The Lightroom workspace is surprisingly flexible and gives you the power to adjust the layout to suit your personal preferences and monitor size.
In this tutorial we’ll start off with the basics then look at some workspace customization tips and tricks that even seasoned Lightroom users may not know.
The basic Lightroom workspace
This is the basic workspace in Lightroom in Full Screen mode (explained in more depth below).
The Lightroom workspace is divided into six sections that are common to each module.
A: Identity Plate & Module picker buttons panel (also known as the Top Bar).
B: Left-hand panels
C: Right-hand panels
D: Content window
The top panels stay the same in every module. The content of the side panels, content window and (to a lesser extent) the Filmstrip change according to which module you’re in.
Now it’s time to look at each section in more detail.
A: Identity Plate & Module picker buttons panel
The Identity Plate is in the top left corner and by default shows which version of Lightroom you are using.
The Module Picker is on the right and shows you which module you’re currently working in.
B & C: Left- and right-hand panels
The panels grouped on the left and right-hand side of the display contain tools required to carry out tasks within each module. They let you access your photos (via the Folders and Collections panels), develop your photos, set up slideshows and web pages, and also print your images.
D: Content Window
This is where you view photos. The photos may be contained in folders (Library module only), Collections or Collection Sets, or organized according to a Library module search.
In the Library module you can view multiple images together (Grid View and Survey View), compare two images (Compare View) or view your photos one at a time (Loupe View).
The Toolbar contains extra tools specific to the module that you’re working in.
Displays the photos that you are viewing within the Content Window in a line along the bottom of the screen. There are options to filter the photos displayed according to ranking, EXIF data or other criteria.
How to customize the Lightroom workspace
The Top Bar, left- and right-hand panels, Filmstrip and Toolbar take up a lot of screen space that you may prefer to use for viewing your photos, especially if you’re working in the Develop module.
The resolution of your monitor is a major factor in how much screen space is available for the Content Window. If you have an 11 inch laptop screen, for example, the panels listed above are far more likely to get in your way than on a 27 inch high resolution monitor.
The following tips will help you control the behavior and size of the Top Bar, Filmstrip and left- and right-hand panels.
1. How to take control of Lightroom panel behavior
Lightroom lets you decide for yourself which panels to have on permanent display so you can set up the workspace to suit the way you prefer to work.
For example, in the Develop module you could hide the left-hand panels, top panel and Filmstrip so you can see just the right-hand panels and to display the photo as large as possible.
There are two keyboard shortcuts you can use to hide or display panels.
Tab key: Show or hide the left and right-hand panel groups.
Shift+Tab keys: Show or hide all four panel groups.
There are additional Function Key shortcuts you can use to open and close panels.
Fn+F5 – Hide or display the Top Bar
Fn+F6 – Hide or display the Filmstrip
Fn+F7 – Hide or display the left-hand panels
Fn+F8 – Hide or display the right-hand panels
Use the gray arrows
You can also click on the gray arrows at the edges of the screen to hide or reveal the Top Bar, Filmstrip or left- and right-hand panel groups.
Right-clicking on or near the same arrows brings up the following options.
The way these options work may be a bit difficult to understand when you are reading about them. I suggest you try them for yourself to see how the panels behave when each one is activated.
Auto Hide & Show (default setting)
When this setting is enabled the panel appears when you move the cursor close to the edge of the monitor with the mouse, and disappear when you move the cursor away. The solid gray arrow icon is replaced by another icon with dots to indicate that Auto Hide & Show mode is active.
If the way the panels pop out when the cursor is close to the edge of the screen annoys you, then select the Manual option instead (see below).
Alternatively, if you click on the gray arrow after the panel has popped out, the panel won’t disappear when you move the mouse away (and the icon changes to solid gray to indicate this). Click on the gray arrow again to make the panel disappear, and reactivate Auto Hide & Show mode.
This is kind of a cross between Auto Hide & Show and Manual. You have to click the solid gray arrow to make the panel appear, but it disappears automatically when you move the cursor away. The panel disappears when you move the cursor from it. If you click the gray arrow again the panel stays out until you click the arrow to close it.
The panel is only hidden or revealed when you click on the white arrow. This is the setting to use if you find panels that automatically appear or disappear annoying.
Sync with Opposite Panel
This is an additional option that you can enable in addition to choosing one of the previous three modes. It has a different effect depending on which mode is active.
When Auto Hide & Show is active: The panel opens when you move the cursor to the edge of the screen. Click the gray arrow to make the opposite panel come out as well. Both disappear together when you click the arrow again.
When Auto Hide is active: Click on the gray arrow once to make the panel appear, and twice to make the opposite panel appear as well. Both disappear together when you click the arrow again.
When Manual is active: The panel and its opposite number open and close together when you click on the gray arrow.
Note that when you change the settings for the Top Bar or Filmstrip that the settings are universal and applied to every module.
But when you change the settings for left- or right-hand panels these are specific to the module that you’re working in. That means, for example, you could set the left-hand panels to Manual in the Library module and to Auto Hide in the Develop module. It’s completely up to you.
2. How to configure the left- and right-hand panels
You can adjust the width of the left- and right-hand panels by clicking and dragging the inner border. One benefit of this is that it lets you see the full names of nested Folders and Collections in the Library module.
This screenshot shows the difference.
Tip: If you have a Mac you can hold down the Alt key while clicking and dragging to make the panels even wider.
There are some extra tricks you can use to customize the way the left- and right-hand panels work.
Start by right-clicking on a blank space in any side panel to bring up a contextual menu.
Trick #1: hide unused panels
Are there any panels that you never use? For example, it’s possible that you may never use the Publish Services panel in the Library module. In that case just click on the panel’s name in the contextual menu to hide it and simplify your view.
