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Tips & Tricks

‘Icons’ & ‘Solo Mode’ Optimize Lightroom Use For A Cleaner Workspace & Rapid Access

By Kishore Sawh on January 6th 2018

I have a love-hate relationship with Lightroom, and like any relationship when I think about leaving, I consider how much time/effort there is invested into it and qualify other options. Whereupon I realize there’s nothing quite like it out there yet, for me anyway. Now, not one to be complacent, I tend to go on a rampage to optimize and tweak it, so it just works in a manner more suitable to me.

I assume many of you go through the same thing, and sometimes it’s some of the simpler changes that can have the most dramatic effect, or at least prove themselves the most useful.

The Catalogue System & Behavior Makes LR Catalogue Icons A Gift

It is, without question, one of Lightroom’s strongest suits, so much so it’s evident that Capture One essentially lifted the premise from LR and implemented it in their latest incarnation. Many of us appreciate the ability to compartmentalize our shoots and so on, and I’m a type who likes to create a different catalogue for every single shoot I do. That’s just how I operate (or is ‘how I roll,’ that the kids are saying these days, perhaps?) Either way, what this often means is that I switch between catalogues often, and that means Lightroom has to do its dance of asking me if I want to switch, asking if I want to back-up, shut down, and restart in the particular catalogue. It’s a bit annoying.


Due to the switching catalogues all the time, I often forget which catalogue I last left Lightroom in, and that means many MANY times I open LR to find I’m in a catalogue I don’t want to be in, requiring the switch and time wasted. So what can we do about that?

Well, yes you can tell Lightroom which Catalogue you want it to automatically open. Within Preferences and the General Tab, select the catalogue you’d like to always open with via the Default Catalogue drop down menu. Easy, but still not good enough for me. I prefer to have easy access to either my most recent catalogues or my most used, or both, and that’s where ‘icons’ come in.

If you’re on a Mac, use Finder to locate your .lrcat files you’d like quick access to, and when you do just drag them into the dock. You’ll see something like the image below, and that now is a direct hit link to opening that catalogue. That’s just easy to do, and it’s terribly convenient. When you drag to the dock, it also doesn’t interfere with the location of the file as it stays put. If you drag it to the desktop, it will change the location.


For windows, I believe you would have to keep them in a folder or directly on desktop for quick access (Apologies I haven’t used a Windows computer in eons).

Cleaning Up the Interface For More Focused Work and Less Scrolling

I typically am editing my images on a 27 inch iMac screen. It is lovely and sizable enough that I generally don’t find myself needing a second monitor for most things. When I do I hook up my iPad using the Duet App reviewed here which helps me separate the Lightroom Library and Develop Modules so I’m not always going back and forth. That said, screen real estate is sort of equatable to weight gain and hunger. The more you have, the more you find space to fill. That is to say, we could always use more. It’s especially something to consider when you’re using a smaller Laptop screen where panels can erode your workable screen space greatly.

Of course, there’s hitting ‘Tab’ which clears your side panels. Once you do this, you can then hover over the side panel’s little arrow to expand one side temporarily, or click it to have that side stay while the other is hidden. But, there are times you need those panels there, typically while in the Develop Module.

While editing an image, we’ll often use the Basic panel, Tone Curve, HSL, Split Toning, check Details, Lens Correction, Effects, Camera Calibration, and that means a lot of scrolling and looking for what you need even on a large screen. But you can’t really ever work in more than one at once, and since LR doesn’t offer the ability to move panels around (I wish they would), you DO have to scroll. However, Lightroom offers Solo Mode for this.


When you’re not in Solo Mode, all the panels can be open at once, or whichever you choose, but you have to actively choose. When Solo Mode is selected, LR automatically closes all other options spare the precise panel/tool you’re working in. It gives you a much cleaner window, and requires much less scrolling. To enable it, simply right-click on any of the Panel/tool headers, and select it. Tough, I know…


Before – see right Develop Panel


With Solo Mode


It appears to me that Lightroom is so full of options for tailoring that many just aren’t aware of, and that’s understandable because it’s such a comprehensive program that you need dedicated study or proper instruction in it to see the whole thing. If you want to know things like this, if you want to know how to organize Lightroom, optimize it for speed, tailor it for your precise needs and best workflow, the Lightroom Workshop Collection is literally the final word on the subject. It transformed how I use LR and has saved countless headaches and hours in the process.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Otakar Seycek

    Under Windows 10 you can drag a number of different .lrcat-file-links
    into the Start menu for quick access to your different Catalogs. Find the Start menu under Program Data > Microsoft > Windows > Start
    Menu. Press the Windows-key and the new icon appears first on the top of the list of your apps. It’s opportune to pin this icon as a tile in an appropriate place in the Start menu for a really quick access.

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  2. Alex Petrenko

    Since Windows 98 there is a “Quick Launch” which works exactly as “Dock”. Or Dock works exactly as Quck Launch…

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  3. Paul Empson

    Solo mode is my default.. just so much less clutter and scrolling..

    As for accessing your cat’s quickly on a PC.. I have my LR launch icon along my Start Bar, at the base of my screen.. right click the LR icon & it opens a list of 5 recently used cat’s.. just click & open.. done..

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  4. Justin Haugen

    Solo mode frustrates me so much. It’s another obstacle between me and the desired panel I need (clicking is another step).

    Every time Adobe sends me a feedback prompt about how likely I would refer the software to others, I select 0 out of 10 and leave a comment telling them it will be a 10 if they implement palettes. Lightroom is in need of a UI shake up. It hasn’t changed a whole lot since I tried Lightroom 3.

    Imagine if your Android OS or iOS device still looked and worked like versions from 8 years ago.

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    • Bill Bentley

      In my opinion Solo Mode works well for a top to bottom workflow such as image editing. Once I’m done working in a panel I don’t need to have it open on my screen any longer. If I understand your comment correctly then once you open a pallete it would stay open until you closed it. Well, that’s the same number of mouse clicks as Solo Mode then.

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    • Justin Haugen

      I never open or close the panels on develop module. I have to be able to scroll through them quickly and access them at all times as I’m editing high volume so they are never collapsed. If I collapse a panel, I’ll have to expand it when I progress to the next image.

      This is why we need movable/customizable panels/palettes so I can see every setting simultaneously. I could utilize one of my extra monitors as a palette holder if I chose to, or I can move palettes over parts of the image and workspace however I choose. That’s how Photoshop, Indesign, Premiere, Illustrator, After Effects work.

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