3 Things Lightroom is Still Missing 14 Years Later

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.

Shortcut Support

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

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35 Comments

Eric Segarra's picture

The missing elements you mention are just a start, but the whole discussion needs to be conducted starting from one simple fact: Adobe had, and still does not have, any intention for Lightroom to be a stand-alone program. Yes, you could use it that way if all you do not need to do advanced editing, but if you do, Adobe just makes you go to Photoshop. I frankly do not see this changing any time soon, if ever. Ever try to do any real cloning in LR? Then you will know why Adobe wants you to have Photoshop handy. Besides, the dual-program strategy is paying handsomely at the cash register. Change will only come when other players out there begin to creep up their user base in a way that affects earnings. Until that day, get comfortable for the Adobe ride with much of the same.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

You have PS with Camera Raw for that.

Tony Northrup's picture

I think you're talking about Lightroom Classic (because Lightroom doesn't have collections). It's incredibly confusing. Anyway, the #1 thing that infuriates me about Lightroom Classic is the file management. It's awful for us. I guess it's fine if you keep all your pictures in one place, but we take pictures and organize them in folders with non-picture media (such as video files) and shuffle them around between editors, our local hard drive, a NAS, etc. Often several different folders and projects per week. Lightroom Classic does NOT make that easy.

Deniz Karagulle's picture

Focus peaking, anyone?

And that's not to mention the general performance / stability issues when it comes to tethering

C Fisher's picture

That one confused me as well, you have the exposure mask, where's the focus one? Ended up downloading a plugin that works but kind of sucks, C1 is so much better for this.

Jeffrey Puritz's picture

I would just like to be able to see shooting info and image dimensions on the same screen without having to cycle thru "I" like my screen is 512x384 pixels..

Alex Coleman's picture

I’m not in front of my computer, so I can’t test, but you might be able to set info and dimensions to both display. You get two lines, and they’re customizable in the menu.

Deleted Account's picture

I don't care about layers, shortcuts or collection. Feature I miss most is selective HSL.I'm tired opening Photoshop every time I need it.

Michael Rapp's picture

My first gripe would be "speed."
Instead of adding gimmicks to adress nieche photography, I'd suggest to take a good look under the hood and make the edit and viewing module fly.
Adobe says to keep all your images in one database and not to worry, performance won't suffer.
Well: my observations beg to differ from Adobe's theory.
Unless you are hooked up to a Cray Supercomputer my performance takes a nose dive when trying to apply spot healing to large files.

Teemu Paukamainen's picture

Every time I upgrade my pc parts (CPU, RAM, GPU, SSD etc.) I do it to get LR working faster. It never does. Well... Maybe a tiny bit but not as much I'd like. Definitely not worth the $$$s I invest in.

Luke Bateman's picture

Capture one has all of these feature.

Andy Day's picture

Not being able to delete virtual copies from collections and smart collections DRIVES ME INSANE.

Rutger Wierda's picture

Only three? There are so many more, but I guess I'm spoiled having used Apple Aperture in the past. It's amazing to see that neither C1 nor LR have been able to offer what Aperture did 8 years ago when development stopped. For LR, this is still missing:
- An uncluttered non-distracting customisable interface.
- Soft-proof to a CMYK profile (really it's 2021 Adobe!)
- File naming options are severely limited.
- Integration with other software (amazingly I was able to better integrate Aperture into InDesign using AppleScript than is possible with Lightroom
- A proper light-table to compare and compose images/layouts together.
- A top-plate stye summary of shooting settings
- Logical collections (why on earth do I need an album inside a collection, makes no sense)

Luckily LR is decent when it comes to asset management, but it's so poor when it comes to its interface and editing capabilities. C1 is much better in that aspect but its asset management is virtually non existent. Ohh do I wish somebody could resurrect Aperture from its death [sigh].

Jan Holler's picture

32 bit loating point operations to keep as much as possible data.

Sam David's picture

Life is a lot easier if one uses Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw -- which does everything Lightroom does without its cumbersome, unfathomable terminology and filing system.

Leo D's picture

I agree. Bridge + ARC en PSD is my favorite workflow. I stopped using ACR though after comparing straight out of camera raw images to Capture One for Sony.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Is it possible to copy settings between photos in ACR?