These screenshots show the difference.
Trick #2: Enable Solo mode to declutter your screen
When Solo mode is enabled (indicated by a checkmark), Lightroom only opens one panel at a time, other than the Navigator panel (left-hand panel group) or Histogram panel (right-hand panel group), which stay open until you close them yourself. I love Solo mode because it declutters the screen and makes it easier to find the options that I’m looking for.
These screenshots show the difference.
Tip: If Solo mode is active, and you’d like to open more than one panel, hold the Shift key down when clicking any other panel to open it.
Extra tip 1: Hold down the Cmd (PC: Ctrl) key when you open a panel to open all the panels in that panel group simultaneously. This works when you click to close panels as well.
Extra tip 2: Hold down the Alt/Option key to simultaneously open or close a panel and disable Solo mode.
Trick #3: Add a custom Panel End Mark at the bottom of each panel group
If you go to the Interface tab in Preferences you’ll see an End Marks menu. By default this is set to none, but you can change it to Small Flourish to add a flowery pattern underneath.
These screenshots show the difference.
The flourish is purely decorative, but you can use this feature to add your own custom graphic. This can be decorative, such as a business logo or name (ideal for branding purposes). But it can also be practical.
For example, you could add a graphic that reminds you of how you use color labels, or that lists the most common keyboard shortcuts you use.
Whatever you decide to do, a little Photoshop knowledge is required as the technique is to create a PNG file with a transparent background that has a width of no more than 260 pixels (or 520 pixels for a retina display).
Once you’ve created the file, go back to the Interface tab in Preferences and select Go to Panel End Marks Folder from the End Marks menu. This opens a folder called Panel End Marks in Finder (Mac) or Windows Explorer (PC).
Save your PNG file in that folder. Then, go back to the End Marks menu and select the file
Here’s an example of what it looks like.
The graphic is displayed under both left- and right-hand panels in every module.
Tip: You can also change the font size used in the left- and right-hand panel groups using the Font Size menu next to the End Marks menu. The choices are Small (the default setting) and Large (ideal for larger monitors).
3. How to customize the Identity Plate
The Identity Plate only takes up a small amount of screen real estate, especially on larger monitors, but you can still customize it to show alternative text or a graphic logo. Some photographers like to display a business logo or their own name instead of the Lightroom logo.
You can do this by going to Lightroom > Identity Plate Setup (PC: Edit > Identity Plate) to open the Identity Plate Editor and setting the Identity Plate option to Personalized.
In the example above I typed in my name to use instead of the Lightroom logo. This is what the Identity Plate looks like after the change has been made.
4. How to customize the Module Picker
The Module Picker lets you move around between the seven Lightroom modules.
Are there any modules that you never use? If there are then you may like to hide their names from the Module Picker to simplify your display.
To do this, right-click on the Module Picker area to reveal the following menu.
The ticks next to the module names indicate that those options are available in the Module Picker. You can click on any module name to remove it from display. Use the right-click menu again to remove more modules, or to put back any that you’ve removed.
For example, if you only ever use the Library, Develop and Print modules you can set the Module Picker so it looks like this.
Tip: The missing modules are still available in the Window menu, and you can still use keyboard shortcuts to open them.
When you do this Lightroom automatically adds the missing module back to the Module Picker.
5. How to hide or show the Toolbar in Lightroom
The Toolbar doesn’t take up much screen space, but if you ever feel a need to hide it (or it isn’t showing and you want to see it) just press the T key to hide or reveal it.
6. How to change Screen Mode in Lightroom
Lightroom Classic has four Screen Modes you can use (note that these screenshots were taken on a Mac, and that it will look slightly different on a Windows PC). You can cycle through the first three using the Shift+F keyboard shortcut.
Normal: You can see the Lightroom menu at the top, and the Title Bar underneath. The Title Bar shows the minimize and maximize buttons plus the name of the current Catalog. You can resize and move the Lightroom window.
Full Screen with Menubar: Lightroom fills the screen and you can no longer resize the window or click and drag it. The Lightroom menu bar is visible but the Title Bar isn’t.
Full Screen: This mode hides both the Lightroom menu bar and Title Bar.
Full Screen Preview: Press F to enter Full Screen Preview from any of the other Screen Modes. This Screen Mode displays the active photo at full size on the monitor. The most common use for this is to view and flag photos in the Library module. Press F again or Escape to exit Full Screen Preview.
These options are also available in the Windows menu.
7. How to customize the Filmstrip
You can adjust the height of the Filmstrip by clicking and dragging the inner border. As you make it taller the thumbnails get larger, and this lets you set the size that suits you on your particular monitor.
This screenshot shows the difference between the shortest and tallest settings.
Tip: If you right-click on the inner border a menu appears that lets you select one of five preset thumbnail sizes – XS, S, M, L and XL.
8. How to customize the background color in the Content Window
For our final tip you’ll learn how to change the background color in the Content Window. The default is mid-gray, but you can change it to white, black or choose from several variations of gray. You can do this by right-clicking on the background and selecting an option from the menu that appears.
You can also change the background color under the Interface tab in Preferences.
The color you choose is a largely a matter of personal preference, but there’s a practical purpose as well. If you set it to white then it makes it easier to judge how bright the highlights in your photo are. This comes in especially useful when working in black and white.
These tips and tricks should get you started on customizing your Lightroom workspace. There’s one thing I’ve left out – how to use and customize a dual screen display. I’ll cover that in next week’s article!
Learn more about Lightroom with these articles.
The next steps
If you’d like to learn more about Lightroom I suggest you sign up to our Introducing Lightroom free email course (see below).
Mastering Lightroom ebooks
You can also learn more about Lightroom with our Mastering Lightroom series of ebooks.