Does the New Adobe Lightroom AUTO Feature Really Work?

As a rule, I recoil from anything described as “auto,” any promise of instant gratification and the term ‘pleasing image’, which Adobe uses in their description of their new AUTO workflow button, seems ‘snap shotty.’

Well, forget all of that because Lightroom’s new AUTO command is impressive, a feature that you can use with a high degree of confidence in many image situations.

The improved AUTO algorithm arrived in the December update for Lightroom Classic, Lightroom CC, and Adobe Camera RAW. Built on Adobe’s Artificial Intelligence platform known as ‘Sensei’, which means teacher in Japanese, AUTO will analyze your photo and compare it to the thousands of professionally edited images in its catalog, including a few of mine. The old AUTO setting had a lame ‘guess and by golly’ character that was not useful. The new AUTO command does a very credible job, and honestly, I’m a bit awe-struck.

AUTO examines your image and then adjusts the tone section of the Develop Module; exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks, as well as the Presence controls; vibrance, clarity, and saturation.

Compare to Bob’s Foolproof Workflow

After using AUTO on numerous images, I wondered how it would compare or effect other workflows such as the Lightroom Foolproof Workflow, which we teach for creating a baseline image in the Development module. So, I tested several difficult images with high dynamic range and other exposure issues with AUTO and compared them to the Foolproof Workflow adjustments as follows:

In the foolproof workflow, I set the lens profile, transform if needed, and may or may not use a bit of DeHaze for initial contrast work. I also adjusted color in the HSL panel after completing the develop adjustments to get to a baseline image, with color emphasis, but no Presence adjustments, such as vibrance and saturation, as we usually make more targeted adjustments later in our Photoshop workflow.

The new Auto Mode only makes adjustments in the Tone and the Presence Panels, and since we are comparing workflows and not panel settings, we did not make further adjustments to the Auto Mode settings.

Three examples:

Out of Camera Foolproof Workflow Auto Adjust
Out of Camera Foolproof Workflow Auto Adjust
Out of Camera Foolproof Workflow Auto Adjust


The new AUTO Command adjusts difficult images quite well with a delicate use of the Presence enhancements. It creates an even histogram, and with the catalog of professional work as a reference, it delivers an image with visual character.

The Foolproof Workflow images have more character, and a subjective interpretation as we often tighten contrast a bit with DeHaze (in landscapes anyway) and adjusting individual colors in the HSL panel adds color contrast and depth to the image. Moreover, we are making visual determinations based upon our own subjective input, not that of an algorithm.

However, I could easily recommend AUTO as a great starting point for many projects. It is quick, easy, does great work in most cases, and if I had to work on a large batch of images, say a wedding shoot, a sports assignment, or a series of event images, I would start with AUTO and modify individual images as needed.

If I were doing post-production work for landscape art, an interpretive fashion shoot, or certain types of product photography, I would use the Foolproof Workflow because this workflow allows me to engage with the image one adjustment at a time. Consequently, I get to know the image and develop a feeling for where I want to go with other workflow steps.

In summary, a workflow is a series of steps to achieve a previsualized image outcome. The Foolproof system allows me to reach a higher emotional range because I immerse myself in the process and can observe the image coming to life. Moreover, art images are not always pleasing in the classical sense of the term; they are subjective with emotional characteristics that one cannot automate.

The new AUTO algorithm is a great tool and I believe will be useful and practical for many photographers and their workflows.

About Author

Bob Killen is a nationally recognized Fine Art Photographer, Landscape Photography instructor, and artist. He is the Director of the National Park Photography Expeditions, President of the Mojave National Preserve Artists Foundation, a National Park Service Friends Group, a national speaker on landscape photography and an Adobe Certified Instructor. His thematic work explores Western Americana landscapes with a focus on man’s obsession to abandon structures, places, and things across a shared American landscape. His work is owned by collectors in 20 countries.

You may also like...

(2) Comments

  1. Ramiro Estenssoro

    The ‘foolproof’ way is the way the photographer continues to add his/her personal touch to the final product. The ‘auto’ is equivalent to sending the old film to be developed and printed, instead of using your own darkroom.

    1. Lynn

      Thanks for reading the post and your comments are appreciated. I like your analogy with the film development. Good observation!
      Thanks again for stopping by,

Comments are closed.