Put your Workflow on Steroids with these Lightroom Automation Techniques - Digital Darkroom Academy

Put your Workflow on Steroids with these Lightroom Automation Techniques

Have you ever heard that Lightroom makes your work 10 times faster but you are yet to discover how it actually does so? What is it about Lightroom that has made photographers from all over the world completely infatuated with this software? To answer these questions, you need to know about the power of Lightroom’s automation techniques. Basically, these Lightroom automation techniques make sure that most of your work is done by Lightroom and not by you. Instead of you manually working on each picture, Lightroom will be doing all that work for you.

Most people are unable to use the software to its full potential as they’re not familiar with its amazing automation capabilities. Here, I present to you an overview of Lightroom automation techniques, so that whether you are a beginner or an expert, you will be able to use them to speed up your workflow. So let’s get down to it:

Techniques to Use During Import

There are many different ways in which you can use Lightroom automation techniques to make your tasks easier and faster. While a lot of them are applied while you are editing your photos, some of them are also applied at the time of import. These techniques might not speed up your importing but they will allow you to speed up your workflow once you start processing those pictures. They may take some extra minutes during Import, but if you set these up, they are going to save you hours of work later.

1 – Building Previews

Building previews is a good way to speed up Lightroom while you are working and Previews are used to show you your image in thumbnails, filmstrip and preview area. Once you click Import and the dialogue box opens up, you will see the option Build Previews under the File Handling panel on the right. Here, in the dropdown menu, you will have 4 different types of previews you can select from the list:

Lightroom automation techniques

  • Minimal: This creates small size previews of your image. Minimal previews are the ones that are used in the grid-view and as thumbnails. These previews are the quickest to generate, but will not be able to show you your image on full viewable size.
  • Embedded & Sidecar: These previews are larger than minimal previews and take a little longer to create, but still don’t show the image at its full viewable size
  • Standard: Standard previews are larger than Embedded & Sidecar and take even longer to create. These previews are used in the preview area so when you double-click on your image to preview it in the Loupe view, or at a bigger size than thumbnails, Lightroom will not take any time to load it to standard size.
  • 1:1: The 1:1 previews are the largest and take the longest to create. They are full size previews and are used to preview your photos when you zoom in to the full size of the image.When you make 1:1 previews, all the other types of previews are automatically made with it.

Even though they take the longest and increase your import time, 1:1 previews will later make sure that every time you want to see any image on its full size, there’s no time spent loading it. Hence, generating these previews upon import, speed up your workflow as soon as you get done with the importing. So the best option is to choose 1:1 previews as it will make sure that you do not have to wait for your photos to load at all whether you are previewing them in standard size or zooming in to them to their full size.

2 – Building Smart Previews

Smart previews are basically like making your files available “offline”. What this means is that Lightroom will embed a tiny RAW file with your image which will be stored along with the catalog file.

Let’s say you store all your photos on an external drive. If you create Smart Previews, you can work on your images even if your external hard drive is not attached to your computer.  You can easily edit the file despite not having the original file with you. This makes working on the go much easier, since you can’t always bring your data everywhere.

Lightroom automation techniques

You should know that since it is storing the data inside the catalog, your catalog will become a little heavy because of the space it requires to keep the Smart Previews. However, this extra space is still significantly less than the actual size of the image. Since smart previews are so convenient it is best to check the Build Smart Previews option.

3- Backup

Did you know that Lightroom can help you backup your files automatically right at import? In the File Handling panel, there’s an option called “Make a Second Copy to”. What this does is that the photos that you are importing into Lightroom, it will make another copy of these photos to a location that you specify in the text field right below the checkbox.

Lightroom automation techniques

So, let’s say you have two hard drives for your photos. The first is the one which is your main hard drive, the other is the backup. So, the location of the actual import will be specified in the Destination panel below, but you can specify a location of your backup drive in the “Make a Second Copy To” option and it’ll copy your files to both the places making a backup of your files. And this happens right at import, so your don’t have to worry about remembering to backup your files later.

It should however be noted that you should keep the same folder structure in your backup drive as you do on your main drive, and it helps if they’re sorted according to dates. We will go into backup and organization strategies in later posts which will cover these topics in greater detail.

