I have used Adobe Lightroom $299, currently $199, for a month or so now and I can say without any hesitation that whilst I am some way (OK a long way) from becoming an expert I totally love this application, and what it has done for my photography.
Before I give you my views here is what Adobe have to say:
Perform nondestructive editing
Enjoy robust support for more than 150 camera raw formats, and experiment with confidence. Adjustments you make to images in Lightroom won’t alter the original data, whether you’re working on a JPEG, TIFF, DNG, or camera raw file.
Enjoy an elegant, uncluttered interface
Ease the learning curve and be productive quickly. Task-oriented modules whisk you through typical workflow tasks by putting just the tools you need at your fingertips.
Professional editing tools
Fine-tune your photographs with precise, easy-to-use tools for globally correcting white balance, exposure, tone curves, lens distortion, and color casts.
Why Lightroom for me?
It took me an age to determine what I wanted from my first DSLR, and which body and lens I wanted. If I thought that took an age, then it seems to have taken an eternity to try and achieve any kind of sensible workflow and I honestly think that if it wasn’t for Lightroom I would slowly have gone mad by now.
That is the first thing you need to understand and accept about Lightroom – it is all about supporting your workflow.
Comprising of five sections; Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web which map you workflow process I found the Library and Develop functions by far the most useful.
I think it is true to say that this function is the one that made the “light go on” for me in terms of understanding, creating and managing a workflow, but it also encouraged me to be more adventurous with my photography.
The library is where it all starts. You import your pictures here either directly from your camera or from a folder on your computer. I always copy all of the pictures from my camera to the Mac before importing them to the library.
On the left hand side of the screen are a number of options; Navigator which allows you to zoom in and move around on the picture you are viewing, Library information, a Find function, your Folders and Collections (which I found very limited as it would benefit from allowing multiple Collections via keywording), Keyword Tags, and your Metadata Browser which has information on your lens, camera, creator, date, file type and location – an amazing array of useful information.
The right hand column has the Histogram, Quick Develop which has presets, exposure and vibrance options, Keywording which allows you to easily and effectively manage the use of keywords on your pictures, Metadata which allows you to add file name, title, caption, copyright information etc.
At the bottom are options to Sync Settings or Sync Metadata which are great ways of copying and pasting data onto multiple pictures in the filmstrip.
Running along the bottom of the screen is the Filmstrip, with enough viewing options to keep everybody happy.
Fundamentally the Library is where you sieve through the pictures to determine which you want to take to the development stage. This is probably best described with an example of how I use it.
I am setting up a site for a friends restaurant and one area we are working on involves pictures, lots of pictures. The other day I shot about 100 (and ended up using only 19) which is part down to the power of the DSLR in terms of different settings, but largely down to the ease of managing them all in Lightroom. First thing I did was to import them all and keyword them with the project name. I then went through and batch keyworded them into the 3 groups we are using (photo, food, restaurant). I then selected just one group at a time and did a quick pass through to delete the ones that I knew could be discarded. I then added another layer of keywording with such things as ‘showclient’ ‘personalfavorite’ etc. At this stage I did some adjustments which is perfectly safe as Lightroom is all about nondestructive editing which means that anything you do wont damage the original. At this stage I exported a few original photographs and also exported a few copies of the original that I had adjusted for comparison.
I was then able to show the restaurant owners the pictures I had selected along with some suggestions as to how they could be adjusted in the Develop function.
As the name suggests the Develop mode is where you can make significant changes to your pictures via a myriad of options.
Ranging from exposure adjustment to color hue and lens correction options. Once you move your photo into this module, you are presented with a histogram of the photo, and the correction options on the right side of the screen, and on the left you have a very handy feature called history.
As I said I am not familiar with Photoshop but when I was talking to Mac about this he said, “If you are familiar with Photoshop, you will immediately recognize the history feature. It tracks the changes you make to the photo. Anything you do with the settings on the right hand it is reflected on the left. The history is a little different than the feature found in Photoshop. If you want to undo the change, you simply navigate to the change immediately prior to the one you want to undo. Unlike Photoshop history you cannot remove an action from the middle of the stack. So if you select an action in the middle, Lightroom will undo every action above the selected action.” Until I get Photoshop I will, without hesitation, take his word on this.
