Lightroom Top 10 Gotcha’s

If you’re just starting out with Lightroom, there are a few CRUCIAL bits of information which will save you hours of headaches and untangling. They’re the kind of thing that just make you say “I’d wish I’d known that before….” These are my top ten gotchas, direct from the forums.

  1. Lightroom is all about non-destructive editing – so don’t try to save over your originals.
  2. Lightroom doesn’t ‘contain’ files, it just holds data about them – so don’t go deleting your originals thinking that they’re safely stored in Lightroom.
  3. Lightroom’s backups don’t back up your originals – you still need to do that.
  4. Lightroom’s catalog is just a database, and databases can become corrupted – backup regularly, and keep older backups for a while.
  5. Lightroom needs to know where the files are – don’t move or rename files outside of Lightroom, i.e. in Explorer or Finder, otherwise you’ll have a long job fixing all of the links.
  6. Lightroom will not match your cameras rendering when working with raw files as it’s just raw data, but you can use the new profiles to emulate the manufacturer’s look for some cameras, or you can build your own profile to match.
  7. Lightroom offers a choice of different colour spaces when you output, and AdobeRGB/ProPhotoRGB will look odd in programs that aren’t colour managed (like web browsers). Use sRGB for screen output like emailing or uploading to the web.
  8. Lightroom’s Grid view behaves differently to other views – anything you do in Grid view applies to all selected images, whereas other views only apply to the most selected image.
  9. Lightroom has 3 different levels of selection, not 2. Notice the difference, otherwise you could accidently apply a setting to multiple different images.
  10. Lightroom’s Flags are local to the folder or collection, whereas star ratings and labels are global. This means that a photo can be flagged in one collection but not flagged in the folder.

Any more gotchas or blinding flashes of the obvious that you wish to add? You know, the things that make you go ‘Duh!’


  1. Wow, I didn’t know about #10! Thanks a lot, that’s great to know (and explains a lot…)

    I got one more: In some input fields (like in the web module), you cannot simply use the return/enter key to create a new line/paragraph. However, you can simply copy & paste text that has multiple lines from other applications.

    [That’s a nice little tip Peter! – VB]

    • How about this one: everything about a photo is immediately and
      permanently removed from Lightroom catalog when photo is deleted or
      removed from catalog. But, if you save (xmp) metadata, then develop
      settings and metadata will not be lost, should you inadvertently remove a
      photo from your catalog, and have to re-import. Moral of the story:
      save (xmp) metadata after every round of milestone edits, or enable
      auto-save, and you won’t be solely dependent on catalog backups for recovering from human or machine error, plus you can recover from “between backup” goofs.

  2. I didn’t know about number 10, either. And I’m not certain that I understand #9. I’m going to have go back to LR to figure that one out. But this is a great list. I think #’s 4 and 5 hit quite a few people. Thanks a lot for publishing this list.

    [#9 – You have most-selected, which are the lightest shade of grey, also-selected, which are medium-grey, and not-selected, which are dark-grey. It trips people up on a regular basis, but it’s necessary in order to be able to sync images (you have to have a source image and target images). – VB]

  3. A result of #10: deleting items flagged as rejects inside of a collection does not delete them from the folder they’re stored in, they’re only removed from the collection.

    Behaviour I don’t like by the way. If I flag my images as rejects, it’s because I want to delete them. A way around it is to select all the items marked as rejects inside the collection and switch to the folder the images are in. They should still be selected. I then mark them as rejects (using ‘x’) and delete the rejects (using apple-backspace).

    A tad convoluted, but apparently it’s by design.

    [You can always use the wonderfully named ‘splat-delete’ – Ctrl-Alt-Shift-Delete or Cmd-Opt-Shift-Delete to delete the images from the disc whilst still viewing the collection, rather than having to switch back to the folder. – VB]

  4. Good stuff!

  5. #10… Now I know why the pics I flagged in a Quick Collection were unflagged after clearing the QC.

