Lightroom Q&A'sNews

Lightroom Pro Q&A with Nat Coalson

Hi everyone. Here’s another in a series of mini-interviews with some of the Lightroom pros out there where they’ve answered a short series of questions about how they use and feel about Lightroom:

Today’s Guest: Nat Coalson.

Bio/Intro: Nathaniel Coalson is a travel and fine art photographer, teacher and writer based in Denver, Colorado. Nat has worked professionally in photography, imaging and printing since 1987. His work has been exhibited extensively, received numerous awards and is held in private and corporate collections. Nat is is an Adobe Certified Expert in Lightroom and Photoshop, and is a top-rated instructor who has taught digital photography and imaging to photographers at all levels. He is the author of two Lightroom books including Lightroom 3: Streamlining your Digital Photography Process, published by Wiley in 2010. He has written articles on Lightroom for magazines including Photoshop User and Great Output and is a contributing writer at For more information and to see Nat’s work visit

Q. How many presets do you have in the Develop module?

A. have hundreds of Develop presets installed (downloaded from various sources on the web) but I rarely use any of them, except when doing demos. (For people just starting to use Lightroom, applying Develop presets is a great way to learn what the different adjustments do.)

The six presets I use on a regular basis are specific to the cameras I used for most of the photos in my catalog. My presets include custom settings for:

– Basic adjustments such as Blacks, Brightness, Contrast, Clarity and Vibrance;
– Either a flat Tone Curve, or a parametric curve with +5 Lights and -5 Darks;
– Custom sharpening settings; for example, on photos from my Canon 5D Mark II, my default sharpening settings are Amount 45, Radius 1.0, Detail 45, Masking 15.

Photos from my other cameras use different sharpening (and noise reduction) settings; in each of my default Develop presets, all the settings are fine tuned for that particular camera.

In my standard workflow, I apply these Develop presets during Import, and beyond that I don’t use Develop presets very often. Each photo (or sequence of similar photos) gets processed individually, as needed. I start by envisioning how I want the photo to look, and use the various Develop adjustments to make it that way. If I want to apply the same look to other photos, I use Sync to apply the settings from the active photo to the others.

Q. What’s your favorite panel besides the Basic panel ( 🙂 Sorry the basic panel is too much of a gimmee)?

A. My favorite panel (besides the Basic panel) is the Toolstrip. I know, I know… it’s not really a panel 😉 But I use graduated filters and adjustment brushes on almost every image.

When just beginning to Develop a photo, I visualize how it might be made more appealing by dodging and burning (lightening and darkening) localized areas of the image, and sometimes I do that work first.

I really like the fact that with Lightroom, if I want to apply local adjustments first, any global adjustments made later are blended seamlessly. You can use any of the Lightroom tools, at any time, and the final rendering combines them in the optimal way (which isn’t always the case with Photoshop layers).

Q. What panel/slider/feature do you use the least?

A. I don’t know – I’ve forgotten it even exists!

Hmmm… let me look… I guess I’d have to say I almost never use the Random Order option on the Playback panel in Slideshow. Usually I want the slides to show in a specific order. But the Random Order option could be handy if you don’t want to show any bias in the order, such as with a selection of images made by a group of people.

Otherwise, in my typical workflows, I generally use most of Lightroom’s functions at one point or another.

Q. Do you keyword (All the time/Sometimes/Never)

A. I keyword all my photos, all the time. I have two basic scenarios for my photos: work done for clients, and work done as self-assignments that I offer for licensing and/or as prints. In both cases, adding keywords helps me easily find any photo within the Lightroom catalog. And with photos offered for sale online, having them loaded with keywords dramatically increases their visibility on the web, because search engines index all the keywords embedded in image files.

I always add at least a few keywords (using hierarchies*) during Import. Then I add more keywords and/or hierarchies to batches of photos that make it through my initial rounds of editing. My edited photos typically get a lot of keywords, especially my final selects, for which I individually add detailed keywords (plus captions and titles) specific to each photo.

*About keyword hierarchies: in the Keyword List panel, you can drag and drop to “nest” keywords into parent/child relationships, or “hierarchies”. When you apply a child keyword to one or more photos, you have the option to also automatically apply all the containing keywords to your exported photos. Using hierarchies can be a huge time saver and also helps keep your keyword list tidy and manageable.

Q. Do you use Collections (All the time/Sometimes/Never)

A. I use Collections all the time; they are one of the most important benefits of Lightroom’s catalog (database) architecture. In my standard editing workflow, when I’ve edited down to my final selects I put them into a Collection, after which I rarely return to the Folder source. You can access Collections from within all the modules, so (unlike folders) you can choose different groups of photos to work on without needing to go back to Library.

Historically, I’ve used regular Collections more than Smart Collections, but this is starting to change. I’ve made regular collections for all kinds of purposes: client projects, portfolio selections, gallery or publication submissions, competition entries, web galleries, photos to be printed, etc. These days I’m starting to make more Smart Collections with keywords and/or attributes as criteria.

Q. Favorite Lightroom Plug-in?

A. My favorite Lightroom plug-in changes depending on what I’m doing with my files. Export plug-ins are really useful for batch-uploading photos to the web; these days I’m frequently using the Dossier de Presse (for NextGEN galleries) and Photoshelter plug-ins.

