How to get started with Adobe Lightroom Classic

Matthew James Oxlade
Updated on

About Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic

Adobe Lightroom CC was developed to assist you in doing three primary things: arrange your images, post-process them, and export them. In this detailed guide, we will go over the procedure of utilising Adobe Lightroom for newbies, from start to end, so you’ll know how to make the most of the tool. This course is written in a way that allows a newbie to understand pretty much anything about Lightroom, regardless of what version you have. And if you’re a pro and want to refresh your info, this site has a heap of other resources, like this list of keyboard shortcuts for Lightroom. Ideally, even if you begin with no understanding at all, you’ll wind up with a medium-to-excellent understanding of Lightroom’s essential principles. It’s a long post, but it will help you understand how to get the most out of Adobe Lightroom. You might want to revisit this later on if you discover a few of these pointers to be beneficial. So save it to your bookmarks, or just remember it’s here. Lightroom can be frustrating in the beginning, and the purpose of this guide is to streamline whatever as much as possible. So be patient with it, because it pays off!

What is Lightroom?

Lightroom is a post-processing software application created by Adobe and is included in the Creative Cloud suite. There’s a free Lightroom trial you can take advantage of, too. It lets you arrange your images, modify them, and export them at whatever size you require. It runs on Windows, Mac and iPad.

Organising Your Pictures

The most apparent thing that Lightroom does is arrange your pictures. Each time you import images into Lightroom, you’re likely seeing where they’re found on your computer system (i.e., the file structure). This appears on the left-hand side of your screen. You may see something like this:

Adobe Lightroom Classic

The pictures that are currently on your computer system do not automatically appear in Lightroom. Lightroom isn’t an image browser by default. If you wish to include a few of your images to Lightroom, or you wish to add a whole folder of pictures, you’ll need to import them. I’ll cover more about how to import photos later on, but for now, you just need to understand that Lightroom only displays content that you have imported, either from your camera, or from your hard drive (e.g. like your Documents folder). Lightroom has numerous other methods to sort and arrange your images. What if, for instance, you take a picture that you especially like, and you want to find it once again in the future quickly? Lightroom makes that really simple by letting you attach certain pieces of metadata, either manually or automatically. When you import images, your camera type and lens used will automatically be referenced in the file. You might also think it’s one of the best pictures you’ve taken, so you flag it as a ‘keeper’ or give it 5 stars. You might include it to a “My raddest photos” collection, or something similar. There are lots of options in Lightroom, and we will go into the options later on. We’ll talk about how to utilise each option to arrange and sort your photos quickly in Lightroom.

Modifying Your Images

Lightroom isn’t all about arranging your pictures. You probably purchased Lightroom because you want to edit your photos. And that’s what Lightroom is primarily for! Lightroom works a little differently than other big software options. Lightroom is what is referred to as a ‘non-destructive’ editing tool. What that means is that Lightroom doesn’t modify the original file. Professional photographers can usually manage perfectly fine with Lightroom’s post-processing functions. There are some editing functions that Photoshop is better at, such as cloning. Fortunately, you can quickly launch Photoshop directly from Lightroom, make your edits and return it straight to Lightroom to finish off. Lightroom’s post-processing choices cover all the primary bases: brightness, contrast, colour, sharpness, and many more. Lightroom was developed to modify your images. This isn’t just a side function that you can utilise from time to time instead of permanently altering the picture in Photoshop; it’s planned to be the primary tool you use for post-processing.

Exporting Your Pictures

Exporting your photos is probably straightforward and doesn’t need much explanation. Lightroom packs all the usual features for exporting your images ready to be used in whatever way. Once you’re finished your editing, you might want to send a few copies by email, and then save the finished copies in high resolution for your own safe-keeping. Rather than images that are 3000 pixels wide with no compression, you might want to make the file size smaller for email, and keep your high-resolution images only slightly smaller than their original size. For example, you could export a set of images that are 100kb each, and also export a collection that is 1.5mb each, while keeping the photos all in the Lightroom library in case you need a higher resolution later on. Exporting the images does not erase the original copy of your images. If you export a 500-pixel copy of an image, it’s merely that – a copy. It will have a various file name (or naming convention of your choosing) from your initial image, and you can delete/modify/send it any way you want without impacting the original image on your hard drive or the edits that you made. This isn’t the most popular thing that Lightroom does, however, in the long run, you’ll wind up exporting your pictures all the time.

