Win A Datacolor SpyderCube & LensCal!

Tips & Tricks

Why You Need A Tablet & How It’ll Transform Your Lightroom Workflow

By Kishore Sawh on October 8th 2014


I can’t function in clutter. I loathe clutter. I’m not necessarily OCD about it, but I learned a long time ago that it makes more sense for me to only acquire things I really really like, and/or utilize. I actually have Jennifer Love Hewitt to thank for this because as a kid, I would pretty much buy any movie she was in, which meant I ended up with a selection of utterly rubbish films.

This attitude carries over into photography, especially because it’s so easy to amass so many pieces of equipment you simply must have. Well, usually, you mustn’t, and then add to that I travel often and my gear goes with me, it becomes a necessity to only bring the necessities. After all, traveling today isn’t like it was before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Then, all you carried were your passports, a tatty picture of your betrothed, a bigger one of your mistress, and a paper map.

Now though? We have cell phones, laptops, tablets, and cameras, and I do my absolute best to avoid adding anything else to the list – but the one other piece I simply cannot do without now, is my Wacom tablet.  It is an integral part of my photography, and my system feels naked without it. It will transform how you post process in any application, including Lightroom.

[REWIND: Adobe Creative Cloud MAX – Adobe Goes Big In Milestone CC Release]


There are, at last I was told, close to 150 different editing applications that recognize and utilize Wacom touch/pressure sensitive tablets. That’s an astonishing number, and what that means, other than Wacom has the market covered, is that on almost any computer, using almost any remotely capable editing software with a Wacom tablet attached, you are able to approach retouching in a similar way.

Now, safe to say most people associate using a Wacom Tablet with Photoshop. I’ve written a few reviews on two Wacom tablets before, and among the many questions you, our extended family, have posed to me, two have stood out: “Why would I need a tablet since I do the majority of my editing in Lightroom?,” and, “Does it make more sense to buy your Preset System or a tablet for Lightroom?” [BOTH]

Clearly, there is a feeling that a tablet doesn’t serve much purpose for the Lightroom user. Over the coming weeks I’ll be sharing a few posts on Wacom tablet use, from how to set-up your tablet for Photoshop, how to do so for Lightroom, and today, allow me to explain why I think a tablet is still invaluable for all Lightroom users.

*Before I go any further, I think it prudent to mention I have no direct affiliation with Wacom, and will not even be getting an extra set of pen-nibs for my flattery.


These days, Lightroom is becoming a really dominant force in the photographic marketplace, and people are spending the bulk of their editing time in the LR Develop module. When Adobe makes an editing tool, all of us would be wise to pay attention, and personally, I feel no one pays more attention to this than Wacom. While the tablets may have begun simply as an input device that allowed a more recognizable way to navigate a GUI, the obvious applications were there for art, and by extension, photo editing.


The role of the tablet and pen is a rather obvious one: It’s an input device that lends to the computer the fluidity, and familiarity of using the pencil and paper we’ve used our whole lives. Quite basic at first, they have crawled out of their primordial ooze an entirely new beast of productivity, and Adobe and Wacom work together to make the user experience with these tablets significantly heightened. In many ways, these programs were designed with tablets in mind. You simply cannot do the same things the same way without one.

So while the association with tablets has largely been with Photoshop, Lightroom users often seem to be amiss where the tool comes into play. Frankly, Lightroom users, you can make the tablet totally integral to your Lightroom workflow. The tendency is to associate the tablets with functions that utilize pressure sensitivity and the pen motion, such as the adjustment brushes, but there’s more to it and I’ll explain.

Tools With Obvious Pen Utility

The Adjustment Brush and Spot Removal are really the 2 of the 5 primary tools in the Develop module that have the most pen utility. The Adjustment brush is essentially a mask applicator that lets you locally adjust exposure, brightness, contrast, and much more, wherever you like. When doing a portrait retouch, this becomes incredibly useful.