    #9 is unclear– What are you referring to when you say “levels of selection”? I see you explained it in a later comment– most-selected, etc… maybe it’s some part of the program I don’t use…

    [When you look at the files in Grid view, and then select more than 1 file, you’ll see there is more than one shade of grey used. You probably do use it, but the difference in shades isn’t that noticeable, so you may not have noticed – which is exactly the problem that trips people up – they press delete thinking they’ve only got one file selected (the most-selected lightest grey) and then realise that all of the files were also selected (mid-grey) and they’ve deleted them by accident. It’s one to watch out for! – VB]

  6. Ah… ‘most-selected’… who’d have guessed it means the one I happened to click first?

  7. #10 seems the closest to the problem I’m having, so I’ll ask the question here? How do I make the star ratings stay with the file? Other apps are interchangeable, but Lightroom’s stars don’t show up anywhere else.

    [Turn on ‘automatically write to xmp’ in preferences, or select all in Grid view and hit Ctrl-S/Cmd-S every so often to write to xmp. That’ll allow other programs to read the star rating data. – VB]

  8. I disagree with #9. There are two levels of selected. Most selected, and also selected. That’s it. But definition, not-selected is NOT selected. So that’s not a level of selection. If you “select” a file in Windows Explorer, that’s one level of selection….it’s selected. Windows Explorer only has one level…”selected”. Lightroom has an additonal level.
    If you had a light in your room, and it has an on/off switch, then it has one level of on….which is, “on”. But if it had an intermediate level which is half-power, that would be a second level. So it would have a two-level choice of on….half-on, and completely on. Two levels. Off is not a level of on…cause, it’s off not on.

    Two levels. Because there’s only two of them to choose from.

    [Oooooooh, who’s being fussy with words then. 😉 Ok, there are 2 levels of selection in addition to deselected then. Better?- VB]

  9. …But if only one is selected it turns mid-grey – so that can mean ‘selected’ OR ‘also selected’ if there is more than one. Light-grey is only the first or priority selection of more than one. So, there are still three levels… Confused? Well, to me, if something that should be simple is tripping people up, then change it. That said, I personally think it’s pretty obvious.

  10. Thanks Victoria,
    I have been destroying my files with Elements 7 adjustments and have just purchased lr & cs4. Is there any comparsion to E-7 and CS-4?

    Billy Andrews

    [Hi Billy. I don’t have any links to hand comparing between the Elements and CS4. CS4 is Elements on steroids. There is a big difference between Elements and Lightroom though – everything Lightroom does is non-destructive. – VB]

  11. Jack Varney says:

    Regarding #9, my first thought was that by not selecting an item it is not a mamber of the set of selections. Further thought leads me to the conclusion that by not selecting items they are placed in the set of selected items by default! Three levels, indeed.

  12. Theodore Nugent says:

    Hands up, who thinks Chad is a niggling twit?

    Great info Victoria, I link this post every chance I get.

  13. One gotcha I would add is that Lightroom’s plugins and presets are used by all catalogs (databases) under your login name. This is true for Windows – I don’t know about the Mac.

    This means if you are developing your own plugin and want to test it before unleashing it on your production catalog you need to do it as a different Windows user. Setting up a new catalog for Test isn’t sufficient. I have a Windows user on my PC called LRDev for that purpose.

    Similarly if you change a preset in one catalog it affacts all the others for your user name – which may or may not be what you wanted.

    [Good points Ian. Developing plugins probably isn’t the first thing on new users minds, but it’s still useful information. It works the same for Mac too.

    As to your presets, there’s a checkbox in Preferences called ‘Store Presets with Catalog’ which will make any presets catalog-specific (but then confuses people when all their presets have disappeared because they’ve switched to the different catalog….. 😉 – VB]

  14. Go ahead and call me dense, but I’m still not understanding #9 (and I’m not referring to the 2 vs. 3 debate).

    I do see two level of gray, but what is meant by “most selected” and “also selected”??