What makes Lightroom different from other software applications?

As we mentioned before, when you make a modification to your picture in Lightroom, that modification just appears in Lightroom. Think of it as a reference to the settings that seem to change the photo, even though the original file remains the same. Perfect for when you become better at editing and want to go back and improve your older original photos as I did! The non-destructive editing method is an essential part of Lightroom, and it’s not a function you can disable. If Lightroom makes it difficult to modify your images really, and the edits are just noticeable in Lightroom, why would experts ever utilise it? Because of the flexibility of the non-destructive editing engine that applies the edits to the images as you export them. Why is this much better than just modifying the real, initial picture? Lightroom makes it difficult to mistakenly make permanent changes to any of your images that you’re working on. So how is that different to Photoshop? If you open one of your images in Photoshop, crop it, save and exit, your image will be cropped entirely unless you carefully ensure that you aren’t saving over the original image.

The Lightroom Classic catalogue

What is the Lightroom catalogue?

As you check out Lightroom, you’ll see the word catalogue everywhere you look. Lightroom is a cataloguing software application. What does that suggest? This is what I covered in the previous area: Lightroom does not really touch your images. Every edit that you make to a picture; each star ranking you provide; each time you include an image to a collection – all of those modifications are kept someplace aside from the real image on your computer system. Where? The Lightroom catalogue file. The Lightroom catalogue is one file which contains each modification and changes you make to each of your images. My Lightroom catalogue file is just about half a gigabyte in size because it consists of all the edits to each of my many pictures. It might sound like a big file size until you remember how many edits I must have made to all of my photos. Don’t forget, you need to import your photos to the Lightroom catalogue to have them appear. At the simplest level, however, Lightroom was developed to assist you to do simply 3 primary things: arrange your images, post-process them, and export them.

Importing photos into Lightroom

How to import photos into Adobe Lightroom

When you open Lightroom, you’ll see a box at the bottom-left that is labelled ‘Import …’. Click it, and the import screen will open up. The import screen may open up instantly when you first open Lightroom if you have an SD card inserted, but that depends on how your preferences are set up. You can change your preferences by navigating to Lightroom at the top and clicking on ‘Preferences…’ The Import screen is where you pick which pictures to include in your Lightroom catalogue to arrange and edit. You’ll most likely wind up opening the import screen really often. Generally, each time you come back from a shoot, you’ll spend some quality time with this screen. [Lightroom-CC-import-dialogue.] There’s a lot of options within the import screen that you can take advantage of, but let’s focus on the most common ones you’ll be using.

The left-hand side

The simplest component of the import screen is the tabs on the left-hand side. This is where you select the source of the images you want to import into Lightroom. This might be an SD card, your camera, or something different. What this panel looks like is generally pretty simplistic. You’ll always see your hard drive as an option at a minimum. That’s because if you’re attempting to import a picture into Lightroom that’s is already on your computer, you can do that. [Lightroom-Import-Dialogue.]

Import types

The top of the import screen offers you a couple of alternatives. There are four ways to import your images right into Lightroom’s catalogue: ‘Copy as DNG’, ‘Copy’, ‘Relocate’, and also ‘Add’. Each one is valid depending on your reasons. Here is what Lightroom says about each of them:

Copy as DNG – Copy to new location, import, and convert to DNG

This choice is what occurred when the Lightroom designers recognised that if you’re duplicating a picture from one place to an additional, the brand-new copy can be a different document type than the original. ‘Copy as DNG’ does the same thing as ‘Copy’, but the new photo created will be as a DNG file other than JPEG, TIFF, CR2 or whatever it was when you took it.

Copy – Copy photos to a new location and add to catalog

‘Copy’ is the best option if the photo you want to add to your catalog isn’t in the right place yet. However, you still do not desire to erase it from its current location yet; rather, you simply want to copy it someplace else. When I’m copying images from someone’s flash drive, I don’t want to move the photos from their storage device entirely, because they might still want to retain a copy.

