Equipment

Control Adobe Lightroom with Physical Buttons & Knobs

Two years ago, while editing thousands of photos from a previous trip, I was tired of moving all those Lightroom adjustment sliders with my mouse. I wished there would be a more intuitive and haptic way of doing these kinds of basic edits. Therefore, I decided to do a little bit of research and googling to find out some new ways of interacting with Lightroom. 

I quickly spotted a few professional and commercially available solutions for using physical buttons and knobs for controlling all those adjustment sliders. These solutions looked perfect and exactly what I wanted. However, the price point wasn’t appealing to me ;-). I couldn’t justify spending a few hundred euros for such a solution. 

I continued looking for DIY alternatives, and I found an awesome open-source project from rsjaffe called MIDI2LR. This awesome piece of software translates between standard MIDI inputs and Adobe Lightroom.

Now, after some time using this solution, I would like to talk about my way of using it and some of my experiences.

Required Soft- & Hardware

Adobe Lightroom (Classic)

MIDI2LR by rsjaffe

MIDI Hardware Controller

I am using the X-Touch Mini from Behringer. It is a small and compact MIDI controllor featuring 8 knobs and 16 buttons. This controller has a nice ratio between buttons and knobs in my opinion. Besides that, for a price point of around 40 euros you really can’t do anything wrong 😉

If you would like to use a different MIDI controller, there is a compatibility list available in the github wiki of the MIDI2LR project.

My X-Touch Mini from Behringer

Configuration & Profile Creation

After installing MIDI2LR – following the official instructions – you can proceed with the configuration of the so called profiles. These profiles are translating between the incoming midi commands (buttons / knobs) and actions within Lightroom. For example, turning the first knob will control the exposure of the image.

Since the software itself is hardware agnostic, there aren’t any profiles preconfigured. So when you start Adobe Lightroom with MIDI2LR for the first time, the software will look like this.

First MIDI2LR Start

Now to assign a button or a knob to a certain function in Adobe Lightroom, just press or turn it and it should appear in the MIDI2LR interface. You can then click and assign a certain action, which should be performed. Now, you have to repeat this step for each and every knob.

The programming itself is super easy. However, finding the right layout for your needs is much harder and will take some time. Therefore I will present you my configuration in the following.

Special Note for X-Touch Mini users: The X-Touch Mini has two different, completely independent, layers. You can switch these layers by using the Layer A / Layer B button on the lower right side of the controller. After switching the layer and pressing it again, it will appear asa a separate action in MIDI2LR.

My Configuration

Hereafter I will explain my approach on how to configure the X-Touch as well as my ideas behind this particular configuration.

The Knobs

The configuration for the knobs is pretty straightforward. On layer A knobs 1 to 8 are assigned to all the basic editing options. Exposure, Light, Shadow, White, Black, Clarity and Dehaze. Knob 8 is assigned to rotate. This enables me to quickly straighten an image without using the mouse and going into the crop tool.

The knobs on layer B are assigned to basic white balance / color options. Temperature, Tint, Dynamic, Saturation and Vignette. For white balance correction I also assigned two buttons to quickly switch to Auto WB and Reset WB.

With these 8 knobs on layer A and B I am able to perform all of my basic editing steps. 

Using the mouse or keyboard is only required for cropping or further editing like color correction or profile corrections.

Image Review

The first three buttons in each row (layer A) are designed to quickly review my footage. 

With these six buttons I can switch between images, go to the Library module, reject, accept or unflag my images.

The Next / Prev buttons are assigned to layer A and layer B to always allow switching images.

Convenience Functionality

The rest of the buttons (layer A) are assigned to various functions I use regularly. 

In particular I assigned copy and pasting develop settings, zooming in and out, adding a photo to my collection, activating the lens correction, creating a virtual copy, switch to black & white and undo the last action.

These buttons are helping me speeding up my workflow while avoiding that I am forced to use my mouse or keyboard again.

Presets

The first six buttons in the bottom row (layer B) are assigned to my 6 most used presets. In the future I might change this to quickly select color profiles.

Tipps & Tricks

If you would like to use my profile you can use the following link to download it. Just copy the content and save it as an .xml file. Afterwards you can load it in MIDI2LR.

Creating your own profile: For me it was very helpful to sketch all the functionalities on paper before going into MIDI2LR. Especially in the beginning you can get lost within the tool pretty fast. So take some time and sketch out what you would like to achieve.

Labelling: Especially in the beginning the labels were a real game changer. So I would definitely recommend you to label your functions. If you don’t use your controller on a daily basis you will forget the button assignment pretty quick. The controller should speed up your process and don’t slow you down.

For the labelling itself I used a labelling device from Dymo which you can easily connect to your computer or Mac via USB. I used the white 9mm labels.

Constant Change: My configuration of this device is in constant change. Every time I am using it I try to improve it a little. So don’t be afraid of removing and relabelling certain buttons or knobs. The major benefit of this solution is the flexibility. You can adjust it exactly to your needs, so use this opportunity. 

I hope this article gives you some ideas on how to speed up your own workflow with a MIDI controller as well as how to configure e.g. the X-Touch Mini from Behringer.

Enjoy!