The beauty of applying these with the pen tablet is not only do you have the accuracy and fluid movement of a pen vs mouse, but you can control the opacity, simply by using pressure – a natural extension of what you know a pen to do on paper. You can also use the button on the pen itself to quickly adjust the size of the brush you’re using to the precise size needed. And of course we can’t forget that when using the brush you can hold the option/alt key which will turn the brush to an eraser, and you can erase with accuracy and speed.

Beyond The Adjustment Brush

Quite possibly, for many, the most utility of the tablet will not come from the ease, intuitiveness, and accuracy of the adjustment brush, but the ease and speed that Lightroom’s interface can be navigated using the pen, pen buttons, express keys, and radial menu (should your model have it).

The Express keys are simply physical keys on the tablet/pen, laid out for maximum efficiency, that can be programmed to do all manners of things. Each button can be told to function as a singular keystroke, or a group of them, and many other types of functions; from scrolling, zooming, rotating, etc. Those of you who are hell bent on having customizable buttons on your camera will fully understand how crucial this can be to efficiency. It allows you to bypass the seconds it requires to stop, move the cursor to the right menu, go through the submenus and make your choice. That time adds up quickly, and to a lot when you’re editing an entire shoot.


Knowing how you edit, you would assign the appropriate keys and tasks to the numerous buttons (ranging from 4 to 8 depending on the model and excluding the pen buttons and radial button), and skip all that wasted menu navigation time. Speaking of the Radial Menu, should you have a newer Intuos Pro, this will act as a pop-up semi-translucent pie-menu of 8 parts, and each part is essentially another Express Key.

What you’ll find with all of this, and the tablet’s ability to be used as a trackpad, now with multi-touch gesttures, is that it will become the only thing you keep in front of you when editing. I refuse to edit without one, and the beauty is you don’t need to spend a lot of dosh on the most expensive models to get the benefits. See my review of the Intuos Pen & Touch here, and it’s much bigger and expensive brother, the Intuos Pro here.

It will transform how you use Lightroom, and soon I’ll show you how I have my tablet(s) set up for LR, just as a base for you to gauge and change to your liking.

If you have any questions, as always, leave a comment below.


Kishore is, among other things, the Editor-In-Chief at SLR Lounge. 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.


Please or register to post a comment.

  1. Viktor Wågman

    Do a video on Wacom..

    | |
  2. Basit Zargar

    Nice !

    | |
  3. J D

    So much easier to use a tablet for me. I couldn’t imagine going back to using a mouse to do editing. If you are worried about a learning curve just buy it and practice on your slow time of year. It took me about 48 hours before I was completely comfortable using it.

    | |
  4. Christopher Fuller

    “a bigger one of your mistress” too funny. I plan to invest in a tablet soon. Thanks for the article.

    | |
  5. Dre Rolle

    I love my Intous5, I think it’s been the best investment I’ve made aside from my computer. It’s a lot more natural compared to using a mouse and it only took a few hours to get use to.

    | |
  6. Mircea Blanaru

    The Wacom tablets are great even if you don’t have LR installed on computer. I bought one a few years ago and I am not thinking to return to the simply mouse, not even a bit. I recommend them to all photographers!!!

    | |
  7. Gareth Roughley

    After reading your last article about the tablets I went and bought one and love it with photoshop. I’m definitely interested to see how you set yours up with Lightroom. I use VSCO keys with Lightroom which makes everything so much faster.

    | |
  8. dave birch

    bought one … wasn’t that hard to learn how to use … if I had to use one word to describe it … “overrated”

    | |
  9. Camille Wright Felton

    I’ve been using my Wacom with Lightroom for a while, probably since LR3. The express keys make things a lot faster.

    | |
  10. Leslie Troyer

    Thanks Kishore, I’ve got a pro tablet but it doesn’t get the usage it should — I look forward to seeing how to set it up to get some productivity gains…


    | |