Move – Move photos to a new location and add to catalog

‘Move’ is ideal if you’re attempting to include among your images to your Lightroom catalog. However, it’s not in the ideal place on your computer system. For example, if you were in a hurry and copied images to a folder on your desktop, but ideally want the photos to appear under 2018 > February > Flowers, you can use ‘Move’ to import them into the Lightroom catalog, but also put them in the place you want the photos to appear in.

Add – Add your photos to catalog without moving them

‘Add’ is excellent if you don’t want to move the documents from their current location on your hard drive but want them to be included in the Lightroom catalog. While ‘add’ works just fine, I generally copy images from your camera straight into the location I want them to appear in. This means I use the ‘Copy’ option to duplicate the images and place them in the location of my choosing.

The right-hand side

Unlike the left-hand side panel, the right-hand side has a lot more options during the import process. They are all really important for your photos to be catalogued properly. The major function of the right-hand bar is simply to inform Lightroom where to place the pictures that you’re moving, duplicating, or duplicating as DNGs. It does not show up if you’re adding photos, given that Lightroom presumes that they’re currently in the best location with all their metadata. [Import-Destination.] There are a few ways you can shorten this import process. You can create presets of the metadata you want to apply, or apply settings to the photos as they are imported. For example, my copyright data remains the same for each photo I take. My website doesn’t change, my contact information doesn’t change, so I don’t need to change it each time I import. I created my own metadata preset by clicking on ‘Apply During Import’ > Metadata > New. Click ‘Create’ when you’re done, and give it a name. I call mine ‘Matt’ because generally, it will be your only metadata preset. In the meantime, as long as you’ve chosen your destination folder for the import, everything else is easy to add later on if you forget. Here’s what each of the import functions do:

File Handling

Build previews

I set this to ‘Embedded & Sidecar’ because it seems to make everything run at its most optimum.

Build Smart Previews

I have this switched on because it helps the photos load lower resolution copies for when you’re flipping through lots of different shots in the Library or Develop module.

Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates

Lightroom does a great job of knowing what is a duplicate image and which isn’t. I have this switched on because if I do multiple transfers to my Lightroom catalog during a shoot, I don’t want to spend time copying images I already have copied in a past transfer.

Make a Second Copy To

You could use this if you wanted the photos to be imported to two locations, but I’m not sure why you would want to do that, so I keep it switched off.

Add to Collection

We will get into Collections later on, but if you know what collection you want these photos added to, you can do it at import by selecting this and the Collection you want them imported to.

File Renaming

Rename Files

Here you can rename your files and use a template to make it even quicker. The templates are pretty straightforward, but I generally use a custom name. I write the name of the shoot, then make the start number ‘1’ and it will sequence the photos from there on out.

Apply During Import

Develop Settings

If you’d like a preset to be applied to each image you import, you can choose a develop preset here. Generally, this isn’t a great idea because all your photos will look slightly different and need different editing treatment. But the option is there if you need it.


This is the copyright information and other aspects that you want to be attached to your image. You can create a preset to make it easier to pre-populate on each import. We spoke about that a little earlier.


Each time you import photos, you should add keywords so it’s easier to find relevant photos later when your Lightroom catalog is swelling in size. In addition to that, when you have actually picked all the images you wish to include in your catalog, you’re done! Click the “Import” button at the bottom-right of the import screen and things will start copying! How to move an Adobe Lightroom catalogue Moving Lightroom catalogues can seem like a confusing task, but it really is quite easy. You’ll know how to move an Adobe Lightroom Catalogue with this guide. This tutorial will take you through how to move your Lightroom catalogue, which is very useful when you would like to backup your photos or have done some editing while on the road and want to transfer the images to your primary computer without losing any of your develop settings.

Exporting and importing Lightroom catalogues

Exporting your Lightroom catalogue

The first thing you’ll want to do is decide what folders you want to export. You can do this by navigating to your Library tab on the top-right, then selecting folders on the bottom left. You can choose certain folders, or choose all the folders you have.

