Lightroom & MIDI (1/3) - Introduction

Editing images with Software like Lightroom typically involves changing parameters like exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, and so on for more than 90% of your work. These parameters are controlled using sliders that you have to drag with your Mouse - sliders that emulate physical controls.

Why not use such physical controls like sliders or control dials directly? Instead of using the mouse to point to virtual controls and focus on these virtual controls, why not just use a physical control and focus on the effect on the picture while changing the values instead?

Trust me - once you get accustomed to using physical controls to directly control an image's parameters instead of fiddling with these virtual slides in Lightroom you'll never want to go back. It's just way more natural and more efficient. Your workflow will benefit a lot, once you focus on the image while blindly using a physical controller to adjust the parameters until the image looks right instead of focusing your eye on the mouse pointer hovering over the slider and looking at the image afterwards to check whether the current position fits your desired result or not.

What is a MIDI controller?

A MIDI controller is a device that is typically used for music production. Each controller offers a set of various controls like buttons, control dials or faders (sliders). Movements on these controls are sent to the computer - either through specialized MIDI interface connectors, or through a standard USB connector.

There is a huge variety of different MIDI controllers available today. However not all might be suitable for image manipulation as their primary purpose is music production.

Using the free Open Source software MIDI2LR signals from any MIDI controller can be sent to Lightroom to control an image's parameters. For example turning a control dial will increase or decrease the exposure of an image.

Comparison with Palette Gear and Loupedeck

Other alternatives to using a MIDI controller that allows you to use physical controls are Palette Gear and Loupedeck. I do not want to go too much into details of these alternatives, so here is a quick overview of my personal pro and cons. Check out the manufacturer's websites to dive into more details.

MIDI Controller Palette Gear Loupedeck+
Layout + There is a vast offer of different controllers with different layouts and price categories.

- MIDI controllers are optimized for music production and you will have to find one that fits your needs best.

+ Modular controls can be freely arranged to build your own layout. + Optimized layout for lightroom.

- But you cannot change it in case your needs are different.

Customizability + Freely customizable control functions + Freely customizable control functions + Since Loupedeck+ all controls are customizable, however due to the given layout not everything might make sense.
Configuration - Cumbersome and lengthy process to setup due to high customizability and rudimentary configuration software. + High customizability requires to assign all controls, but user friendly software is available. + Very easy to setup with out-of-the-box preconfiguration.
Supports + Lightroom through MIDI2LR.

+ All applications through emulated keyboard shortcuts using the Bome MIDI Translator Pro. For example: Photoshop.

+ Other applications that support Midi controllers - well maybe less photography related applications.

+ Works with multiple applications, like Photoshop, Premiere Pro, Illustrator, Capture One and more - Limited: Lightroom and Aurora HDR
Price + Varies depending on controller. For example the very affordable and recommended Behringer X-Touch Mini: ~62 € - Varies on setup, but very pricey. Comparable controls to Behringer X-Touch Mini: 1294 € (German online shop as of March 2018). - 229 €

As you can see from the comparison above, Palette Gear seems to be the clear winner feature-wise, however once you collect a couple of additional controls it becomes very pricey. Loupedeck+ is ideal for the Lightroom user, who prefers an easy-to-use pre-configured solution at a fair price.

At first glance the MIDI Controller may not look too attractive in this comparison. Depending on the controller it can be either a cheap solution or a more expensive solution, however it always requires quite some effort: You first need to think about what controls you need, then find a suitable controller, and finally assign all the functions using a not so user-friendly software. However the reason why I wrote this article is to help you getting started with these drawbacks to get your own MIDI2LR setup running more easily.

Next week I will explain, which controls you may want to have on a MIDI controller for Lightroom, give you some criteria for selecting a suitable MIDI controller, and also present a few MIDI controllers that might work well for you.

All articles in this series:

  • Introduction (part 1/3): This article: Why you should prefer physical controls and what are the alternatives.
  • MIDI Controllers (part 2/3): Next week: Criteria for choosing a suitable MIDI Controller and some example controllers.
  • My MIDI2LR Setup (part 3/3): My configuration for the Behringer X Touch Mini including overlays.