Pinky Promises – 10 Resolutions for the Digital Photographer

We had originally published this piece in our Email Digest but after an overwhelming response and prodding from you folks to post this on the blog … here it is!

We have always enjoyed receiving your emails and comments regarding the challenges you deal with on a continual basis. Many of these challenges revolve around topics such as color calibration, digital asset management, and Lightroom workflow – to name a few. So we’ve taken some of the more pressing issues and created a resolution list that we think every photographer should be looking to improve upon or adopt in 2010.

Here are some key topics we think photographers really didn’t grasp as tightly as they could have in 2009. But that’s Ok, because if you haven’t already, you’ll give these 10 items below the Chuck Norris Kung Fu Grip in 2010.

1. Master Keyboard Shortcuts

We can not stress enough how important is to your time and sanity to memorize important keyboard shortcuts and combination’s that will save you boatloads of time in the editing process. The problem is, everyone has an opinion on this topic, and every workflow is different – which means what is an important shortcut for one is not as important to another.

The cool thing about Lightroom is that you can commit to shortcuts that suit you by asking yourself “Every time I use the mouse, can I use a keyboard shortcut instead?”. And, we’ll do one better, here’s how you can find the answer to that question:

When you don’t want to memorize or keep a list handy of all those shortcuts, you can always bring up a list while in any Lightroom Module by selecting Command+/ (mac) or Ctrl+/ (pc).

… and you’ll be presented with a nice on-screen cheat sheet:


What follows is a listing of our favorite shortcut commands and combination’s that easily shaved off 100+ hours of editing time.

Become a Zoom Tool Ninja

This tip is an integral part of my workflow – especially when we are using these Adjustment Tools:


… to fine tune my images.

These tools, in conjunction with using the spacebar on the keyboard, give you access to 2 additional functions beyond the adjustment tool you are using.

We often want to stay in the tool mode we am in (ie. Spot Removal, Red Eye, Adjustment Brush, etc.) but still have access to my Zoom and Pan Controls.

With this tip we’ll make it ultra-easy to scoot around your images doing just that.

In this example workflow we start out in Fit zoom mode:


Next we’ll select whichever adjustment tool we need at that moment:


In this example we chose Spot Removal:


… and we didn’t really choose it, we used the shortcut key N to set us into this mode. Make it a habit to remember these time saving shortcuts.

If we can get some of our work done in Fit zoom we’ll do so, but when we need to get in closer, holding the spacebar will set us back into Zoom mode:


And allow us to zoom in 1:1.

… but what if that initial click doesn’t get us into the visible area we wanted?

The spacebar holds yet another magical power! Holding the spacebar will set us into Pan mode:


… which will allow us to pan around the image in 1:1 zoom mode.

Once you get comfortable with this technique, you shouldn’t need to look at the keyboard – which let’s you focus on what you do best … creating!

As we all know it’s about speed and accuracy, and this is one worth putting into your arsenal!

Give the Library Module the finger

This tip is as short as it gets …

2 keys and 1 finger are all that is required for adding some lightning to your workflow.

In Library mode, if you want to take a smaller set of thumbnails like this:


… and increase their size to something like this:


You simply press the + key

+ increase thumbnail size

decrease thumbnail size

Yet another reason to NOT have to look at your keyboard, while maintaining a productive workflow!

Stitch together shortcuts like a pro

When we first start a job, there are some top-level adjustments we perform often. We don’t always commit these changes but they’re always a first line of attack with a new job. It’s worth remembering these shortcut as well as the order they are utilized:

  • Auto White Balance – command + shift + u (mac) ctrl + shift + u (pc)
  • Auto Tone – command + u (mac) ctrl + u (pc)
  • Convert to Grayscale – v (mac or pc)

If we like what we see from any of these adjustments, or other adjustments we’ve done (exposure, crop, etc.), we’ll use these shortcuts, or the Previous button as we move on to the next image.

  • Copy RAW Adjustments – command + shift + c (mac) ctrl + shift + c (pc)
  • Paste RAW Adjustments – command + shift + v (mac) ctrl + shift + v (pc)

For a quick draft slideshow of our work:

  • Quick Slideshow – command + return (mac) ctrl + return (pc)

Continually going to the mouse to perform adjustments starts to take its toll on your flow and your focus. We’ve found we don’t even have to look at the keyboard to perform these shortcuts once you start to use them often.