4 – Add to Collection

Collections are a great way to organize your photos. They are simply groups of photos that you can put together for easy-viewing or editing together. You can decide for yourself how your collections are going to be organized, but over here, we are going to take a look at how you can automatically add photos to a particular collection right when you’re importing them into Lightroom. This feature is new in Lightroom CC, so if you’re using an older version, you might not see it.

Lightroom automation techniques

The way to do it would be simply check the box called Add to Collection in the File Handling panel. Once you do that, it will show you all the existing collections you have in your catalog. If you want to add a new collection, you can simply click on the “+” sign on the right side and it’ll give you an option to create a new collection. You can name that whatever you may like and put it under any collection set.

5 – Presets

Presets are basically a predefined set of settings that you can apply to your photos (either a single photo or multiple photos at the same time) to achieve a certain look or style. You can use them in a number of different ways, for example, to make minor adjustments to your photos as well as to completely change their look.

Let’s say that you edited one of your photos in an interesting, vintage style and think that it looks perfect to be applied to other photos in the future as well for vintage style edits. In such a case, you can make a preset of that image’s settings and then use it to achieve the same look on any of your photos.

Lightroom automation techniques

Specifying a preset during import is a good way to automate your editing process. What this would do is apply your selected preset to all the photos that are being imported. Under the Apply During Import panel on the right side of the Import dialog box, you can choose to apply a preset from the dropdown menu of Develop Settings. In most cases, you don’t have to apply them at all but sometimes, you know that you need a very specific kind of result on all your photos and you have a preset that is perfect for that job.

One of the most common examples of such a case is if you want your whole shoot to be in black and white. It is much simpler to just apply the preset during import in this case because there is a specific style that you want all your photos to be in. Now all you would have to do is adjust the exposures or other minor details and you will be done.

Another place where this comes in handy for me is because I mostly shoot architecture shots which are taken at really wide focal lengths, there is distortion in almost all of my photos. So, I want all my photos to have the lens profile corrected. So, I’ve simply created a preset that has that setting and I simply apply that preset upon import and all my photos have their lens profiles corrected.

6 – Keywords

In the Import dialog box, you will see the Keywords panel on the right. Here, you can enter the keywords that are common to the whole batch of pictures that you are importing. For example, if you’re importing a batch of photos from your travel to a flea market in Bangkok, you might add keywords like Thailand, Bangkok, travel, flea market, (Name of Market), etc.

keywords in lightroom

There will of course be certain keywords that are only specific to some photos and not all. For example, some photos from the flea market might be portraits, but you won’t add “portraits” as a keyword at this point, because it doesn’t apply to all the photos from the shoot. Adding the common keywords to your photos upon import saves your time when you are keywording sets of photos later.

Lightroom Automation Techniques to Use While Working on the Photos

After you’re done with importing your photos, you’ll get on to editing them and Lightroom has some great automation techniques to edit your photos in a breeze. The following techniques are used to drastically improve your speed so that you don’t have to do a lot of work:

1 – Synchronization

Synchronization is a process of applying the same selected settings to a number of photos.

When it comes to synchronization between your photos, you have a number of techniques to choose from. While you might be tempted to select one of them and use that for the rest of your life, it is not a very wise decision. You can choose to use a combination of these techniques to make your workflow faster in the most effective way:



Once you have edited a picture and are satisfied with its result, you can apply the exact same settings to another picture. In the Develop module, just click on the picture that you need the settings copied from once, then select the picture that you want to edit in the same way from the filmstrip at the bottom and click the Previous button on the right. To use the Previous button for more than one picture, select the pictures and then hold down the shift button to change the Sync… button to Previous. Once you click it, Lightroom will copy all the settings of the picture that you had last clicked on and apply them to the selected pictures.


sync button in lightroom

This option is used when you only want to copy specific settings from a picture and apply them to another picture (or a set of pictures). So let’s say that you have made adjustments to a few photos that are very specific to each photo. Then, you adjust the contrast and saturation on one of the photos, and want that same contrast and saturation on the rest of the photos without overwriting the rest of the settings of each photo. In that case, you will need to use the Sync… option to synchronize specific settings on all the photos. Select the photos that you want to sync specific settings of and click the Sync… button on the right. A dialog box will appear which will ask you which settings you want to sync. Check all the settings that you require and click sync.


sync in lightroom

The Sync option is very similar to Sync… but it is slightly faster depending on your use. Basically, every time you use the Sync… button, it saves your previously selected settings as your preference. So if you want to use the same settings as before to sync another batch of photos, just hold down the alt or option key and the Sync… button will change to Sync, and you can sync the photos without the dialog box appearing to ask you for your preferences.


