Updated: Jan 24
The Biggest Change to Lightroom since 2008
Adobe just made available their latest and greatest versions of Lightroom and Lightroom Classic with the start of Adobe Max 2021 and… wow… there's quite a bit to unpack here!
Hopefully, you've already watched my announcement video / deep-dive tutorial for the biggest new feature and change: Lightroom Masking. I'll talk a bit about it here but you're definitely going to want to check out that video as it is a HUGE change… like, one of the biggest changes/improvements to come to Lightroom in over a decade kind of huge.
In addition to that bombshell, there's a new AI-powered Smart Selection tool that works in conjunction with Lightroom Masking, a fairly significant update to metadata management, new operating system requirements, new premium presets, better multitasking within the Lightroom Classic application, and various other under-the-hood performance enhancements.
Oh, and of course this new version comes with the usual host of new lens and camera support, as well as bug fixes.
Lastly, if you haven't already, you'll definitely want to check out my Lightroom Masking deep-dive tutorial. That is such a massive, and powerful, change you may very well find yourself pretty lost if you try to just jump right into it as you work on editing your photos. How massive is it? Well, to provide some perspective... this tutorial is nearly an hour long! So grab your favorite beverage and be prepared to sit back and relax (and learn).
Otherwise, keep scrolling to gain an understanding of everything that's new and/or improved with Lightroom Classic 11, or use the following outline to jump to a specific section:
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Updated Minimum System Requirements
This one is pretty straightforward but worth knowing as, if you're not on a recent version of Windows or macOS, it could create a roadblock to using version 11.
For macOS, Mojave (10.14.x) is no longer supported. The minimum macOS version supported is now macOS Catalina (10.15). If you're not already using Catalina 10.15, you'll want to upgrade your OS before installing Lightroom Classic 11 as… well… it won't install if you don't upgrade.
On the Windows side, Windows 10 v1903 is no longer supported. For Windows 10 you must now be running v1909 or later. As with macOS, if you're not running at least v1909, you won't be able to install Lightroom Classic 11.
This new tool works in conjunction with the powerful new Masking in Lightroom Classic 11. Essentially, Adobe has added an AI-powered selection tool to help you create complex masks quickly and easily. You'll find two options for Smart Selection: Select Sky and Select Subject.
Those names make it pretty obvious what they'll do for you. Using Select Sky, Lightroom will automatically select the sky region of an image. If you opt for Select Subject instead, Lightroom will scan the image to find what it likely the main subject of the frame. This is ideal for portrait work where you want to include or exclude a person in a mask but it can also help you out with product photography, some landscape or nature photography, and other images that have a strong subject.
These tools are a little limited at the moment but, being AI-driven, they should improve over time with future updates to both versions of Lightroom. Combining them with the other new Masking tools and tricks further unlocks the power they give you to quickly and easily create complex masks as part of your editing workflow.
Here's a small slideshow with a couple examples of the masks you can create with a single click of a button:
Ok, here's the biggie. The replacement of the old Split Toning tools with Color Grading in Lightroom Classic 10 was pretty big but Masking is a complete overhaul and major upgrade of everything you knew about Local Adjustments in prior versions.
If you've watched my Local Adjustments 101 tutorial video, or if you're already familiar with Lightroom in general, you should already know that Local Adjustments are one of the most powerful editing tools at your disposal, especially when coupled with Range Masks for color and luminosity.
Masking is the same premise - you still have the familiar Gradient, Radial, and Brush options - but you really need to throw out everything you know and prepare yourself to adopt a new way of thinking.
I don't want to go into it too much here as there's a LOT to breakdown but here are some of the key highlights for Lightroom Masking (it's still a long list…):
• Masking is similar to Local Adjustments… but it's far more powerful; once you see it, you'll better understand why you need to think of it more in terms of creating masks instead of just local adjustments
• Color and Luminance masking is now decoupled from the Gradient, Radial, and Brush Local Adjustment tools - you can now create, edit, and combine color and luminance ranges onto single or multiple masks, with or without Gradient, Radial, or Brush masks
• Speaking of combining, you can use a combination of masks to add to, subtract from, or create intersections of specific elements of your images (example: create a mask that only impacts a certain luminosity range across the image but also excludes a specific color)
• You can exclude areas of the image - based on luminance, color, or Gradients, Radials, and/or Brushes - by using the new Invert option (example: create a complex mask based on a single or multiple parameters and then invert it to leave the complex selection untouched while you edit the rest of the image)
• Perhaps my favorite aspect of Masking… you can name each mask however you want! No more hovering over edit pins, or clicking on them one-by-one, to find the right adjustment you want to work on (especially if you've stepped away from an edit for a while)
• Another of my favorites, you can turn individual masks on and off, unlike Local Adjustments where you had to either turn them all off and on, or use the trick I showed here to basically adjust the opacity or strength of each local adjustment and keep track of your starting point
• In addition to naming individual masks, you'll also be operating within one or more Masking Groups, which can also be uniquely named to help you stay organized; within a group you can have multiple adjustments and masks
• You can now customize your mask overlays and change the color to anything you want, as well as opt for one of several masking modes that are now available
It's difficult to truly understand how game-changing Lightroom Masking is until you see it. Be sure to watch my Lightroom Masking deep-dive tutorial to see it in action and understand how to use it, from the basics to creating complex combinations and intersections of multiple masks.