Stack ’em up!

Stacks are pretty cool … we use them quite a bit while we shuffle around images in Library mode.

There’s a very nice shortcut for creating and collapsing stacks that we’re totally digging lately … it’s ultra-simple:

  1. Select the images you would like to stack (selections can be in or out of sequence)
  2. Press Command+g (mac) or Ctrl+g (pc)

… to collapse the stack:

  1. Select the first image in the stack
  2. Press Command+shift+g (mac) or Ctrl+shift+g (pc)

{here’s the kicker: does not work on virtual copies, but if you commit those virtual copies, you’re back in business}

Never miss a single pixel

Normally, we’re pushing images to 72ppi for proofing on the web, which will often downsample out any irritable noise, dust, or imperfections.

But when we’re pushing to a high resolution print – they have to be perfectly clean! But … we’re lazy, and wanted an easy way to inspect images close up without the usual zoom-pan-zoom-pan tedium.

This lead us to a lesser known technique we call the ‘PageDowner’ technique. Call it what you will, it’s a complete time saver.

In the Develop Module set your Navigator zoom ratio to 1:1. Next, press the PageDown key (mac users Shift+down arrow). You will notice that the navigator not only honors your zoom ratio as it scrolls vertically down your image, it automatically sets itself back to the top of the image – precisely to the right of your previous vertical scroll path – booyah!

This gives us complete assurance we have scoured every single area of the image, while allowing us to maintain a tight zoom, and our focus on dust busting.

Here’s to obsessive image inspection!

Export with the best of ’em

This one is a real no-brainer but one that often gets overlooked.

Whenever you have to bounce out to Photoshop, or export a selection of images to JPG, TIFF, etc. …

don’t right click, don’t drag your mouse like a lazy old man up to the menu bar … remember and burn these shortcuts into your brain:

Export Images

Mac: Command+ Shift + e

PC: Ctrl + Shift + e

Edit in Photoshop

Mac: Command + e

PC: Ctrl + e

Don’t fear the rejection!

This is an old standby in our arsenal of keyboard shortcuts …something we call +PICK, PICK, REJECT

As you may recall, when you hold down Shift (mac or pc) while selecting P or X Lightroom will automatically move to the next image in the filmstrip.

This time, it gets even better …

  • turn on CAPS lock
  • select either P or X – or ANY filter key (star, color, etc.)
  • Lightroom will set your filter selection, AND automatically move to the next image in the filmstrip – no need to hold down shift!

An oldie but goodie

We’re huge fans of using the {Alt} key (mac or PC) to quickly access additional – hidden Quick Develop functions we use often.

During our first pass on a large job in the Library module, we normally rate images and select rejects, we also use the Tone Control sliders in the Quick Develop panel to adjust exposure. With a quick flick of the {Alt} key you can also slap the Saturation around and if necessary, Sharpen up any obvious soft images.

It’s a quick way to reach controls normally relegated to the Develop module.

2. Adopt the Adobe DNG format

Should you use Adobe DNG? Why is that important? Does it matter?

All good questions that we have tried to answer and explain throughout the year. Our consensus is this: use it, convert your RAW images to it, and bask in Adobe DNG’s openly documented and cross-application awesomeness. Here’s a few posts to get you warmed up and into the DNG groove.

  • Adobe DNG – the future is NOW – A good primer on the format, it’s compelling benefits, and how to convert to the DNG format from directly within Lightroom
  • Adobe DNG – Use It – Get detailed workflows for converting to DNG from within the Lightroom Import Dialog or in batch using the Adobe DNG Standalone Converter.
  • Virtual Copies … making the committment – Converting your virtual copies not only gives them life, but opens them up to more functionality in Lightroom. When it’s time to commit, DNG has your back.

Since the DNG specification is openly available, support for this format is only going to grow in 2010 and beyond. Sure the big names may hold out, but eventually as more software and cameras use DNG it will slowly become a standard. From our point of view, it is best to begin now and convert your RAW files so you’re ready for the future as DNG becomes more prevalent. As it is, DNG capable software is on every computing platform from Windows and Mac to Linux and BSD.

