The Minimalist Guide to Lightroom Editing

How I Reduced Lightroom Editing Time in Half!

I remember the time when 100% of my photo editing was done in Photoshop. It was inefficient and time consuming process but, it was the only viable option for professional photographers.

When Adobe released a beta version of Lightroom, it was like a breath of fresh air. It was a completely new and revolutionary approach to the normal photography workflow. That’s right; Lightroom not only offered photo editing but a complete digital photography workflow.

The Minimalist Guide to Lightroom Editing - Rapid Lightroom Preset-Based Editing

The Lightroom photography workflow included Photo Organization, Photo Editing and Publishing. On top of everything and in stark contrast to Photoshop, Lightroom introduced nondestructive photo editing. Meaning that the original image is never modified and always stays intact in its initial state.

The introduction of Lightroom helped me to drastically reduce the time I spent processing photos. Plus, the Lightroom learning curve was not too steep.

Over the years, Adobe launched multiple versions of Lightroom and kept introducing new features to make it a one-stop solution for all photographers, from the occasional hobbyist to full-time professionals.

Even though Lightroom became my favorite and most valuable tool for my business, I also recognized that my time spent in Lightroom gradually increased due to the greater sophistication and complexity of the program.

When I realized that my photo editing time increased to the pre-Lightroom level, I knew I had to act. About a year ago I started to look for ways to optimize and streamline my workflow with the goal to free myself of as much time as possible.

Lightroom Photo Organization

It was a relatively easy and straightforward process as all I had to do was to create a system and stick to it.

I outlined my personal Lightroom organizational system in one of my previous articles, “Lightroom Organization in 3 Simple Steps“. The feedback from my readers was very positive and now, many followers of my blog use systems similar to mine, further customizing and tweaking it to meet their needs and styles.

The task, however, to streamline my Lightroom Editing was more challenging.

Optimizing Lightroom Editing

First, I started by analyzing my existing editing process. What I realized is that, over the years, I established my personal artistic style which was pretty consistent and, as a result, I repeated about 80% of my editing steps with only a 20% variation from photo to photo.

Next, I wrote down the different types of photography I do and the percentage it represents.

  • Landscapes – 60%
  • Portrait and People (including family photos) – 20%
  • Architecture – 15%
  • Black & White -5%

This is when the work really started.

I created four Lightroom Collections: Landscape, People,  Architecture, B&W and I dove deep into the Lightroom archives with the goal to find the best editing examples that fully reflect my style and my artistic vision and started to fill the collections with these examples.

When I saw some experimental editing techniques that I used once or twice, I treated it as an anomaly and simply rejected it.

When I had four Collections (Landscape, People, Architecture, B&W) in Lightroom filled with the previously edited photos, I created Lightroom Presets based on the collected examples first and then refined them.

Initially, I completed the Landscape Collection. I created and polished 20 Lightroom Presets that fully covered different scenarios of the way I edit landscape photos that also reflected my personal style.

At that point, I faced a serious hurdle which was not easy to overcome and took me quite some time to resolve.

Even though I really liked my brand new Landscape Preset Collection, I also recognized that it was extremely rare that I could apply one of the presets to a photograph and be happy with the final results without tweaking it.

Depending on the level of exposure of the photo (underexposed or overexposed) the lighting conditions (midday, sunset), darkness of the shadows and the dynamic range of the scene, I still had to dive deep into the right panel of Lightroom where all of the editing tools are to put the finishing touches on the photo.

The ToolKit

This is when the idea of ToolKit Adjustments was born. I created a set of Adjustment Presets that would allow me to fine tune a photo without touching any of the right panel editing tools in Lightroom.

I had the initial set of 20 adjustments presets but, over time, it grew to 40.

ToolKit has various adjustments that cover the following edits: exposure, shadow recovery, contrast, saturation, vignetting, and graduated filter.

After I completed the ToolKit my brand new Lightroom Editing Workflow was born and it had only 2 steps:

  1. I apply one of the presets to a photo to create a “look”
  2. I use ToolKit adjustments to fine tune the final image

I called my new editing approach “Rapid Lightroom Preset Based Editing“. My new system not only helped save me an enormous amount of time but also allowed me to systematize the process by creating a Lightroom Editing Formula for every edited photo.

To learn more about my Lightroom Editing Formula, follow my demonstration below.

