5 Common Lightroom Mistakes New Users Make (and how to avoid them)

Lightroom is an incredible tool for photographers, as it allows you to manage your images, edit them beautifully, and share them with the world, all in one place. The downside is it can also be a little overwhelming at first simply because it can do so much! If you are new to Lightroom and not sure what it can do, check out this post on 8 Reasons to Love Lightroom even as a Hobbyist.  (Then get back here - I'll wait for you to catch up 😄) 

Today, we're diving into just a few of the biggest mistakes that new Lightroom users make when they first start using the program.  Honestly, these are the same mistakes that I have seen so many people make, and of course I've made them all myself!  

Lightroom Beginners Tutorial | Lightroom Tips | Lightroom Tips For Beginners

Hang on, before we get stuck in, I want to let you know about a LIghtroom Starter Kit that I've created for you - it's got all the essentials for getting started with Lightroom, including a quick guide to importing, an editing checklist, 3 three presets and an export cheat sheet.  It's totally free too! Go right here to grab it.

Ready to get crackin'? Great! Here are five mistakes people make when trying to use Lightroom - and what you can do instead. 

1. Not Understanding the Catalog System

Lightroom is a complete end to end photo management system, and at it's heart is the catalog.  It's this catalog system that causes more confusion to new Lightroom users that anything else put together! 

The most common misconception is that when you import files into Lightroom, Lightroom is actually storing your images, and that they are "within" Lightroom.  But that's not the case!

What is actually happening is that when you upload your images from a memory card using Lightroom, you are saving your files to somewhere on your hard drive, and simply importing a reference to the file within Lightroom. Lightroom stores all the information about the image, including where it is stored, but doesn't actually keep it. 

This is the BIGGEST source of confusion for new Lightroom users, and because of it, they don't have a clue where their images actually are!

So, always keep in mind that Lightroom is a database, not a storage facility, and make sure that you have a filing system in place on your hard drive for your images.  Then, remember to tell Lightroom WHERE you are going to save your photos in the import dialogue box so that you always know where your images are saved! 

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2. Not Establishing a Workflow

I know that when you first start using Lightroom, one of the most common questions is "Where do I start?" ", or even "What do I do next!?"

This is where a workflow comes in. A workflow is really just a term for having a set of steps that you carry out on all your images, and in a specific order. In very basic terms, your Lightroom workflow will look like this: 

  • Upload Images

  • Cull, Rate & Keyword

  • Delete Rejects

  • "Clean Edit" Your Images

  • Apply global creative edits

  • Apply local adjustments

  • Export for Use

  • Back Up / Add to Collections

Many times people just do a little of this, a little of that - and don't really get the images they were hoping for. They try to do creative editing without laying the foundation at the beginning. And then they end up frustrated because they are not getting the images they want. 

Instead, every time you upload an image to Lightroom, you should aim to carry out the same set of steps each time. This way you know where your images are, you have a SYSTEM for finding them again, and you know exactly what to do to your image at each juncture.

To help you out with this, inside your Lightroom Starter Kit is an editing checklist that you can download which gives you a framework to work to. You can see what order to do things in, and what you should be doing next at any point.

3. Not Organising Your Photos From The Start

Many people just think of Lightroom as editing software.  Now, it does do a damn fine job of editing your photos, for sure, but if that is all you are doing with Lightroom you are missing out on so much more! 

Lightroom is an a-maz-ing tool for helping manage your images. You can rate them, tag them, sort them into collections, keyword them, search for them by attributes and more.  Using these tools within Lightroom will allow you keep track of your images, help you find that image that you KNOW you have but can't remember when you took it, and can even make using them in things like photo books and sharing them with friends or online a helluva lot easier.

In my Launch Into Lightroom course I have five modules devoted to getting organised in Lightroom because it is so powerful and so useful, and it really is worth taking some time upfront to get this in place as it will save you SO much time further down the road. 

So many future problems can be avoided by getting organised from the very beginning. If you are relatively new to photography, you might not think this is such a big deal, as you don't have that many images to keep track of. But trust me when I tell you that a couple of years down the line you will fervently wish you had some kind of system in place.  

4. Relying too heavily on Presets

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Lightroom editing presets and how they are a godsend for speeding up your editing.  If you don't know what they are, presets are simply a set of pre-defined editing steps that you can apply an image with just one click, to save you having to edit it from scratch. (You can read my ultimate guide to Lightroom Presets here if you want to know more about them!) 

Presets are great for two reasons: 

  • They speed up your workflow

  • You can try out different looks quickly and easily.

However, in order to get the best from them, it's better if you know WHAT is more likely to suit your image best, and what it's missing - then use presets to make the changes quickly for you, rather than relying on the preset to hopefully get the image right.  

There is no "quick fix" here, but rather I suggest taking some time to understand what all the tools do in the Develop Module and what effect they have on your image.   In Launch Into Lightroom, I go over the EXACT steps you should follow, and what questions to ask yourself when assessing your image so you know what you need to do - so it's not randomly editing and hoping for the best, but rather knowing what you need to do to get your images to shine. 

The good thing with Lightroom is you never need to worry about saving over your images or messing them up. Edit away to your heart's content, then simply press the reset button on the bottom on the right hand panel in develop module and it will instantly remove all the edits you have done, so you can quickly and easily go back to the image as it was when it was imported.  

5. Quitting Lightroom after a few months

The final reason is one that I have heard SO MANY people go through. They got Lightroom but ended up ditching it a few months later when there images were in a mess, and they realised that Lightroom was not quite as intuitive as everyone made it out to be! If this is something that you feel - don't worry, it's not just you. It happened to me too, and I KNOW it has happened to other people too! 

A few years ago, I was in a complete and total mess when it came to managing my images. I didn't have a filing system, I had no workflow, and I couldn't find an image again if I tried. Although I knew how to edit my images, it was in Photoshop, which isn't exactly the best choice for quick processing. All in all, I was feeling bogged down with photography -  it was taking too long to edit them, and I had a backlog of photos that weren't organized. It got to the point that some days I decided not to shoot because I didn't want the hassle of editing! 

At this point, I kept hearing about how good Lightroom was for photographers, how intuitive it was to use, and how much better it was than Photoshop for allowing you to edit more quickly, and of course for managing your files. As this sounded like music to my ears, I took the plunge and purchased it.....and HATED it.

Now I had no clue where my files were even on my hard drive, and because I didn't know how to use the organization tools within Lightroom, I still couldn't find any images again and now they were in a worse mess than before. As I also didn't really know how to use the Develop module to it's full advantage, I was still taking all of my images into Photoshop, which was time consuming and defeated the point of switching to Lightroom. 

I ditched Lightroom, but tried it again a few months later, made it worse (don't ask!) before ditching it again. It was only my desire to get control of my editing that made me try again,  as I'm so glad I did, because the third time was the charm.  If you are in the same boat as I was, and thinking about quitting the program, let me tell you that it IS worth persevering with.  Once you have a system in place you will seriously love Lightroom!