I use Lightroom, in some capacity, for everything I shoot. Without it, my workflow would be entirely different, and probably not for the better. While some of the recent feature updates have been fine, I still can’t believe these three features haven’t made it into the software after all this time.
What’s particularly surprising to me about the lack of these features is how commonplace they are in both other tools and Adobe’s own software tools. Furthermore, as much as I’d love to see support for more obscure features like astro-stacking, these are basic essentials.
Photoshop’s support for remapping keyboard shortcuts is fantastic. Not only can you modify the keys used for all the menu options, but also the panels, tools, and even task spaces like Select and Mask. The menus themselves can be customized via recoloring and hiding. Best of all, these settings can then be saved and reused via a small file, making them portable and easily backed up.
Lightroom, by contrast, supports none of these functions. Want to remap a shortcut? You can dig into the “Translated Strings” text file, which is buried in the program files, and rewrite some of the strings yourself, but this isn’t exactly user-friendly or well supported.
Even more confusingly, the defaults between LR and PS don’t align. Consider cropping, a fundamental tool for most edits. In Photoshop, it’s the C key, as in Crop. When you jump back to Lightroom and need to tweak that crop, you’d expect it to still be C, right? Nope. Instead, Lightroom has bound it to R. Given how closely these two programs work together, it doesn’t make sense to throw out your muscle memory when jumping between them.
To at least address the muscle memory issue, I’ve had to shift a bunch of my Photoshop shortcuts to more closely match Lightroom’s, although this is an imperfect option. If you're looking for a similar solution to these issues, you've got the aforementioned option of editing translated strings, although I think you could also create something in AutoHotKey that would also work. Both of those are far inferior to Photoshop's implementation of keyboard and menu editing, however.
Collection of Oddities
One of the reasons why I’ve stuck with Lightroom after all this time is the Collections feature. Between the fact that I already have dozens of regular collections created and the functionality of Smart Collections, Lightroom goes a long way to making it easy to group photos quickly.
However, if you’re not comfortable working with Boolean-esque logic, you might not be getting everything possible out of collections. If you want to set up a Smart Collection showing raw images from the last year, with a three-star rating or higher, but an ISO of less than 3200, Lightroom makes it possible, but you have to know how to ask for it. Once you see it, it’s not tricky, but in past workshops, two of the biggest stumbling blocks for students have been knowing what to ask and how to put it into the system.
Providing some more useful sample collections, updating some of the data fields to reflect newer features like Lightroom’s face detection, and just making the user interface more friendly could all go a long way to boosting this feature.
What actually prompted this entry in the list however is one of the most confusing rules in Lightroom. Once you’ve created a smart collection, like the one I set up to automatically show rejected virtual copies and HDR/panorama DNGs, you can’t delete them directly from it. I’ve got no clue why this might be, but just feels like such a weird compromise of the usefulness of this feature.
Also, smart collections are pretty limited in additional functionality. If you run multiple catalogs, you can’t easily move collection settings between them. They’re missing a number of filter options that would be useful, like an easy way to filter HDR merged images. While some of these problems can be tackled by judicious use of the existing filters, this feature has always felt like it was right on the edge of being really great.
Setting aside the inability to delete directly from them, I'd still recommend making use of the smart collections. Depending on what you shoot and how you use Lightroom, there's a number of potential collections you could set up. One of my favorites, as I run a single monolith of a catalog, is to show pick flagged images from the last six months. This lets me quickly access my favorite shots from recent shoots, without having to scroll through shots from years ago.
Lack of Layers
This one has been a perennial complaint among Lightroom users: no layer support. Lightroom supports PSB and PSD file types, Photoshop is the poster child for layer-based editing, but even basic layer functionality isn’t supported in Lightroom. Lightroom’s competitors have added layer support, yet it certainly doesn’t seem like layer support is something that will be coming to Lightroom CC. Beyond that, Lightroom has glued on more advanced functions like luminosity masking to tools like the adjustment brush, so the argument of “Lightroom is meant for basic edits” carries less weight than in the past.
In fact, I'd argue that basic selection and layer tools would have been a much better use of development resources than the current implementation of range and color masks. By the point that I'm working with range masks, it's probably time to jump over to Photoshop anyway. Meanwhile, there are a number of situations where just being able to constrain a selection for brushwork in a more effective way than with auto-mask would be useful.
Now, none of these issues are enough to knock Lightroom out of my workflow. Between the familiarity I have with the tools, the easy loop (and financial sense) of pairing Lightroom and Photoshop, and the fact that I’ve just worked out ways around most of these issues, Lightroom isn’t getting uninstalled anytime soon. Instead, I’ll just continue to grumble every time I try to delete from a smart collection or wait every time I’m forced to open a PSD just to check if it has the layer I’m looking for.
Lead image courtesy of Nathan Dumlao