Rapid Lightroom Preset-Based Editing in Action

After I go through the various steps of Lightroom Organization and select the photo I am ready to edit, I start by applying different presets to it one by one.

When I see something I like and think the style has potential, I move to the ToolKit Adjustments and tweak the image to compensate for the exposure and the lighting.

In the majority of cases, I only adjust the following: Exposure, Open Shadows, and Contrast.

For today’s demonstration, I selected the photo I took in Hawaii at sunrise. It is a typical landscape photograph with the open sky which is much brighter than vegetation in the foreground. I intentionally set exposure for the brightest areas making sure I preserve as many details as possible in the sky area. It resulted in underexposed foreground elements of the photo making it more challenging to edit.

First, I apply one of my favorite presets from the Landscape Collection – Natural.

In general, I like the result but since the original photo was underexposed, the result is too dark and I need help of ToolKit Adjustments to fix it.

Below is result of Natural preset + ToolKit Adjustments.

The Minimalist Guide to Lightroom Editing - Rapid Lightroom Preset-Based Editing

Here are the exact editing steps I used to achieve the final look:

  • Natural preset
  • 02 Exposure ++
  • 09 Open Shadows +++
  • 20 Vibrance +
  • 31 Vignetting +

Here is the Lightroom Preset Editing Formula for this shot where each number inside the brackets represents a specific ADJUSTMENT from the TOOLKIT collection:
Natural (02, 09, 20, 31).

I move forward by applying various presets from Landscape Collection

Preset: Tropical Morning
Editing Formula: Tropical Morning (1, 9, 11, 17, 31)

The Minimalist Guide to Lightroom Editing - Rapid Lightroom Preset-Based Editing

Preset: Skyshine
Editing Formula: Skyshine (3, 8, 30)

The Minimalist Guide to Lightroom Editing - Rapid Lightroom Preset-Based Editing

Preset: Point Lobos
Editing Formula: Point Lobos (1, 9, 20, 31)

The Minimalist Guide to Lightroom Editing - Rapid Lightroom Preset-Based Editing

Preset: Drought
Editing Formula: Drought (2, 8, 31)

The Minimalist Guide to Lightroom Editing - Rapid Lightroom Preset-Based Editing

Preset: Broken Clouds
Editing Formula: Brocken Clouds (2, 9, 31)

The Minimalist Guide to Lightroom Editing - Rapid Lightroom Preset-Based Editing

Next, I start applying presets from my Cross Processed Collection. Initially, the name of the collection was Architecture but since they (presets) can be used with the various types of photography, not only with architectural shots, I changed its name to Cross Processed Collection.

Preset: Sunblast
Editing Formula: Sunblast (1, 10, 31)

The Minimalist Guide to Lightroom Editing - Rapid Lightroom Preset-Based Editing

Preset: LaSalle
Editing Formula: LaSalle (1, 10, 31)

Preset: Hawaii Sunset
Editing Formula: Hawaii Sunset (1,8, 20)

The last step of my new Lightroom Preset-Based Editing is to select the editing version of the image I like the best and publish it.

Please note, in the real life scenarios I normally do not create 9 editing version of the same image. I did it with the purpose to better demonstrate the power of my new workflow. Normally, I create 2 or 3 versions before I am ready to make a selection.

Also, in most of the cases, I still use Photoshop to do the final touches. For me the use of Photoshop is more a habit than a necessity and it can be bypassed all together.


My new approach to Lightroom editing helped me to streamline and optimize my photography workflow. It also let me to reduce the total time of Lightroom editing more than in half.

At this point I’ve completed the creation of 3 Lightroom Preset Collections:

I have choice of 60 presets which covers more than 90% of my needs as a travel photographer. I am still planning to create Black & White Collection but since I am not too big on B&W photography, it is not a priority at this point.

Please remember, all subscribers of my newsletter have access to Free Lightroom Preset Collection which comes with the ToolKit adjustments.

by Viktor Elizarov
I am a travel photographer and educator from Montreal, Canada, and a founder of PhotoTraces. I travel around the world and share my experiences here. Feel free to check my Travel Portfolio and download Free Lightroom Presets.

4 thoughts on “The Minimalist Guide to Lightroom Editing”

  1. Any further discount for purchasing both Landscape and People presets? The toolkit is the same with each, correct? Thanks for any reply!


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