develop menus can help you match the order to your workflow. Taking a few minutes to find a comfortable setup can save you time in the long run.
There are a number of useful functions that you can access just with a double-click. If you’re new to smart collections, it can be difficult to get the rules set up correctly on your first try, or you may find that you need to add or change a rule as your needs change. Just double-click on the collection’s name, and the rules interface will pop back up.
When working with sliders, double-clicking on the slider’s name, like “Shadows,” will reset the slider’s value to its default. No need to drag the slider back to 0 when experimenting! Holding the “Shift” key while double-clicking will let you default the slider to the automatically selected value when possible. What that means is instead of having the Auto button change every slider in the basic tone panel, for instance, you can just have it automatically pull back the highlights or dial in contrast.
There’s also a more efficient way to work with the HSL panel or other submenus for that matter. With its 24 sliders across three submenus, resetting these sliders can be a hassle. Instead, hold the “Alt” key to toggle “Hue” into “Reset Hue,” which will let you reset the entire submenu. What’s even better is this shortcut also works for other banks of submenus, like “Tone,” “Sharpening,” or “Presence.”
The “Alt” key also unlocks the ability to enhance previews when dragging sliders. The actual effect will vary depending on which slider you’re using, but the broad idea is that it helps you better visualize that slider’s effect on the photo. For instance, holding “Alt” while dragging the “Whites” slider will let you see only what areas are clipping white, by turning the main image view into a black and white image with only the clipped areas showing white.
I find the “Alt” previews to be most useful when working with the white and black level sliders, as well as in the detail panel. There, the Alt key gives you a very helpful set of previews when working with the sharpening tools. For amount, radius, and detail, it helps you see where the sharpening is actually being applied, as well as making it easy to see haloing from oversharpening. The “Masking” slider also greatly benefits from the “Alt” visualization, as the black and white mask lets you easily see what masking value is needed to reduce the sharpening in areas without detail.
This one’s a little more niche but can radically alter how you work with the split toning tool. When selecting a color, you can click the eyedropper tool in the color gradient, hold it, then drag off directly onto your image. Without letting go, you can then move the eyedropper tool around the whole image to select your color for the split tone right from your image, all while having a live preview of the effect! This makes it way easier to select a natural tone that’s already present in your image instead of having to guess at a likely color.
In the crop tool, the default overlay (those white lines that appear across your image) is set up as the rule of thirds guidelines. By pressing the “O” key with the crop tool open and the tool overlay turned on, you can shift through a wide range of options. Some are composition related, like the diagonals or golden spiral, but others are functional. Crop lines for 5x7 and 4x5 can help visualize how a crop will work in alternate aspect ratios, while a fine grid can help straighten your image.
The graduated filter and radial filter offer a number of great tools for refining their effects, including the ability to mask via luminance and color. If you’re just looking to make a basic modification or the luminance and color masking aren’t suitable, you don’t need to jump over to Photoshop. Instead, you can refine the filter’s area of effect with the brush tool. Once you’ve dragged out the filter, just click “Brush” at the top of the mask menu. Now, you can paint in or erase out areas of the filter while still having access to Auto Mask and the range masking features.
Lastly, once you’ve gotten a good mask setup with these filters, you might find that you need more or less strength to the effect. If you just used a single slider, it’s easy to tweak by just making sure you have that filter selected. If you instead used multiple sliders at once, use the triangular button at the top right of the mask panel to collapse the sliders into one. With them collapsed, you end up with just a single slider for “Amount.” Moving this will let you treat all the sliders you adjusted as a group, increasing or decreasing their effect in unison. Just click the triangle again to get access to the individual sliders.
Lightroom has a ton of useful features. Sometimes, the biggest challenge is knowing which to use when or how to best use the tools at your disposal. Some of the most effective modifications are somewhat obscure, so hopefully, this guide has shown you one or two new things, as well as encouraged a willingness to play around with the software. Don’t forget, Lightroom offers essentially unlimited “Undo” functionality, so give things a try! Did I miss one of your favorite Lightroom tricks? If so, share it in the comments!