No matter which platform you use now, or may use in the future, you will be able to utilize your DNG files. With DNG’s open nature support is only going to increase. Anyone can get the DNG specification for free and use it as they deem worthy, want to see for yourself? Its right here for you. DNG is an open file format and mainstream use is only going to increase in the future.

Further considering DNG’s open nature, it is amazing the software that can now natively support DNG. Obviously Adobe supports DNG, but a growing list of 3rd party manufacturers and applications have products that can use or create DNG files. Apple’s Aperture 2 and iPhoto both support DNG. Corel’s Paint Shop Pro can read DNG as well. The open source program dcraw supports DNG, bringing DNG capabilities to a vast array of applications that utilize dcraw as their rendering engine, including the illustrious GIMP. Lightroom competitors LightZone and Capture One support DNG natively. Even Picasa supports DNG.

Last but not least, vendors such as Leica have developed entire systems like the Leica S2 that capture in DNG natively. Expect to see more of this in the future.

3. Develop a solid DAM strategy and stick with it

We can’t say it enough … get organized. You know you’ve been telling yourself this all year.

We’ve documented in atomic-level detail how we organize over 1+ Million images and made the whole structure available for download. Whether you adopt all 4 parts into your workflow, dismiss the whole thing, or just pick portions that you can make your own, this series is written to get you into thinking about how to organize your stuff.

We have broken all sections down to stand alone or as a complete system:

  1. Data {Part 1}
  2. Folders {Part 2}
  3. Filenames {Part 3}
  4. Derivative Files {Part 4}

Fundamental storage and organizational topics include:

  • welcome to the future of storage: The Cloud (ie. Amazon S3)
  • data types (archival vs. derivative)
  • why_we_use_underscores – instead of S P A C E S
  • setting up a folder hierarchy that is simple, reusable, and works across multiple media
  • walk through a sample workflow from start to finish
  • create and manage single and multiple catalogs
  • name, manage, and deploy thousands of files with parameter-driven batch processing
  • tame the Lightroom Import and Export dialogs
  • automate the creation and coordination of multiple file formats
  • download our folder hierarchy with sample files {located in Part 4}

4. Leverage collections

I still think Collections are one of the most underated features in Lightroom – seldom used and often the solution to many an unorganized Library.

Much has been mentioned lately about using Collections in Lightroom for organizing your images as opposed to using your system folders you store your images in. Even if you maintain a meticulous folder structure, organizing your photos on your hard drive, it can sometimes become cumbersome finding particular images, or working with images that are in different folders.

We’re not saying Collections will allow you to be sloppy about your image storage (although it can help if you are disorganized) but you really should be using Collections in Lightroom to aide you in your organizational flow. Make 2010 the year you do so.

5. Create a custom color profile for your camera

When I shoot images with my camera and import into Lightroom the colors all are weird.

I switched back to Aperture from Lightroom because when I imported the same images into Lightroom the colors were all screwed up.

This is a small sample of the garbage we saw written about Lightroom last year. Just create a custom camera profile and get it right.

Grab your favorite color checker and get ‘r done.

6. Master sharpening in Lightroom

We’re always amazed at just how much power is behind the Sharpening tools in Lightroom – so much so that we rarely use Photoshop anymore for sharpening alone. Master this tool, and you’ll wonder why you ever spent so much time in Photoshop when all the power was right there in Lightroom.

7. Start/Update your blog/website

We’re extremely bullish on this point in 2010 – so much so it’s part of our X-Equals Survival Kit.

Translation: we can’t run our business effectively without it.

If your business plan for 2010 doesn’t include a blog or website you’re missing a huge opportunity differentiate yourself from the multitude of other photographers and studios out there. We run our entire site with WordPress. We’ll be writing more about leveraging WordPress in 2010 to make it easy for you to take advantage of this amazing content management system without breaking the bank. There are so many themes that can be used to turn WordPress into a portfolio, blog, or page-based site you’d be hard pressed to consider going with any other solution. If you’re still cracking open your site to edit individual HTML files, save yourself the headache and automate with WordPress.

If you’re blog/website has been lying around growing whiskers, your resolution is to bring it back to life and start re-connecting with your prospects and clients.

8. Setup a 2nd monitor and keep it calibrated

Lightroom has some sweet capabilities that come to life when you add a 2nd monitor.  Flat panel monitors are also ridiculously cheap.