Feeling lost? Consider signing up for an online 1-on-1 lesson to walk through the new Lightroom Masking features together!
Merge/Replace Option for Pasting Masks
Given the new Masking functionality, some other components of Lightroom Classic also had to be updated or tweaked. One such task is copying and pasting settings from one image to another. If you attempt to paste settings into an image that has existing masks, a dialogue window will pop up asking if you want to merge any copied masks with the existing ones on the image, or replace the existing ones entirely when you paste the settings.
Note that Auto-Sync and Presets will also work in merge mode and not replace what's already on an image to which you are syncing or applying the preset.
Updating Legacy Luminance and Depth Range Masks
The first time you click on a Luminance or Depth Range mask that was created in an older version of Lightroom Classic you will be presented with a pop-up window that will prompt you to update those legacy masks to the new masking models that Lightroom Classic 11 uses. You will need to do so before you will be able to make any edits to those existing masks.
Copy/Paste for Smart Selections and Presets
Select Subject and Select Sky masks can be copied over to other images, as well, or included as part of Presets. If you copy one of these masks to a Virtual Copy, they will carry over fully without any further action needed.
If you want to copy, for instance, a Select Sky mask over to an entirely different image, you will see an Invalid State warning on the destination image and you will need to recompute the mask to update it for the image.
Without getting too far into the weeds on this one, Lightroom Classic 11 has some fairly significant updates in how certain operations are managed. This allows for more freedom to work on other tasks while an operation is running that, previously, would have "blocked" you from doing anything else. An example Adobe provides is applying a preset to a group of images in one folder or collection and then moving to a different folder or collection to change attributes such as ratings. In the past, you wouldn't have been able to move on until the Apply Preset operation completed.
Extensive Metadata Panel Updates
In addition to some under-the-hood performance improvements for displaying and updating metadata, Adobe has also redesigned things a bit, including:
• A new Active Image / All Images selector for when you have multiple images selected within the Library module and want to view or update metadata fields (keeping in mind the Active Image in that case is the one you are currently viewing while you have multiple images selected)
• You can now customize the default metadata items shown in the panel, adding or removing fields based on your individual needs (just keep in mind the more fields you opt to display the more risk there is of a negative impact on system performance)
• Much like you can rearrange your panels within the Library and Develop modules as I show in this video, you can now also rearrange the metadata fields to any order you desire
Scroll through the following slideshow for screenshots of each of the above enhancements:
Required Catalog Upgrade
As is the case with most of these major annual releases, moving to Lightroom Classic 11 requires an upgrade to your catalog. To account for the new Smart Selection mask data that's needed for rendering edits properly, a new folder named <CatalogName>.lrcat-data. This new folder is stored next to your .lrcat catalog and is also included in the catalog backup process (keeping in mind the backup process simply creates a second local copy of your catalog… it is NOT a true backup process, as outlined HERE!).
New Library Filter Option
You can now use a new Filter by Date option in the Library metadata filter, allowing you to filter images by a specific date across multiple years. Previously, you could only select a date within a single year (imagine wanting to find all your photos from September, regardless of year, or photos taken on someone's birthday over the years, etc.).
Other Miscellaneous Changes of Note
• A few more Premium Presets have been added to the ones that were previously made available
• Some fixes and improvements have been made to Tethered Capture functionality
As I stated at the top, there's a lot to unpack with this update. Masking would have been huge on its own but adding in Smart Selections as part of Masking, along with the multitasking and metadata updates, makes this the biggest single update to Lightroom Classic more or less since Local Adjustments were first added in Lightroom 2.
And yet the persistent speculation that Lightroom Classic is "going away" just won't end… but I think we've seen plenty with this update, and over the past several updates in general, that should put that to rest.
That said, one important additional note: Lightroom Masking is included in every single Lightroom app that's currently available: Lightroom Desktop (or "Cloud"), Lightroom Classic, and Lightroom Mobile. It's also available in Adobe Camera Raw. The bottom line is having Masking added to every version of the app across the Lightroom ecosystem closes a HUGE gap as, until now, only Lightroom Classic provided the ability to use color, luminance, or depth masks (the first two of which are almost mandatory for any image I work on). While Classic is still far and away my preferred Lightroom app, having Masking available in the other versions definitely opens up new possibilities for working across the ecosystem more effectively.
Regardless, there are still plenty of other gaps that remain (as outlined in my Lightroom vs. Lightroom Classic comparison video) that give me confidence that Lightroom Classic will be around for quite a long time yet.