10 Common Lightroom Mistakes and How to Overcome Them

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10 Common Lightroom Mistakes and How to Overcome Them

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

All photos are original to the author unless otherwise noted. 

Camera sits next to laptop operating Lightroom, a photo editing tool

Lightroom is a powerful post processing tool, but there’s a steep learning curve and you may make some mistakes. When I first started using Lightroom, I didn’t know the library was the actual files on the hard and deleting them in Lightroom deleted them off the computer. It was a painful mistake I want others to learn from; this article will look at the most common Lightroom mistakes and provide tips to avoid them. Lightroom is a little overwhelming at first glance with so many options and hot keys, but once you develop an understanding of its basics, you’ll find that Lightroom’s interface becomes much easier to use!

Not rating your photos with stars

Rating your photos will help you filter out the good from bad, so it’s easy to find your best photos in the library. In Lightroom, star ratings range from one (lowest) to five (highest). You can rate individual photos using the hot keys 1-5 or assign all of them at once by going into “Photo” > “Set Rating”.

Lightroom Star Rating Filter
Use the star rating filter to find your best photos in a single click.

Over editing

It’s great that Lightroom has so many tools available, but it’s easy for beginners to go overboard and use every one of them. Consider using presets and brushes as a way of adjusting the tone or color in small ways without drastically changing your photo. If you’re feeling adventurous, then explore Lightroom’s creative filters, which will give you more options than just simple adjustments like sharpening or cropping. Avoid moving the sliders all the way to the left or right; this rule can be broken once you become more experienced, but it’s best to understand how the sliders work together before going to the extreme.

Not Learning The Keyboard Shortcuts

One of the most common Lightroom mistakes is not knowing how to use the hot-keys. Understanding the keyboard shortcuts saves time from scrolling and clicking your way through menus when adjusting exposure levels or applying presets in Lightroom. You don’t have to memorize all the commands; I recommend using a keyboard cover that shows the short cuts until it becomes second-nature.

Not Using the histogram

Lightroom’s histogram displays the image’s tones and brightness; shadows are on the left, mid-tones in the middle, and highlights on the right. The histogram lets you see how much detail is in each photo, which helps tremendously when applying contrast levels and adjusting brightness. An ideal histogram should be in the shape of a bell curve; too much data on the left shows an underexposed image and too much data on the right is overexposed. Photos with a lot of darks or lights skews the graph, but understanding the basics of how a histogram works will help you determine the right settings for each photo.

Lightroom Histogram Skewed To The Right May be Overexposed
A histogram skewed to the right may indicate an overexposed image
Lightroom Histogram Skewed To The Left May be Underexposed
A histogram skewed to the left may indicate an underexposed image
bell curve on Lightroom Histogram show indicates a good exposure
Strive for a bell curve in the histogram to get a proper exposure

Not Understanding How the Library Works

One of biggest mistake you might make with Lightroom is deleting their photos off the computer without realizing that they’re stored on Adobe Creative Cloud (CC) and/or on their hard-dive. If you delete your photo in Lightroom, then the original file is deleted too – this was a painful lesson I learned. The Library module is a window into your hard-drive files and any edits you make are actually a second file filed with metadata. Lightroom displays a preview of those changes; if you access the photo outside of Lightroom, you won’t see any of the edits.

Your edits are stored in a separate file called the catalog, so if you change computers you will need to move two files – the raw files and the library catalog. Don’t make the mistake of exporting your entire catalog of images and re-uploading the exports to the new computer as you will lose the editing history and the raw files.

If you want to remove the photo from Lightroom, but not your hard-drive, select the “remove from Lightroom” option instead of “delete from disk”. Don’t worry though, if you accidentally delete a photo you can undo.


Not Using Clipping Indicators

Clipping indicators are one Lightroom’s best features. The goal is to avoid clipping in any area because it means that part of your image is over-exposed or under-exposed and the photo cannot record detail in those areas. The blue clipping shows areas that are underexposed and the red shows areas that are overexposed. 

To turn on clipping indicators, hit the triangles on the top right and left corners of the histogram or use the alt/command keys when adjusting the white and black sliders. To reduce the clippings, you change any combination of the exposure, contrast, highlights/shadows, and whites/blacks until the blue and red markers disappear or barely present.

Blue and Red clipping markers indicate over and under exposed areas in an image
The red and blue markings in this image indicates areas with lost detial due to over and under epxosure.
A perfectly exposed image to demonstrate what no clipping looks like in the Lightroom Exposure module.
Notice how adjusting the settings to remove the clipping markers brings out a lot of detail in the entire image.

Not Using Presets Correctly

One common Lightroom mistake is assuming presets will make all your photos look exactly like the advertisement pictures. Presets don’t magically make your images beautiful; how a presets look on an image depends on many things including exposure, tones, white balance, highlights/shadows. In order for the preset to look natural, it’s important that temperature, exposure, and colors tones are all adjusted accordingly. 

The goal is to ensure there isn’t anything in the photo that looks unnatural after applying a preset – this includes things like contrast levels, brightness/contrast, etc. Once you find a decent preset, apply it and make minor adjusts. Lightroom also has a lot of free presets available, so don’t pay for an expensive Lightroom package if all you need is natural looking filters.

Renaming or Moving Images Outside of Lightroom

Another Lightroom mistake is moving or renaming images outside Lightroom’s environment. Lightroom has a powerful and simple organization system that allows you to have full control over your photos without ever leaving the program. If you rename or move an image in Lightroom, it changes the original file; if you make those changes outside of the application, Lightroom won’t be able to find the files. So it is best to do all of your adding, editing, and deleting of files from inside Lightroom.

Not Straightening the Horizon

A crooked horizon line is one of my biggest pet peeves in photography because it’s such an easy fix in Lightroom! The cropping tool displays a grid that allows you to see where a photo’s horizon line should be and will help you straighten it out. Use the auto button, which automatically rotates the image into alignment. If the auto tool doesn’t work, use the angle tool to trace the horizon and snap the image into the same angle. Either of these quick fixes can save hours of time from manually rotating photos.

Sharpening the Entire Image

Ever wonder why some photos look better than others? Maybe they are sharper or have more contrast when viewing them on a computer screen at 100%. Sharpening should only be applied in small doses where needed, such as around edges or to enhance details in a birds feathers or increase the texture in black and white photography. When using the sharpening tool, hit the alt/command key to be more selective in the edges that are sharpened. The white indicates the areas that will be sharpened.

Black and white image shows what aspects of an image are sharpened using the Lightroom sharpening tool

Learning Lightroom can be difficult, but it’s worth the time investment to create professional looking photos. There is a lot to learn in post processing your images regardless of the editing tool you use, but with a bit of patience and research you can use Lightroom like the pro that you want to be! 

Author Bio

Author Bio Image

Delaney is a Business Analyst by day and a travel and wildlife photographer by night who is using her skills for translating complex technical language into easy to understand concepts to make photography achievable at all skill levels. You have questions; she has answers.

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