Sam David's picture

Yes. Generally I do it through the very easy to set up presets.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

So, no Sync setting function, presets instead.

Sam David's picture

That's what I do -- never looked for a sync process. Again, I use ACR because you can intuit your own workflow. Lightroom is very directive.

L B's picture

After editing in LR for several years now, can someone explain why do I need layers?

Jason Winters's picture

You don't. And if you do, that's what Photoshop is for.

Leo D's picture

My colors (Sony a7III) are significant better in Capture One than in ACR. Especially skin. I assume LR is the same as ACR. No matter what bells and whistles. I don't have to think twice what raw editor to use.
Besides that i'm very happy with C1's luminance maks.

J. W.'s picture

In photoshop layers are vital. In LR, not so much. I own Exposure 6, Capture One, and I find layers cumbersome. In LR I use the gradient local adjustment as a faux layer when needed and especially powerful because the color/luminance masks are very easy and fast. Yes, the other programs I mention have masks too and have more options. But It can take me 2 to 8 minutes to get just right, while in LR I can do it in 5-10 seconds.

Mandy Coate's picture

I would love just being able to crop properly

Jason Frels's picture

When importing, if I could hold down shift and select some of the files like in windows explorer, instead of clicking on every one, that would be nice.

Erpillar Bendy's picture

Shortcuts were added to Lightroom very nicely with the VSCO Keys plugin, but then VSCO discontinued it.

Alex Coleman's picture

Yup, good memory. I used that one back when it came out.

Joe Loper's picture

Preach Alex, LR is the devil.

Bob McClenahan's picture

Content aware fill

Alex Coleman's picture

That's the number one reason I bring an image over to PS - it's so far beyond LR's cloning tools.

micke holmgren's picture

Agree on most topics, though i can understand the lack of a few things given the heritage and original purpose of LR - it was ment to be an oraganiser not an editor.. that is still how i use it, i do some basic correctiions, and the ability to save settings and applying on a seriies of pics is a great feature instead of going through automsation in PS.

I however ran into another interesting problem the other day, tried to migrate classic into the online LR... you can believe that i was both surprised and furiated over the fact that the darn thing imports the images but not folders.. so from a structured tree of folders i got 1 bucket of 60.000 images.. so here i am, still in classic..

Steve Ridges's picture

Integration/sync with Adobe cloud. I have to import my photos with LR CC in order to sync full res images to the cloud and then wait for them to download back down to LR Classic :(.

Captain Jack R's picture

LR is dead to me. I'm 100% full on C1 because not only the use of layers, but the ability to program the app for different workflows. While I am shooting weddings to product photography, I can program C1 for a workflow that is best suited for those projects. This is something that can be done with PS, but not in LR. I don't like that you can't move the tools around or add and delete tools from the workspace.

Jared Ribic's picture

CATALOG BACKUP - When importing images Lightroom (Lightroom 'Classic' as it's now called) gives you the option to import images to TWO LOCATIONS so you have a backup of imported images.

For years I've been asking to have Lightroom (Classic) back up the CATALOG in two locations. Yes the images I'm importing are important and it's great to have the ability to import duplicate copies to another drive, but the catalog is crucial and there's no reason we can't have the catalog backed up to a secondary location as well.

TOGGLE SWITCHES - Another thing I've been wanting for years is the ability to have separate toggle switches for SHARPENING and NOISE REDUCTION. Instead, they're still grouped under the single toggle switch for DETAILS. Because of this we don't have the ability to see the effect of noise reduction independently of sharpening. This would be an easy thing to do but for whatever reason it's not available.

CULLING MODE - I'd love for Lightroom to have a stripped-down super fast culling mode so users didn't need to depend on PhotoMechanic to do a job that Lightroom should be able to handle. Give us a fast culling mode that does nothing more than allow us to view the images at screen size, punch-in at 100%, and rate/flag the images. Anything beyond that can happen in Library or Develop modes.

COLLECTIONS - Lightroom Classic doesn't have all the features I need when sharing a collection. I can create a link to the collection to share it, but I need to go into the "other version" of Lightroom to manage things like showing EXIF data, allowing JPEG downloads, etc. If LR Classic is the full-feature version of the software then please give us these simple options without requiring us to use other versions of Lightroom.