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The Basics - Quick Start Essentials

Sep 29, 2007
Isle of Wight, UK
Lightroom Experience
Power User
Lightroom Version
Cloud Service
If you’re anything like me, the first thing you want to do with a new program is dive right in. Who wants to read an instruction manual when you can experiment? If you’re nodding in agreement, that’s fine, but do yourself a favor and just read this short chapter before you jump in head first. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches!

There’s no doubt about it, Lightroom has a mind of its own. It’s a great mind, but it doesn’t always think in exactly the same way that you and I do, or in the way that we’re used to working with other programs, so there are a few things that you really need to understand. Read on.

Lightroom’s designed for nondestructive editing. That’s to say, changes you make to your photos within Lightroom’s interface aren’t applied to the original image data until you export them, and even then it doesn’t overwrite the original file, but creates an edited copy.

Firstly you ‘import’ your photos into Lightroom. That doesn’t mean they’re actually in Lightroom. They’re still on your hard drive as normal files, and in the Import dialog you can decide whether to leave them where they are, or whether to copy or move them to a new location of your choice. To be clear, don’t delete your files thinking that they’re in Lightroom—they’re not.

The Lightroom catalog holds data about your photos. It’s just a long text database with small JPEG preview files in a nearby folder structure. It keeps a record of where the photos are stored on your hard drive, and other metadata describing your photos. That’s where any changes you make in Lightroom are stored too. So next essential tip—don’t tidy up your photos on your hard drive or rename them in other programs, or Lightroom will ask you to find them all. If you need to tidy up, do it within Lightroom’s interface.

Next in line, you’re going to organize your photos in the Library module, sorting them into groups, choosing your favorites, adding metadata describing the photos such as keywords, and then editing the photos in the Develop module. Because it’s a database, you don’t have to hit ‘Save’ every few minutes. All of the changes you make are recorded as you go along, but this isn’t like resaving a JPEG over and over again, which would reduce the image quality. Instead, all of your changes are saved as text instructions in the catalog until you choose to remove the photos from the catalog. Here comes another essential—if you remove photos from your Lightroom catalog, and then import them again, all of the work you did in Lightroom will be gone. There is a partial exception called XMP, but we’ll come back to that later. The main things to remember are to back up the catalog regularly, and if you lose track of the files, don’t use Synchronize to remove them and re-import—redirect the links to the new file locations by clicking on the question marks instead.

Finally, how do you get your adjusted photos out of Lightroom? You ‘export’ them. Consider it a ‘Save As’—it creates a new file in the location of your choice, in whatever file format, size and color space that suits your purpose. But that’s the great thing about Lightroom—you don’t have to keep different sized finished copies of every photo unless you want to, because as long as you have the originals and the catalog, you can output finished photos on demand. You’re not just limited to exporting single photos either. The Slideshow, Print and Web modules allow you to create... well, slideshows, prints and web galleries. Publish Services also allows you to keep your photos synchronized with online photo sharing websites such as Flickr.