Since I started teaching Lightroom*, I have frequently observed the occurrence of 30-day, 90-day and 6-month learning curves as photographers slowly let go of their old methods and habits and become familiar with the work flow of this powerful cataloging and editing software. Proficiency in crafts and in art comes from dedication to task and growth as an artist. (Yes, I know it's not "curb," it just seems that way sometimes, cleverly built-in barriers to trip learners on their journey.)
The first 30 days are very busy times. They can be the most challenging, as well as the most rewarding period in learning Lightroom. Starting with day 1, time and attention are directed to learning how to navigate around and to becoming familiar with shortcut key strokes without the need for arm tattoos. Other steps include learning the techniques for library imports and the inevitable organization and re-organization that follow. Next come adding keywords and discovering the marvel of a workflow that helps you select which files you are going to edit or delete while ignoring others for later consideration. There is a well-marked path from discovering the editing tools in the Develop module that leads from becoming familiar to proficiency, as well as learning that virtual copies make experimentation and comparison easy tasks and that putting images into a stack makes for an orderly grid view.
Next steps include learning when to close unneeded panels that surround the center screen to maximize image display size, creating watermarks to use on exported photographs, and relishing the feeling of accomplishment after editing and exporting a photograph for sharing.
90 Days In
At some point during (or after) the first 30 days, you should be exploring the selective editing tools in the Develop panel. Sharpening with a mask, using a graduate or radial filter, and adjustment brush should all start to become familiar as you decide when and where to use them. Now is the time that you hone your skills in using selective and global editing tools together as you decide which ones are the most effective to achieve your vision, after you have selected your imported photographs for editing. Imports are a breeze and your catalog is tidy. You may be creating and using collections to group and you might be regularly using keywords to help you find past photographs.
6 Months Down the Road
Scott Kelby's Lightroom book is well thumbed and marked. The syllabus you originally used now has checkmarks next to each and every topic. You have merged bracketed image files to make High Dynamic Range photographs and you've stitched together multiple files to make exciting panorama photographs. You may see the need for an external drive to store your expanding library. Your library and the LR catalog is backed up daily and you sleep well at night.
Your workflow feels natural and helps you quickly identify the best of your work. You know how to export and import image files in the form of a catalog when you need to move them between two computers. Your monitor is calibrated, you have begun making prints of your best photographs, and you are contemplating entering a photography exhibition.
Your Lightroom and photography progression may well vary from this narrative and it should not be interpreted as a template. Photography is a creative process. Lightroom, like your camera, is a tool to create a unique expression of your individual vision. The journey should be rewarding and enjoyable.
See ya next week,
* I teach Lightroom using a progressive approach that starts with becoming familiar with the Library and Develop screens before diving deeper. Learning Lightroom is, at a minimum, a two session experience that will make a new photographer aware of what there is yet to learn.