How to move Lightroom catalogues

Then go to your navigation pane and click ‘File > Export as Catalogue’

How to move Lightroom catalogues

You will be prompted to enter the details for the catalogue you want to export. The sections you’ll need to enter are: Save As Self explanatory, but it’s the name you want to call the catalogue. For example, if you are backing up your photos from the previous year, you may wish to call it ‘Lightroom Catalogue 2014’. Or simply, ‘Lightroom Catalogue backup’ Tags These are optional but help you find details later. This step is only relevant if you are on a Mac. Where This is the location where Adobe Lightroom will place the exported catalogue and all reference files. The files will be placed neatly in a parent folder of the same name as what you entered on the top line. Export selected photos only Self explanatory, but only relevant if you have chosen selected images within folders. Exporting negative files, Build/Include Smart Previews and Include available previews I keep these options selected to save time on my import. If you don’t select these, the catalogue will need to rebuild itself when imported, which I personally find unnecessary. And away it goes, exporting your beautiful images!

The exported files

Once the export process has completed, you’ll have a new folder in the location you set in the previous step. In this folder are two files of metadata, the Lightroom catalogue reference file and the original images folder. All together these files tell Adobe Lightroom where you last left off with the images, what settings and keywords they had applied etc. If you double click on the ‘*.lrcat’ file, your catalogue will open in Adobe Lightroom, and close your current catalogue. This can be good if you are wanting to work with more than one catalogue and keep them separate, but for the purpose of this tutorial we are going to use the ‘*.lrcat’ file as the reference file to import images to our existing catalogue. Or more simply, add the photos to our new/existing/master catalogue.

Importing the catalogue

To import the images to our target catalogue with all their settings and metadata in place, we need to do a very similar step to how we exported the catalogue. This time, go to ‘File > Import from Another Catalogue’.

Once prompted, navigate to the ‘*.lrcat’ file I mentioned before. All the images in the Pictures folder will be moved or added without moving to the target catalogue, depending on what you choose on the prompt. Then, kick back and wait a few minutes for your images to be added to the target catalogue.

The finished product

That was pretty easy, right? Right! All your folders are now back in place, but if they aren’t, all it takes is a quick drag-and-drop movement to arrange them how you like. You can avoid this step if you have chosen the right settings in the earlier steps of this tutorial, but it ultimately is dependent on how you like your catalogue arranged.

How to add location information in Lightroom

The ‘Map’ tab in Adobe Lightroom isn’t something that springs to mind when you’re adding, editing or managing your photo library. Only this year I started to bother adding location information in Lightroom after trying to pretend that it was a filter that didn’t matter to me. So if you’re a travel photographer, freelance photographer or just someone that likes to keep a clean Lightroom catalogue, read on about how easy it is to add location information in Lightroom.

Using the map

Moving around the map is quite straight-forward, and it helps that it uses Google Maps’ data to pull geolocation points off your selected locations. You can enter a location on the search bar at the top, or zoom and scroll around using the same controls as you would if you were finding something on Google Maps.

How to add location information in Lightroom

Adding the location to images

Dropping the pin in a certain place won’t add the geolocation to your photo. So you’ll have to make sure you hold¬†control-click (or right-click if you’re using a mouse) and add the GPS coordinates. This will add the location to any photos you have selected down in your filmstrip. You can’t see the ‘Sublocation’, ‘City’ and other fields completed using the gif below, but once your GPS coordinates appear, those will be filled with meaningful data based off the coordinates you selected. This will come in handy later.

How to add location information in Lightroom

Adding the finishing touches

Once the coordinates are added, there are a few things you can do to double check everything is placed and the right images have the right coordinates. Scrolling over the image in the filmstrip will make the marker bounce a couple of times so you know where it sits on the map. If you scroll your cursor over the marker, a thumbnail of the image and its EXIF data will show.

How to add location information in Lightroom

Reap the benefits

As a token of appreciation for your time spent adding location information to your photos in Lightroom, you will now be able to find photos in your library search based off cities, locations or other location metadata. The coordinates automatically enter all the meaningful data you will most likely use to search for photos with, so all you need to do is enter location words in your regular search, and now location information will be considered in addition to regular keyword metadata you assigned on import.

How to add location information in Lightroom