Top 10 Ways to Improve Adobe Lightroom 2.6 and Beta 3.0

Top 10 Ways to Improve Adobe Lightroom 2.6 and Beta 3.0

I’ve been using Lightroom very heavily on a daily basis over the past year or so. While I absolutely love the software, I think that there is room for improvement and thought I’d jot down some of my ideas on the best ways to improve the software.

I took a brief look at the new Lightroom 3.0 beta and my initial impression was lukewarm. Many of the features like watermarking, printing features, and online publishing from Lightroom, I didn’t really care about. Some of the architectural changes that have been mentioned didn’t feel all that powerful to me based on my initial testing. I found that in many regards, LR Beta 3.0 performed much slower and worse for me than LR 2.6, so I’ve largely abandoned using the beta at this point.

The final LR 3.0 product, of course, will likely be much more robust (hopefully) than the beta and ought to be a stronger product. And many, especially performance based, improvements that I mention in this post may actually be included in the final product. That said, here are the 10 most significant ways I think Adobe could improve the Lightroom product.

At present I am doing all of my Lightroom processing on a MacBook Pro running Snow Leopard with a 3.06 GHz intel Core 2 Duo processor and 4GB of RAM.

1. Performance drag when keywording (possible memory leaks?).
One of the things that I’ve found with LR 2.6 is that keywording seems to be especially taxing on the system. If you keyword a photo, maybe 60% of the time after keywording it you get the little beach ball and have to wait several seconds before LR will free up and let you keyword the next photo. Keywording is already a horribly mundane chore, but having to do it with beach ball delays in Lightroom is especially frustrating. If I restart LR I’ll be able to keyword seamlessly again, but typically within 5 minutes the delays between keywording photos begin again. This is my number one biggest gripe with Lightroom today.

2. Improving keyword autocomplete. When you keyword photos it is nice that LR uses your keyword list to auto complete possible keywords. As you start typing it searches previously used keywords and offers them up to you. You can highlight the word you are intereseted in and press enter, saving you time and typing. For some reason LR treats both the apostrophe and the enter key as one in the same. So, for instance, when you are keywording Joe’s Pizza, It might actually autocomplete the keyword as Joe’s hamburgers as soon as you hit the apostrophe in Joe’s. Apostrophes are commonly used in keywording and it is counter intuitive to have the apostrophe trigger an auto-complete entry. Auto-complete should be restricted to the enter key.

3. Importing large numbers of photos from your memory card into LR can be horrendous. I’ve stopped using LR to import photos directly altogether. Sometimes the import will take place reasonably quickly, but many times it can take literally an hour to import what should take 5-10 minutes. I’m not sure why it takes so much more time to import photos into LR directly from a card, but it is *much* faster if I actually copy my images from my cards from the Mac finder and then synch the folder up manually with Lightroom later. When you are offloading images from a card you want this done very quickly. Adobe should optimize this import process focusing only on first copying the files and then adding them to the catalog or whatever else is slowing imports down after the copying is done, freeing up your memory card faster.

4. Lightroom’s adjustment brush needs work. One of my favorite features with Lightroom 2.6 is the adjustment brush, you can use this brush to burn and dodge and affect key areas of a photo including exposure, contrast, brightness, clarity etc. by selectively painting an area of the photograph and then adjusting the sliders. Unfortunately though, I have found the adjustment brush to be much weaker than the general development tools in Lightroom. If I use the exposure slider for the entire photo (for instance) I have a wide latitude of exposure range with my RAW image. If I have a photo that is too dark in areas and too light in other areas I can use the total photo exposure tool to get either part (the too dark part or too light part) properly exposed. But when I try to use the exposure slider on the adjustment brush to treat the area not exposed to my satisfaction I find I frequently get pixelization if crank it up or down too hard. It would be good if Adobe could use the same technology that they are using to adjust, say, exposure at the entire photo level, with the adjustment brush to get better results when using it.

5. Lightroom needs more ways to stimulate the imperfection of film.
One of my favorite recent ways to shoot has been using Hipstamatic with my iPhone. Hipstamatic does a tremendous job of creating a lofi film like aesthetic with digital photos from my iPhone. The only problem is that they are digital photos from my iPhone. I’d love to be able to have similar options that incorporate to a much greater degree the vintage effects of film from within lightroom. Scratches on photos, old polaroid borders, smudges, and other imperfections can create an entirely different photograph. While I’m sure some of these sorts of effects can be implemented in Photoshop, Photoshop is much more difficult to master. Adobe should follow the trend of Hipstamatic and make very easy to apply vintage film effects for Lightroom. While the LR 3 beta does include a way to sort of get a bit more grain to effect a vintage look in photos, this is a far cry from the effects that a little $1.99 app like Hipstamatic can provide.

