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Daniel Lieske

Wacom Tablets and Lightroom

Lightroom has completely changed my approach to photography. I hear that time and again in my travels and I echo the same sentiment. For me, above all other benefits that Lightroom affords, what I cherish most is that it enables me to spend more time developing the images that matter, as opposed to making time-consuming edits to images that should be passed over, which was the case when Photoshop was my primary app of choice for image processing.

As a long-time Photoshop user, Lightroom was a pretty radical change for me in the beginning. Sure there were many similarities to Photoshop, but on its surface there was a missing element to my tried and true workflow: The precise control that I get when applying adjustments with my Wacom pen tablet. That is until I discovered the pressure sensitive support of the adjustment brush. Here are some valuable tips for using a Wacom tablet in Lightroom.

After I have imported and sorted my files, the bulk of my time in Lightroom is spent in the Develop module. This is where I of course develop my images, first making “global” adjustments, that is, adjustments that affect the entire image. From there, I fine-tune images by making “local” adjustments with the Adjustment Brush.

Wacom Tablets and LightroomTo select the Adjustment Brush, go to the Develop module and click on the Adjustment Brush icon. Or, use my preferred method of selecting it by simply pressing the K key on the keyboard. This method will automatically take you to the Develop module from wherever you are in Lightroom and select the Adjustment Brush. When the Adjustment Brush is selected a panel immediately below the adjustment tools expands to reveal a variety of adjustment types. i.e. Temperature, Tint, Exposure, etc. Modify one or more adjustment types that you wish to apply by dragging the slider more or less to the left and right as needed. For example, in Fig. 1 I increased the exposure by a half a stop, lessened the shadows by 5% and bumped up the clarity by 15%.

Wacom Tablets and LightroomNext, adjust the size of your brush using the Size slider, or for those that have a tablet equipped with a Touch Ring or Touch Strips such as those found on Wacom’s professional pen tablets (or Cintiq) you can dynamically adjust brush size by running your finger around the touch-sensitive ring or up and down the strip.

Now, to apply a localized adjustment, paint on an adjustment’s effect using the pressure sensitive Wacom pen. Pressing lightly reveals the effects of the adjustment at a low level of opacity. Pressing harder reveals the effects at a higher level of opacity. To apply multiple local adjustments, click New directly below the Adjustment Brush tool and repeat the process of selecting an adjustment type and paint away!

The Adjustment Brush seemingly paints on effects to your image. What it is in fact doing behind the scenes is painting on a mask, which reveals the adjustment(s) that you selected. Should you wish to increase or lessen the intensity of an adjustment you can further refine it by dragging the sliders accordingly. The effects of the adjustment are confined to the mask that you painted.

In the event that you should paint on an adjustment too heavy or in an area that you have decided you don’t want, holding the option/alt key down temporarily changes your brush to an eraser. From there you may erase your most recent adjustment.

Additional options for the Adjustment Brush can be found in the brush area. (Fig. 3) They include:

  • Feather – Adjusts the overall softness of a brush.
  • Flow – Adjusts the rate of speed at which an adjustment is applied.
  • Auto Mask – When checked, confines the effects of an adjustment to similar color and contrasting.
  • Density – For all intent and purposes translated as opacity, Density controls the transparency of a stroke.

Finally, there is an option to specify options for two different brushes (A & B) so that you can quickly change the way a brush behaves each time you use it. For example, under A I specified a rather large brush with “soft” settings to apply broad, sweeping adjustments. Under B, I specified a more detailed brush for making more precise adjustments. To quickly switch between the brushes, tap the / key on your keyboard. (Fig. 3)

Switching gears a bit, it should be noted that in addition to the Adjustment Brush, the Spot Removal and Red-Eye Correction tools, though not pressure sensitive, are more intuitively applied because of their brush-like effect. Further, as the tools behave like brushes, you can adjust their size using a Touch Ring or Touch Strips function that I mentioned earlier.

You see, beyond the pressure sensitive pen support of the Adjustment Brush and the intuitive control of the other adjustment tools, perhaps an equal, if not greater benefit to using a tablet in Lightroom is the ease in which you can access Lightroom’s menu-driven interface with tablet functions including ExpressKeys and Radial Menus. Tablet functions are set up in the Wacom Tablet Properties. Fig. 4 expresskeys Fig. 4

ExpressKeys are physical buttons on the tablet itself that can be assigned common keystrokes and other operations. Simple as it may seem, you would be surprised to know how much time it takes to find the right menu; then the right sub menu; click the desired command then regain your desired hand-on-keyboard position. With ExpressKeys, you can assign a keystroke or combination of keystrokes to be applied with a single click with your finger on the tablet! For example, on my Intuos5 Medium tablet which has 8 ExpressKeys, I’ve set up one of my keys to show me a before and after view and another to toggle the photo info screen. I show my work to others on an impromptu basis so I utilize the Lights Out and Full Screen functions quite a bit. Finally, one of my favorites is the almighty “undo”. ExpressKeys save me a ton of time.

An extension to ExpressKeys, the Radial Menu function places a custom, context sensitive, heads-up menu on your screen with the simple touch of an ExpressKey. This menu, in what else but a radial format contains 8 “slices” that can be assigned common keystrokes just like ExpressKeys. Once on-screen, using your pen, simply tap on the function that you wish to apply and the shortcut is triggered. I like to say that the Radial Menu provides you with “pen-point access to your most common functions.”

In context, Wacom tablets are most commonly discussed alongside brush-like tasks in specific applications, but in fact they outperform any task that a mouse, track pad, etc. can do. Add to that fact the convenient access to shortcuts and functions, again in any application, that Touch Rings and Strips, ExpressKeys and Radial Menus provide and the tablet becomes valuable in truly any application.

At the end of the day, for me, it’s all about the image. The combination of a Wacom pen and tablet enables me to get a level of control, comfort and productivity that I just cannot get with a mouse. And that combination enables me to create the best possible image that I can produce.