Lightroom Shortcut to Open Files as Layers

There are lots of photographs I make that incorporate elements from multiple different frames. I might shoot a portrait and take the eyes from one shot and replace closed eyes in another. Or maybe I’ll shoot a landscape and clone the tree from one exposure into another frame. Every once in a while, though, I shoot something with the knowledge that I’m going to composite several images—like six, eight or 10 or more exposures—to create the final shot. For me that typically comes when I’m shooting architectural interiors, where I use just a light or two to illuminate specific elements in the scene, and then composite together those different frames to create an image that appears to have been lit by several light sources. It can be a time-saver during the shoot, because you can work quickly with a single source and simply reposition it for each new exposure, without worrying about hiding it completely from the frame. The only problem is, it takes more post-processing time.

The way many photographers handle the compositing process is to open an image in Photoshop, select the whole image, copy it and paste it onto the master frame as a new layer. This is no big deal if you’ve just got an image or two to combine, but when you’ve got a bunch of files you need to stack together, it can be a tedious process. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just select the files you want to open and click the mouse once to open them all together? Yes, it is great. And it’s possible with Lightroom.

To open multiple files as individual layers in a single Photoshop document, select the images you would like to open by control-clicking on them in Lightroom. You can do this easily in the Grid View of Lightroom’s Library module, but it can also be done from the Filmstrip view in the Develop module. Either way, control-click to select multiple files, then use your mouse to navigate to the Photo menu at the top of the screen, then look under the heading “Edit In” and choose the last option on the list: “Open as Layers in Photoshop.” Lightroom will then take the raw files (or, frankly, any type of files that work with Lightroom) and open them as individual layers in a Photoshop document. After a bit of processing, Photoshop will reveal the new document with each image happily occupying its own layer.

I then go through and by right-clicking on the eye icon adjacent to each layer in the layers palette I hide the view of all but one layer, then one by one I click the eye icon next to each layer in order to see what’s on the layer before using a layer mask to paint away the parts of the frame I don’t want and leaving only the part that I do. Sometimes I even take the time to double-click the layer name in the layers palette to give it a descriptive new name.

How you proceed to composite the images from there is entirely up to you. After all, this tip is just about the time-saver of opening all those files and layering them together with a single click. Any time you find yourself in need of it, you’ll love using this Lightroom shortcut. It’s not glamorous, but what a supremely convenient timesaver.   

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