I wrote this out the other day in answer to a question on Twitter (thank you, Twitlonger!) and since my answer was over 3000 characters I thought I’d add it in here as well.
Batch processing in Lightroom can be done in a few different ways:
1) In the Library module you can use Quick Develop to make basic adjustments to one or multiple images. It’s important to understand one difference between Quick Develop and the Develop module, which is that Quick Develop makes relative adjustments and Develop makes absolute adjustments. What does that mean? Let’s say you forgot that you had set your camera’s light meter EV reading to -1, and made a series of images that are all one stop underexposed. What you want to do is increase the exposure of each image by one stop – no matter what the exposure was for each image – rather than setting the exposure for all of the images to a value of +1 EV. To make a relative adjustment like this you would use Quick Develop.
In Contrast, if you made multiple exposures of the same scene at different exposures and you want to give them all approximately the same exposure values, you would select the images you want, go to the Develop module and go to Settings/ Match Total Exposures. For more on that, see our Match Total Exposures in Lightroom post.
In the Develop module batch processing can be performed in several different ways.
2) You can process one image the way you want it, go to the next image and click on the ‘Previous’ button (bottom of the right tab). This will set all of the Develop module sliders to the settings made for the previous image.
NB: This includes the Spot Removal tool, the Adjustment brush, etc.
Sometimes you want more finesse in what settings you want to apply to multiple images, and for that you have several choices.
3) Presets can be used to ‘capture’ a given set of slider settings and save them for future use. When creating (or updating) a preset a window will come up that allows you to choose which sliders you want to affect with this preset. It’s important to understand that when using a preset Lightroom will override any of the checked slider settings with those set in the preset, so if you have Contrast set to +20 for example and the preset has a Contrast value of 0, applying the preset will change the Contrast slider from +20 to 0. If you’re creating a preset that only affects Split Tone values for example, ensure you only check the box for Split Toning when creating the preset and your other sliders will remain as set. For more on presets, try our The Many Faces of Lightroom Presets posts.
4) If you want to copy the slider settings (all or some of them) from one image to a group of images, you can process one image (or select an image that’s been processed the way you want it) and go to Settings/ Copy Settings… then select a group of images in the bottom filmstrip and select Settings/Paste Settings. As with presets when you go to Copy Settings… a checkbox window will come up asking you which slider values you want to copy.
5) If you select more than one image in Lightroom the one that is highlighted is considered the ‘most selected’. If you process that image as you like, you can go to the bottom of the right panel and click the ‘Sync’ button and it will bring up the same checkbox window asking which of the Develop settings you want to apply to the rest of the selected images. If you hold down the Cmd/Ctrl key and click Sync (or by clicking the little button to the left of the Sync button) you can change it to AutoSync, which means that Develop settings will be applied to all selected images in real time.
Now go out and make some photographs!
P.S. When you open a new image in the Develop module LR will set the sliders to certain Default settings. If you would prefer to have different default settings you can set the sliders where you want them to be and go to Develop/Set Default Settings. This will change the default slider settings on a per camera basis – so if you use more than one camera you’ll have to set the defaults for each camera.