Reviews

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

by Juan Pons | February 28, 2007

Wild Nature PhotographyAdobe Photoshop Lightroom is the latest entry in the Digital Asset Management (DAM) arena, released mid-February 2007. Lightroom enters an increasingly competitive field that has had some established players, such as Extensis and iView, as well as some new players like Apple’s Aperture. What makes Lightroom different is the rich legacy from which Lightroom draws its features and capabilities, in addition to its direct focus on the digital photographer’s workflow.

DAM encompasses a large number of actions, from importing, viewing, and organizing your photos to renaming, adding metadata, editing, and export. Lightroom and Aperture take DAM a step further by also providing RAW image processing, printing, and the creation of slideshows, web galleries and books. However, they do this for only one type of asset—digital images. Products like iView and Extensis Portfolio work with varying types of digital assets.

This project has brought about a number of firsts for Adobe; perhaps most important has been its open beta process. For about a year, Adobe made available a Lightroom beta version and aggressively sought feedback from thousands of photographers of all skill levels. Many of the features on the final release are directly attributable to feedback Adobe received through the beta forums. Lightroom has been specifically tailored for photographers by photographers.

The Lightroom environment is highly customizable and can be configured to be as immersive as one desires. As a user gains confidence and experience using the program, interface features can be removed from the screen, allowing you to concentrate on your images. Toggle the display of each toolbar, module and navigation aid. Or, if you wish, display nothing but the image itself.

Lightroom window

Photos in Lightroom

In Lightroom, all toolbars and controls can be hidden, letting you concentrate on your images.

Lightroom is divided into five different modules that lead the users into a well-structured and easy-to-follow workflow. These modules are: Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print, and Web.

The Library Module

When starting Lightroom one enters the Library module, an area for image importing, culling, tagging, rating, etc. Note that the program is not intended to be an image browser but a tool to catalog photos. Images first need to be imported into the program, and four importing options are provided. Lightroom allows you to import by reference or you can have it manage your files.

  • Importing by reference allows you to leave your images were they originally reside, a preference for many of us with large existing libraries of digital images.
  • Having Lightroom manage the storage of your images offers three ingestion options: move photos to a new location, copy photos to a new location, or copy photos and convert to DNG format.

Upon import, photos are placed into “folders” that indicate the folders from which the images were imported. A folders section on the left pane in this module is the actual directory structure where your images reside. You can rename and reorganize images and folders here, but keep in mind that this will be reflected in the actual directory structure. During the import process you can apply keywords as well as “Develop Settings” (discussed later). Lightroom can be configured to automatically import images from memory cards, a camera, or to “watch” a folder for images.

With photos imported into the library there are four different view options:

  • Grid View: An easy-to-view and sort thumbnail grid view of images. Sort or filter images in this view and scale the size of the thumbnails displayed.
  • Loupe View: Select one image for viewing with multiple zoom levels, from “fit to screen” to 11:1 zoom ratio, as well as 9 other steps in between. This is ideal when checking for image sharpness and dust spots.
  • Compare View: Two images on the screen at once to select one. Zoom in and sync the scrolling on both images as you check details and sharpness.
  • Survey View: A virtual light table, several images are displayed so specific ones may be selected. Drag images around and place in any order. The layout and image sizes are fixed to the maximum that will fit on the screen with the number of images selected. (The more images, the smaller the thumbnails.)

The Library module offers a plethora of ways to organize, tag, sort and filter photos. You can rate images from 0 to 5 stars, or you can flag images as a “Pick” or as a reject. You can apply color tags and keywords to an image.

You can create “Collections” of images – logical groupings applied to a series of photos. The images in these collections can span multiple folders, providing you with a non-contiguous selection of images based on your preference. There is also the capability of creating a “Quick Collection” which is a temporary grouping of images you are interested in working with, but for which you are not interested in creating a permanent collection.

Lightroom’s image library system is based upon an embedded SQL database system. Without getting too technical, this means that the tagging, keywording, rating, flagging, adding metadata and organizing information is stored using a highly efficient, fast and flexible database mechanism. This ultimately allows you to do fast searches through images and provides a handy metadata browser where you can browse for images taken with specific cameras, lenses, on specific dates, etc.

Tagging images with keywords should be a very important part of your workflow. If you don’t, you miss out on one of the key advantages of DAM systems. Lightroom provides a very flexible mechanism for keywording that includes the ability to create a hierarchy as well as some shortcuts to make the assignment of keywords faster and simpler. (As flexible as the keywording capabilities are, I would have liked to have seen Adobe provide more extensive examples of keywords.) You have the option of importing your own extensive and complex keyword trees.

In addition to the keywording tools, Lightroom provides extensive metadata capture and display, allowing for customizable metadata display templates, and has full IPTC support.

Group similar images into “Stacks” to tidy up the library display. Stacks are usually created from images that are very similar, such as a sequence of images shot at high speed of the same subject. When creating stacks you can choose which image appears at the top to aid in the identification of the stack.

Image stack in Lightroom

By looking at the indicator on the upper left of this thumbnail you can see that this stack contains 11 images.

Create virtual copies of images in the Library module. These are different versions of a photo, such as a black and white version of a color capture. There is no limit to the number of virtual copies an image may have, and best of all, they are not separate copies of your photo – they are merely references to the original file with a set of adjustments applied.

