If you plan on spending any time at all in front of your computer editing photos, then the humble shortcut key may well be the closest thing that you have to an elixir of youth. The mouse might be the computer’s greatest-ever gift but even if you have tamed the high-speed cursor, clicking through drop-down menus to perform menial tasks is bound to leave you with grey hair. To help you shackle down the shortcut, here are four of my most-used timesavers.
Backslash (\) – Before and After
There is little in this world more satisfying than seeing how our rampant use of adjustment sliders has improved an image, and Lightroom indulges this need with a single key, the backslash (\).
In the Develop module, pressing the \ key reveals what the selected photo looked like before you started fiddling with it and if you have done it right – should deliver a dose of endorphins too. All joking aside, though, give the \ key a brief press or ‘tap’, and the original photo will be revealed and held in place until such time that the key is tapped again. Press and hold the \ key, instead, and Lightroom will keep the original photo on the screen for as long as you hold said key down.
An often forgotten but arguably more useful cousin of the \ shortcut is the Y key. Principally, it does the same thing as the \ except that instead of showing the before and after photos as individual images, it splits the screen in two, revealing the before picture on the left and the after on the right.
Lightroom has three Light Modes: Lights On, Lights Dim and Lights Off. Really, the “lights”, as it were, refers to the catalogue, filmstrip, previews and other editing paraphernalia that surround the subject image or images. By pressing and holding the L key, the brightness of all the lights will be dimmed, making photos decidedly more visible. When you release the key, everything returns to normal. Alternatively, tapping the L key toggles through the various Light Modes. The first tap dims the lights, the second switches them off altogether, and a third tap restores them to their default state.
Dimming the lights is particularly useful when evaluating colour and contrast adjustments, but it can be equally handy when you simply need a fresh perspective on an image.
The Crop Overlay
The judicious use of Lightroom’s Crop Tool may be all that a photo needs to take it from ordinary to prize-winning or, as is more often the case, from crooked to straight. To aid in getting the crop adjustments just right, Lightroom serves up a grid overlay, but did you know that you had a choice in the matter?
As useful as the grid overlay might be, there are several alternative overlays that could be better suited to the kind of crop that you’re after. To explore the options, tap the O key while the Crop Tool is active and watch as diagonal lines, golden spirals and even various aspect ratios are overlaid on your image.
A Close Inspection
When developing a photo, it is always good practice to take a look at the image at full size; in other words, at 1:1 magnification. Doing so will hopefully help you to see any dust spots or other unwelcome imperfections often hidden at typical viewing sizes. The difficulty, though, is knowing that your detailed examination has covered every inch of the picture which, at 1:1, will most certainly spill out far beyond the limits of the viewing window. As is customary, Lightroom attempts to help out with this process with a shortcut which in this case requires two keystrokes instead of the usual single press.
In the Navigator window, click on the 1:1 text to get your photo to the correct magnification. Then, tap the Home key on your keyboard and Lightroom will position the top-left corner of the enlarged photo in the viewing window. Once you have scrutinised this region of the scene, tap the Page Down key and Lightroom will shift the image up by precisely one screen’s worth of pixels. Repeat the inspection and press Page Down again for the next screen full of pixels. Continue to press Page Down to systematically receive perfectly aligned portions of your image for scrutineering.
The real power of this shortcut, however, is found once you reach the bottom of the image. Tapping Page Down yet again sees Lightroom reverting to the top of the photo but now with the top centre on display and not the top-left corner as before. Pressing Page Down again will trace a column down the centre of the image and this method can continue until you finally reach the lower righthand corner. Importantly, you'll reach this corner knowing that every single pixel can be accounted for. Whether or not you have found every dust spot, though, is a different question altogether!
The four shortcuts that we have explored here are but a fraction of the number that lurk within Adobe's immensely powerful Lightroom application. For me, they are the most valuable of the hidden gems but, just when you think you know them all, you’ll randomly stumble upon another one that you didn’t know existed.
Benjamin Warde hosts a one-minute show on Adobe Lightroom Photoshop YouTube channel, called Lightroom Coffee Break. He dishes out pearls of Lightroom wisdom every two weeks and can be credited with many of the shortcuts that I know today. His show is most certainly worth a watch.
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