    [Jon, select 2 files – one will be lighter grey that the other, and the unselected ones will be dark grey. That lightest grey one is the ‘most-selected’ and that’s the one that would be used as the source for syncing settings, changing capture times, that sort of thing. As an example, if the ‘most-selected’ image had grayscale settings applied, and you used Sync to copy those settings to the other images, the grayscale settings from that ‘most-selected’ or active image would be applied to the other selected (mid-grey) images. – VB]

  15. re #9, Lightroom uses the term “active” to differentiate between “selected” and “really totally selected to the max.”

    For the still-befuddled: Any number of images can be selected. Only one can be active. However, all selected images in Grid view are basically active. Think of Grid as “Batch.”

    My gotcha, to which I have no answer: When entering metadata, why does the cursor lose focus (data entry stops) and suddenly I’m typing hot keys? Happens all the time, can’t figure out what I’m doing to change focus.

    [Hmmm, I’ve heard a couple of reports of that one. Have you updated to the 2.4 update? – VB]

  16. re: annoying metadata entry behaviors, I did some prowling last night. Turns out a lot of people have this trouble and no one can determine where LR’s spasms come from. Bottom line: the standard type-tab-type-tab routine we all know and love for database entry stumps LR. (I do have 2.4)

    However, I found a simpler, faster workaround: Use the Sync Metadata window instead of direct entry, for one image or 1,000. LR doesn’t record the typing until you close the window, and the interface is more concise.

    [Well done for finding a solution. It’d be worth putting in a Official Feature Request/Bug Report Form too. – VB]

  17. Lars Clausen says:

    I knew the other ones, but #10 was new to me, too, and I’ve even started teaching classes on LR. Makes both collections and flags more useful. Thank you!

  18. Regarding #10: If you flag images in the collection sets then the flags carry over to the catalog> all photographs… strange but it works. If you flag in the catalog they do not carry over into collection sets, but not the collections within the sets. The same is true with folders.

  19. So if I delete images outside of lightroom (say in bridge), that have been cataloged previously in lightroom, there is no way to globally update that lightroom catalog to get rid of the previews of those deleted files?

    [You could use ‘find missing files’ under the Library menu from memory, and then remove those from the catalog. – VB]

  20. Im very confused (in #6) how to get lightroom to match my cameras rendering

    [Max, which camera do you shoot? – VB]

  21. #9 is that you can have selected and unselected images, but within the selected images, one will be the ‘most’ selected – hence three levels.

    “Lightroom’s Grid view behaves differently to other views – anything you do in Grid view applies to all selected images, whereas other views only apply to the most selected image.”

    There is one exception to this – if you’re in the Develop module and you have ‘Autosync’ turned on, any Develop changes made will be automatically applied to all selected images.


    [Quite right – and there’s an AutoSync option in Library module in LR3 now too. – VB]

  22. I just discovered this blog the other day and wish I’d found it earlier :-) Some great stuff here and I know how much effort it must take to compile it and put it all together.

    #9 got me several times before I finally figured out what was happening!

  23. djkaraok says:

    Cannot believe I just stumbled onto this site. Been reading some posts and felt comfortable with the quality and quantity of knowledge in the posts. Although an old timer I continue to keep learning and took on LR4 several months back for organizing my 46,000+ photos. Then I received additional video training for LR and have come to love the editing power. Even downloaded LR5 beta and am enjoying some new improvements.

    Been using PSE 6-11 which keeps getting more powerful every year. Owning OnOne Perfect 7 bundle along with Topaz Labs Bundle and the stand alone Photofx.

    Keeping my ear to the ground I have come to hear that CC for Photoshop only will be $9.99 if you do not need the other programs at $19.99. Also the ability to work on a tablet plus a suggestion to combine LR with PSE and name it LightShop.

    • djkaraok says:

      By the way I have no idea where to post. Sorry! Remember we really have been renting software yearly for a while. How long have purchased anti-virus and continue to buy it every year. Please I understand there are free ones but apples to apples.

    • Thanks djkaraok. The $9.99 deal for Photoshop is for people who already own an earlier version of full Photoshop, and just lasts a year. Then it reverts to $19.99 for those who only need Photoshop, or $49.99 for those who want the whole suite. And I love the idea of creating a Photoshop version for Lightroom users.


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