The “Quick Develop” panel allows basic image adjustments. While you are culling and selecting your images, you may wish to do some minor adjustments to properly evaluate each to become a “select” image. More potent image adjustments are available in the subsequent “Development” module.

Both Library and Develop modules provide a command for exporting your images for use outside of Lightroom. The process has a series of settings that can be customized and saved as presets for quick reuse, such as file location, renaming, file type and compression options, color space, resolution, dimensions, and watermarks. There are also post-processing options that include burning to disk, opening in an external editor, or applying an external action to an image.

Three versions of one image in Lightroom

Three different versions of the same image.

The Develop Module

Image adjustments such as white balance, curves adjustments, highlight recovery, sharpening, and more are accomplished in the Develop module. Adobe has extended their usual repertoire of image adjustment features by making them photography specific.

On the left side panel of the Develop module you are provided with a few options: Presets, Snapshots and History.

The left panel of the Develop module displays Presets, Snapshots and adjustment History.

Presets

In the presets section are the presets adjustments that come packaged with Lightroom, e.g., standard and well-known effects such as sepia-tone and grey scale conversion. The most exciting aspect of the presets is that you can create your own and easily apply them to images. You can also install presets made by others and share the ones you have created. (At the end of this article is a link to a website that has emerged as a trading post for these and other extensions to Lightroom.)

History and Snapshots

As the name implies, History provides a list of all adjustments that have been made to an image. Changes can be rolled back by simply selecting one of the states on the history list. Keep in mind, however, that you cannot reorganize states in the history panel.

You can create “snapshots” of any history state by simply clicking on the “+” sign next to the Snapshots title. This will save the history state(s) selected as one entry in the Snapshots panel. This is useful when experimenting with different and creative adjustments to an image.

Near the bottom of the screen, above the strip of images in your current selection, you will find the “toolbar.” This toolbar provides a small selection of tools to adjust your images. These include Before and After View, Cropping, Red-eye correction, and Remove Spots.

Before and After View

The Develop module provides the capability of a split window where an image can be viewed before and after a particular adjustment is made, either side by side or in a split view of the image – one half being the “before” while the other half the”after.” You can swap which side is “before” and which is “after.”

Before and after view image split in Lightroom

Split view of the “before / after” view. You can also split the image horizontally.

Cropping

The cropping capabilities in the Develop module are simple, straightforward and effective. Cropping offers a grid following the “rule of thirds,” and the image can be straightened while cropping by either entering in degrees in a dialog or more intuitively by using a ruler. A series of aspect ratios are available to use when cropping, and if the presets aren’t adequate you can easily add your own.

Red Eye

A basic Red Eye correction tool is provided that should satisfy most people’s needs. Very straightforward use of this tool also includes the ability to set the size of the pupil and the degree of darkness that should be applied to the pupil.

Remove Spots

The “Remove Spots” tool is a combination of the Clone and Heal tools as found in Photoshop. While its operation is a bit different than with their Photoshop counterparts, they are effective and easy to use. One can adjust the size of the “spot” as well as select what part of the image to clone.

Heal/clone interface

The heal/clone interface. The pink circle indicates the area being patched and the white circle indicates the area being sampled.

On the right hand side of the develop screen you will find the image adjustment tools and options of Lightroom. There is a wide scope of adjustments that can be made; here are just a few of the most exciting and often used features.

Print module

A view of the Print module using the “4 Wide” preset.

Some of the options included are overlays or watermarks, simple stroke borders, crop marks, page numbers, and the inclusion of metadata. Additionally, the Print module will adjust the print resolution and print sharpening based on your settings as the file is being spooled to print. For images that do not need highly-specific sharpening, the options offered by the Print module are more than sufficient, to the point where I am no longer creating TIFF files for each print size that I print to – I just let Lightroom take care of it.

Image settings

The Web Module

The Web module offers a few templates to choose from, ten of these Flash-based, seven are HTML. It may sound significant, but unfortunately it is not. The Flash templates are the same layout, where the only difference seems to be color schemes. It is a similar situation for the HTML templates.

The right panel in this module gives you options for customizing these templates to a certain extent. You can change the color scheme, add a custom graphic, and customize image compression settings, but not much else. For exporting, the only option provided is save to a folder.

Just as with the Slideshow module, this module is somewhat disappointing. I hope Adobe will expand this module considerably.

Extensibility

The capabilities of Lightroom were integrated into the program in a modular fashion. Adobe has indicated that this was done in an attempt to avoid pitfalls inherent in large, monolithic applications. Modules will allow Adobe engineers to update Lightroom much more frequently, possibly updating modules independently. It also opens up the possibility of third-party modules, something already discussed in Lightroom forums, and we should look forward to the day Adobe makes the module programming documentation available. You just never know what brilliant third party modules may be developed.

If this introduction to Lightroom has intrigued you, you can go to Adobe’s website and download a 30-day trial. Adobe is also running a special introductory price of $199 US (regular $299 US) through April 30, 2007.

For more information and video tutorials visit the following links:

About the Author

As a nature and wildlife photographer, Juan Pons is a strong supporter of wildlife and natural habitat conservation. Based in North Carolina, he never ceases to be amazed by the natural subjects he photographs and hopes that sharing his photographs and knowledge will inspire others to appreciate and respect natural life. You can find more about Juan and his work at www.wildnaturephoto.com.

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