Timothy Armes’ suite of Lightroom plug-ins is also extremely helpful for a wide range of purposes (see

Q. If you could add one feature to Lightroom what would it be?

A. That’s a tough one… Lightroom gives me nearly everything I need to process my photos and share them with the world!

One thing I’d really like to see added is soft proofing. This is a key step in my printing workflow, and one for which I still need Photoshop. Soft proofing lets you preview what an image will look like when printed on a selected paper/printer combination; you can then make any necessary adjustments to tone and color, prior to printing.

For example, most canvas media have a relatively narrow color gamut and tend to print dark. With a soft proof preview, I can use adjustment layers to boost saturation, open up the shadows, etc. before I make the print.

Without soft proofing, photos printed on different papers, canvas etc. will come out looking quite different from one another. Soft proofing allows you to make very consistent reproductions of your photos using a wide range of media.

If Lightroom provided soft proofing, prepping files for super-accurate color output would be much easier!

Nat Coalson



  1. Nat Coalson 26 November, 2010 at 18:24 Reply

    Andreas –
    Regarding your question about sharpening settings in presets: it would be easy to apply different sharpening presets to different body-lens combinations, using Smart Collections. I just don’t work this way.

    I bring everything into my catalog using a standard set of Develop presets based entirely on the camera body. The lens I used doesn’t factor into the base Develop preset.

    In my Canon setup, the sensor characteristics and resolution have more impact on sharpening settings than the lens selection does.

    For example, if I have an image captured on a 50D and a 5DM2 using the 28-135 IS, my sharpening settings will be more based on the camera settings than on the lens.

    Of course, if I captured a whole bunch of photos using the same body with different lenses, it might make sense to make presets for those combinations, but… in Lightroom 3, the Lens Correction panel, and Lens Profiles, account for most of the variation in lenses.

    In digital photography, sharpening is a digital process. This means that regardless of the lens used to produce the capture, it is what it is. You’re sharpening based on the actual pixel data.

    (If you want to make presets for sharpening based on different lens and body combinations, you might as well make presets for every focal length. This is too much trouble for me.)

    Making sharpening presets based only on the camera body gives me a good starting point. On my final selects, I always (should I say ALWAYS) fine tune the sharpening settings for each photo manually.

    My best images receive individual attention and I process each one depending on their own characteristics; any values applied in Presets are just a very general starting point.

  2. Richard Bentley 24 August, 2010 at 22:39 Reply

    Hello, I am new to using Lightroom3 and I need some specific information. I need a program where I can import a digital picture and be able to create a new picture with a highlighted area that will not be visible on the first picture but very visible on the new picture. It would be nice to be able to use a button to activate the process. Again I would like to keep the original photo but have a specific area highlighted in the second photo keeping the complete original photo as part of the new photo. It looks like Lightroom3 should be able to handle it maybe using layers but I need to know the procedure. I know highlighting can be done on the edges but I need to only highlight a smaller area located in the middle section of the photo.
    Thank you, Rich Bentley

  3. Bob Shriner 17 August, 2010 at 15:32 Reply

    I have~8,000-10,000 images that I would like to use keywords to allow filtering on a new website. When I post the key words in LR they become alphabetized and this simply will not work for me as I have categories, sub-categories, and sets of images with a preference or primary representative image. All will be well and fine if the keywords are not alphabetized. I need them to be in order that I post them. Can you help

  4. Allen Chernack 13 August, 2010 at 12:03 Reply

    I never knew what ‘soft proofing’ was and now I want it. I have often experienced the prints looking darker/lighter then the monitor and then made adjustments to compensate. Soft proofing could eliminate that in many cases and save ink and paper costs.

  5. Norman 13 August, 2010 at 10:09 Reply


    I have a question about applying “nested” keywords to an image. Mr. Coalson said:

    “When you apply a child keyword to one or more photos, you have the option to also automatically apply all the containing keywords…”

    I use nested keywords, but I can’t figure out how to automatically apply parent keywords to an image in Lightroom. Maybe you guys could cover this in a future tutorial?


    • Nat Coalson 15 August, 2010 at 09:52 Reply

      Hi Norman – to apply parent keywords to photos, drag and drop the lowest child in the hierarchy. This doesn’t directly apply the keywords to the selected photo(s); rather, the entire hierarchy will be applied on Export. To see this, go to the Keywording panel, and in the menu the top, choose “Will Export” instead of the default “Enter Keywords”. This will show you all the keywords that will be applied to the files when you export them.

      If you want to actually apply the entire keyword hierarchy to the photo, the easiest way is to tick all their check boxes in the Keyword List. In this case, the keywords will be directly applied to the photos within Lightroom.

      Hope this helps, and thanks for reading. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  6. Andreas 13 August, 2010 at 03:36 Reply

    Hi there,
    while reading this interview I was wondering why Nat Coalson only uses sharpening presets for his different cameras (or doesn’t he?).

    Don’t different lenses also require a different sharpening?
    So wouldn’t it be better if you had different sharpening presets for all the camera-lens-combinations. And then fine tune those again at least for portraits and landscapes.
    It would be great to hear your opinion on that, because I find the sharpening of images one of the most difficult things about digital photography.

    Greetings, Andreas

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