6. Improved vignetting control. While Adobe has improved the post crop vignetting available in the 3.0 beta, it is still seriously lacking. In post cropped photos the vignetting is applied perfectly on photographs. With 100% precision and accuracy. The problem is that when people want to add vignetting, they are frequently doing so to give the photograph a more natural film like feel. In camera vignetting is never 100% precise, it is subtly different in every area, in some ways random. LR’s vignetting control pre crop is much more natural feeling than post crop. While the 3.0 beta gives a touch more flexibility in how you can vignette it still does not provide for the sort of natural random vignetting that occurs naturally in camera.

7. Better preset directories. I love my presets. I use them constantly. I’ve got some really good ones. But damn they are hard to find. And there are so many bad ones out there floating around. Presets are a great place to start with your photo editing process, I’ve just had a hard time finding a very strong database or collection of the best ones.

8. When selecting multiple images in the film strip Loupe view, Lightroom should apply keywords to all images. Right now the only way to keyword multiple images in Lightroom is to use the Grid view. But if you want to keyword as you select images looking at them full size (grid view can only get you to half size) then you have to keyword them one at a time. Lightroom should allow me to select multiple images from the film strip in the Loupe view and apply keywords to all images selected.

9. A good in Lightroom geotagging feature that uses Google Maps.
At present I am using Geotagger for the Mac and Google earth to geotag my images. It would be nice if Adobe could as seamlessly interact with Google Earth. Some external app might be out there right now that I’m not aware of for this yet with Google Earth, but nothing that I’ve seen.

10. Color analysis. One of the things that I’ve done on Flickr is to create sets of images based on primary colors in the images. It would be nice if I could filter my images in LR by color. I’d like to be able to filter all of my finished images by dominant color, blue, red, pink, etc. This would better allow me to select these images and keyword them selectively.

So those are my top 10 requests for Lightroom. My views of course are only mine and while my desire for things like more natural post crop vignetting etc. may be important to me and maybe a small minority vs. features like watermarking, web publishing and printing, I certainly recognize that Lightroom is built for a much larger audience that may be much more interested in some of the new features in the LR 3.0 beta than I am.

What are the features that you would like to see in LR 3.0? What would be the killer features for you. Are there ways to get some of what I want out of the existing product that I’m just not aware of? Are they ways to better optimize for performance with keywording, for instance. Do you have any good Lightroom tips that you’ve uncovered worth sharing?

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  1. Phill Price says:

    Hey Tom – Why not use the big keywording text area block rather than the single line? All the benefits of suggestion and autocomplete but you can type as many as you like without slowing down.

  2. Nick P says:

    On point 9 – Geotagging, I use Jeffrey Friedl’s excellent Geotagging plug-in (

    It provides multiple ways to geotag an image or group of images either manually, by pasting a link to Google Maps or through importing a tracklog.

    Well worth the look if you haven’t used it before.

  3. all excellent points.

    LR appears to have forgotten that it is a ‘first pass image workflow and image library management tool’ and is trying to become a general image processor.

    tagging is the big fail of LR
    i’d add word cloud searches to the keyword searches
    I’d do something to make the keyword management work better and easier
    I’d show the tags in a flickable transparent overlay

    the other fail is face recognition
    LR needs something to beat Picasa / iPhoto in this area
    even properly handing metadata from other apps would be a step forward
    surely it is not so hard to read the Picasa database?

    also, strip out more of the processing features and make it more of a workflow tool
    perhaps robotise handling commands between LR and CS4 so you can send a stream of images to CS4 and have them all processed in the same way, rather than loading LR up with features that duplicate CS4 and other apps.

  4. rjbradbury says:

    I have used LR 2.5 (30 Day Trial) and am now using LR3 Beta. Performance can be improved and the water marking feature is all but useless. The window and resulting preview is so small its unuseable and hard to tell if you have cut part of the water mark off..sorry Adobe but it feels like an after thought.

    I will be looking to move my workflow over to LR fully ASAP, but am waiting to see if LR3 improves before deciding on LR 2.6 or 3.

  5. Dave! says:

    All good suggestions, but my number 1: SUPPORT FOR NETWORK STORAGE!!!!!!!

    I have a ReadyNAS that I use the hell out of and *love*. It’s how my family and I all share our photos (and my wife is a bigger shutter bug than me). Local storage for our photos does not work. And I want us all to be able to share a library. It’s *two-thousand and ten*. That doesn’t seem too much to ask.

  6. Jon says:

    Echoing a previous comment, LR urgently needs to support multiple media for images – a single image might live on my main NAS storage, the local cache of images I’m working with heavily, two sets of DVD archive storage etc etc. LR needs to understand and support this.