We took a bit of a flogging over at the Digital Photography School for not mentioning a fancy schmancy high end $1,000+ monitor so whatever you choose, know this: productivity increases will ensue from the addition of a second monitor whether you go cheap of pay a king’s ransom.

Second to getting an additional monitor is calibrating it for color and tone. We suggest you don’t spend $1,000+ on a calibrator. We’re big fans of the ColorMunki Photo, Monitor, Printer & Projector Profiler. You can read a review of this device here.

9. one word: Twitter

Twitter can help you and your business in a multitude of ways:

  1. market your work and blog
  2. keep current on Lightroom tips and techniques
  3. poll other Twitter users for advice
  4. engage with customers both present and future
  5. get great business news
  6. gain insights on new hardware and software
  7. stay in touch with the thought leaders in our field

It’s hard to believe that all of this is possible with Twitter … but it most certainly is – and it doesn’t require a lot of additional effort which is a big misconception preventing many others from joining in on the conversation.

Aside from signing up for a Twitter account, which is the first step in all of this, here are some of the tools and tips we use to tame Twitter and make it a valuable photographer-centric content delivery system.

Twitter Best Practices

There are lots of resources out there that will help you become adept at using Twitter. Here are some of our favorites.


Darren Rowse is the mastermind behind all things blogging and Twitter related so we tend to use his TwiTip site quite a bit as well as Pro Blogger.

You can also follow Darren on Twitter.

Online Resources for Getting Started

Here is a good list of articles and tools to get you going on the path to Twitter-dom.

So get onboard, and when you do … look us up on Twitter under: xequals

10. Build your own Survival Kit

We developed an X-Equals Survival Kit which we published a while back. The process of writing that post also served as an initial starting point for our Disaster Recovery documentation for 2010.

First, a short story …

We had a client last year who walked into his building one morning and found everything gone: computers, cameras, lights, hard drives, everything!

Aside from the fact that SUCKS, we were able to get this client back to where they were the night before the robbery by documenting all the key components that were critical to their business and having offsite backups of all their production and archival data. This is what is formally called a Business Continuity plan which goes hand in hand with your Disaster Recovery processes.

Key components of your documentation should include:

  • Software (versions, configuration details)
  • Hardware (computers, peripherals)
  • Storage (drives, file layout, sizes)
  • Offsite Data (file layout, last executed backup details)
  • Lenses (make, model)
  • Bodies (make, model, firmware version)
  • Website/Blog Hosting Details (vendor, support numbers or email addreses)
  • Logins and Passwords for all web sites (keep them updated)
  • Logins and Passwords for all computers, routers, switches and hubs
  • Systems Architecture diagrams for all network and computer configurations

Make sure you include serial numbers and receipts for all of the above where appropriate.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and depending on your setup these elements will differ. Nonetheless, if you don’t have documentation to similar effect it’s high time to get this information together!

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7 Comments For This Post

  1. Lisa Says:

    You guys are awesome. I turn to you first for answers to any lightroom question and use your presets all the time. Keep up the good work!

  2. Brandon Oelling Says:

    Thanks for the kind words Lisa … we’re blushing!

    Keep rocking!


  3. Barry Pearson Says:

    I have about 30 pages about DNG on my website. There is a page of all the products (well over 200) I am aware of that support it, and an extract giving the camera models that support it:

    The cameras (and digital backs) that write DNG are typically niche and minority cameras, without a large market share. However, camera models that write DNG are launched at a higher rate than camera models that write any single other format (more than NEF; more than CR2; more than ORF). About 40 cameras from about 15 manufacturers have provided native support for DNG.

  4. Brandon Oelling Says:

    Thanks Barry!

    Great resource!

  5. Alberto Says:

    I understand trying to promote the DGN, and even using it if your camera can write to DNG, but there are issues with the DNG format that make it problematic for a professional.

    If you use sRAW on newer canons the DNG will be full size ~25MB vs ~12MB out of camera.

    It also slows down workflow when importing/converting.

  6. Brandon Oelling Says:


    If your argument is that DNG is nor for everyone, we agree with you.

    As far as your comment that DNG slows down workflow when importing/converting, that is not always true.

  7. Alberto Says:

    Right its not for everyone.

    As far as slowing down workflow, if your camera supports DNG (Pentax?) if will not slow you down… if you’re running Canon/Nikon it will definitely add time because of the conversion.