On the left panel you will also find a few preset adjustments. Quick settings to turn your picture into black and white, or apply a sepia tone. After they are applied you can fine tune the photo further with the settings on the right panel.
At the bottom of the screen you will also find a small tool bar with common tasks for cropping, red eye removal, spot healing, Loupe view, ranking etc. They all perform their actions well, but the crop tool is particularly different from the other crop tools I have used. It allows for selections of common sized print paper 4×6, 5×7, 8×11 etc. When selected it overlays a light film on your photo, from which you cut out the portion you want. The novel thing is that when adjusting the crop window you actually move the picture underneath and not the cropped part. The cropped part stays on the same spot, and shows a 3×3 grid which helps you to position your cropped area following the rule of 3. When you are satisfied with the positioning of the photo, click the crop icon again. There is also a before and after view, which is especially handy for comparing effects to the original photo.
Mac also had this to say with respect to a comparison with Aperture: “The loupe tool behaves somewhat differently than the one found in Apple Aperture product. Personally I like the Apple way of doing this. Adobe Lightroom loupe view is not as refined and not as functional as the Aperture version. The tool bar is configurable in a way that you can hide particular tools that are not used. If you don’t care much about the star rating system, it can be easily hidden.”
The right side, as mentioned above, allows for very detailed photo adjustments. The sharpening tool particularly, works very well in conjunction with noise reduction. After applying these settings the photos come out sharp, and not softened like some other noise reduction tools. The best part of all the settings must be the tone curve which makes adjusting the highlights, lights, shadows, and blacks so much easier than having to work with just sliders. To make it even easier, there is a little icon on the top of the tone curve panel, which when clicked will allow for the changes to be made right on the photo. When moved around on the photo, the curve will show you what part of it you will be adjusting. So if you want to adjust part of the photo to make it lighter or darker, just move the cursor over the area, and it will show you on the tone curve what you will be changing. I think this really makes adjusting your photos a lot more fun and a lot less technical. It was the single most impressive part of the develop section in my view.
As with all the modules in Lightroom, the side panels can be hidden away, to give you an unobstructed view of your work.
Mac and I seem to agree on the set up here as we have the left side hidden completely and set for manual pop out. Rather than see the history panel all the time this makes it visible only when needed. Also the top menu, the bottom tool bar and module selections are hidden away. This gives a very large view of the photo that you are working on.
Develop section in Adobe Lightroom give you unprecedented conrol over all the adjustments you want to make to your photos. It makes a mundane task of adjusting your photos a lot more fun and exciting. Also given the build in support for plugins, you can expect a lot more functionality to this and other modules of Adobe Lightroom in the near future.
Slideshow, Print and Web
Personally I don’t use these features very much at all. They work, they work well and they link very intuitively with the rest of Lightroom as you would expect. Rather than repeat here what has already been said I suggest you take a look at this review for more details on these features.
How Lightroom works with Photoshop
I do not have a copy of Photoshop, but Lightroom has made me want one more than ever:
“Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is the perfect complement to Adobe Photoshop. Use Lightroom to import, manage, adjust, and present large volumes of digital photographs, and use Photoshop to more thoroughly refine individual images.
Together, Photoshop Lightroom and Photoshop work the way the digital photographer works, letting you efficiently and seamlessly process all of your digital images. The picture is complete.”
Workflow between Lightroom and Photoshop
Import and manage photo shoots
Download images from your camera to your computer. In Lightroom, automatically rename files, organize folders, and add metadata to photos as you import them. Organize photos into collections to browse, evaluate, and compare images.
Develop entire photo shoots and perfect a single photo
In Lightroom, make global adjustments to groups of photos, including altering white balance, exposure, tone curves, and color casts. Open individual photos in Photoshop for precise image refinement. Changes made in Photoshop are reflected in Lightroom, and vice versa.
Present your photos in any format
In Lightroom, assemble and output high-quality printed contact sheets and generate sophisticated online web galleries and slide shows for client presentation.
Additional Sources of Information
Your Mac Life carried a great interview with Adobe Product Manager Tom Hogarty about the application, why you should use it and how it works.
O’Reilly Digital Media have a great post on Inside Lightroom
For those of you already using Bridge this Lightroom v Bridge FAQ PDF is interesting.
Ad finally, thanks again to Mac for taking the time to discuss this with me and to share his thoughts with me.