    LR also needs to support the vast image collections that modern digital photography enables, even at the pro-amateur level. If it is serious about the ‘image library management’ side of the equation, then 100,000’s to millions of images spread across multiple network shares are going to be typical. This will require an overhaul of its thumbnail database, more intelligent caching of intermediate-sized previews, and better management of large groups of images.

  7. Craig says:

    How about a full screen preview when importing from a CF card?

  8. Thomas Hawk says:

    Philll, I can type as many keywords as I want in either the little text box or the big one. The issue comes into play immediately after I enter keywords using either. Sometimes I can immediately go on to keyword the very next image. Other times I have to wait 5 to 15 seconds while the beach ball swirls. Oddly I don’t get this same behavior when entering text into the caption meta data field, only actual keywords. I wish there were a way that I could instantly being entering keyword data from image to image without the beach ball delay between the two. I suspect that there are memory leaks associated with entering keywords.

    I found similar but *far* worse behavior with entering keywords in LR 3.0 beta. There it could take up to a minute between images.

    Nick, I’ll check that app out.

    Jon, you make an excellent point about LR supporting large digital libraries. I only ever use it for processing much smaller batches of images at a time and can’t use it for my entire library. I did try to load my entire library into another copy of Lightroom on my PC just to see what might happen and it was entirely unusable. It would be nice if LR could in fact support very large libraries with images in the millions.

  9. DJ Paine says:

    hey thomas, quick question {maybe a blog post for u to do?}
    when you decided to start using lightroom, what were the best few place to learn? how did u learn it? podcasts? videos? books? what was great and what was crap?
    thanks man.

  10. Eric says:

    For geotagging, I’ve been very happy with Geosetter:

    It integrates with Google Maps and has loads of features like favorite locations, GPS tracklog importing, and auto-populating the EXIF location fields, which makes tagging large batches of photos a snap. Lightroom geotagging would be ideal, but this is probably the next best thing (Just do a “read metadata from files” and LR will pick up the GPS information, which will then be included on all photo exports).

    Though lately I’ve been using the Nikon GP-1, so I only use geosetter to fill in the holes for indoor shots and the like. Still, it’s a great application.

    My personal Lightroom pet peeve – whenever I’m inputting metadata (like contact or location) the field loses focus as I type. I don’t know why it does that, but it’s annoying as heck.

    For feature requests I have a few:

    1. Network storage! It drives me nuts that I can’t work with the same catalog on my desktop and laptop, and doing the import/export dance every time I go away for a weekend drives me nuts.

    2. Full size preset previews. You get them in the tiny little Navigator window – I want to see them rendered on the full size photo before applying them. Right now I have to apply, undo, apply, undo.

    3. Better plugin support. I’ve yet to come across one that integrates really nicely – and I think this is the fault of Lightroom, not developers. Also, the necessity of making a TIFF file before you can even begin working with a plugin just feels clunky, and you lose the whole develop history of the photo doing that. I understand why they need to use the TIFF images, but they could make it a whole lot less clunky.

    4. In addition to vintage film effects, I’d like to see more creative effects in general. One of the things I love about the online photo editor Picnik is the full complement of one-click creative photo effects you can apply. I understand LR is targeted at professionals who don’t necessarily have a use for googly eyes or warhol-izing their photos or making collages – but as tacky as those things are, they’re also fun.

    (Incidentally – have you checked out Nik Software’s stuff? Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro has a lot of film effects stuff that might be what you’re looking for, though with the annoyance that it’s a plugin.)

  11. Void says:

    I would really like to have some portrait specific options. Using the adjustment brush to lower clarity as a way to soften skin just doesn’t quite cut it. Also, other ways to set white balance would be nice (black and white point settings, perhaps?).
    Most importantly, LR needs a clone tool equivalent. I realize this is somewhat photoshopy, however I can do just about everything else I generally do to photos in LR, and I would really like to have this so I don’t need to go to PS at all unless I want to do something very fancy. As it is, almost all of my non-portrait photos end up needing to go into PS for minor items, ie telephone wires. I would really rather only use PS if I want fancy stuff (HDR, Montages, Merging, fancy color correction, filters, etc.), and do all my quick touch-up work in LR.

  12. phototristan says:

    Lightroom is today’s Amazon Gold Box special ($189. is a really good price, today only):

  13. I agree with all of your points about speed and efficiency, but strongly disagree on them adding toys like the lofi/film/holgafy/fancy-border stuff. There are already a million and one apps that do that, plus you can do it yourself in PS, GIMP, or any other photo editing tool. The lightroom menus are crowded and complicated enough now, if they start adding all that other stuff it’ll be completely unusable.

  14. In regards to the vignetting, it would be good if you could select a centre point like in Nik Effects. This will be good for off centre subjects or portraits shot close.

    I wouldn’t mind white balance added to the sliders in the adjustment brush, to seperate a subject from a background (think wedding photography) or a history brush to erase presets applied to a photo.

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