Auto-Sync syncs the settings of the selected photos automatically without you having to click sync every time. Just select the photos from the filmstrip and click the small switch right next to Sync… to toggle the Auto-Sync on and off. Once you switch it on, every time you select a number of photos and change any settings on one of them, they’ll get applied to all of the selected photos.

auto sync in lightroom

This technique is a little different from Previous because Previous applies all the settings from an image to the selected image whereas auto-sync only syncs the settings that you adjust until auto-sync is switched on. It does not sync any settings of the sliders that you do not use either. Once you switch off auto-sync, any new settings that you apply to a photo will not be applied to the rest of them. This is particularly useful when you only have to adjust a specific problem in a number of photos.

For example, you notice that some of the photos in your shoot are a little overexposed and they need similar adjustments to the exposure to fix them. However, all the other settings need to be adjusted separately on each picture. If you adjust all the settings on one picture and sync it using Previous, it will apply the exposure settings as well as the rest of the settings of that one picture to all the selected images. On the other hand, if you edit each photo as you like separately, then auto-sync those photos and just adjust the exposure on them, then switch off auto-sync, you will have only the exposure settings copied on the rest of the images whereas the rest of the editing remains as before.

2 – Spray Can or Painter

The spray can is a brilliant tool in Lightroom that allows you to apply a number of different settings to multiple images. It can spray keywords, metadata, develop settings, labels and flags, amongst other things, on to any picture(s) you want.

spray can in lightroom

To use it, go to the Library module, select the grid-view (or just press G) and you will see the spray can right below the grid. Once you click on it, it’ll give you an option right next to it to select what you want to spray onto the pictures.

spray can in lightroom

For example, if you select Settings, you can select a preset from the list beside it and then click on any picture that you want to spray the preset to. You can also spray it on to more than one photos. By spraying it on one picture, then keeping the mouse button pressed, drag it onto the pictures around it to spray the preset on all of them together.




Learn how to use Lightroom to get organized, create amazing photos and cut your editing time in half.

Most people often don’t keyword their photos because it takes too long to do it but by using the spray can, you can also speed up your keywording process. The trick to getting keywording done faster is to work on the photos in sets.

So let’s say you have a shoot of different markets that you need to keyword. You can select keyword on the spray can, choose words like clothes, shops, color, stalls, and spray them onto the pictures that contain those keywords. Once done, you can choose keywords like kids, baby, children, toys, games, and move on to the next set of photos that contain these keywords.

While spray canning your pictures, if you see an image that you would like to give a keyword that is different from the keywords defined on the spray can, just click on the frame of that image (not the thumbnail), press Ctrl+K / Cmd+K and it will open the keyword panel of that image. Just enter the keyword that you want and then continue spray canning without disturbing any settings. Moreover, you can also remove your sprayed keywords from a picture by holding on the alt or option key and clicking on the image from which you want to remove the keyword.


To sum it up, the brilliance of Lightroom’s automation techniques can not be overstated. There are more such techniques that Lightroom offers, which we’ll discuss in future posts. The ones mentioned above should get you started. These techniques, not only save a huge amount of time but they also make your workflow much more efficient. Whether you want to smartly organize your images, quickly search for photos, speed up your workflow or simplify your editing, these Lightroom automation techniques are bound to make your post-shoot process a piece of cake.

Shajee Aijazi

Shajee Aijazi is the founder of Digital Darkroom Academy. He helps people speed up their post-processing workflow and organize their photos in a way that they don't have to waste time managing it and they can focus on creating great looking images.

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  • > “you don’t have to worry about remembering to backup your files later.”

    If your hard drive dies, and you have to restore photos from a second copy backup, and you’ll regret not backing up the files in their working folder structure, especially if you don’t usually use a dated folder structure.

    • I think it is wise to replicate the same folder structure in your second hard drive that you would in your first.

      Having said that, this is definitely not a post about backup strategies, and there are other ways to make backups that might be more effective and efficient. I’ve edited the post to add that disclaimer. Thanks for pointing it out.

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