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An Introduction to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

When Adobe first introduced Lightroom back in 2007 it was primarily designed for professional photographers. Lightroom takes advantage of the raw file format and allows the user to interpret what the final output should be. At the time, only professional cameras gave the user the ability to output in an uncompressed raw format. Even today, most people do not understand what the raw file format is, so let’s take a minute to explain. If you’re like most casual photographers your camera is set to distribute a JPEG file as a finished photo. This is actually a compressed version of your cameras original file format. Your camera does not actually take a JPEG image it uses a proprietary file format to capture the image and then compresses it to a final JPEG. Each camera manufacturer has their own file format. Nikon uses .NEF, Canon uses .CRW or.CR2, Sony also uses a couple of file formats one being SRF. Some manufacturers use a more generic uncompressed format called .TIF. No matter what file format your camera uses if your camera is set up to take JPEG pictures that will be its final output. Adobe devised a way to convert all of the different file formats into a generic uncompressed .RAW file format giving you the ability to in a sense “develop” your own final output. Today even some of the least expensive point-and-shoot digital cameras offer the users the ability to export in a raw file format whether it be TIF or the native file extension.

The ability to adjust in the camera raw format first appeared in Photoshop 7 as a $99 plug-in called Adobe Camera Raw back in February of 2003. Camera raw was a great plug-in and gave photographers a fast and easy way to finalize their photos however importing photos into Photoshop was still very cumbersome. Each photo needed to be imported and can only be worked on one at a time. To solve this issue Adobe introduced the Bridge in the CS2 version of the Adobe suite of software products. The primary purpose of the Bridge was to organize not only photos but other files so they could be connected together through all of the Adobe products. The Bridge was a great addition has it allowed users to access files through an Adobe product faster than searching through the file find interface like Windows Explorer. Bridge also offered some basic tools to prioritize and organize photos.

Lightroom combines the bridge and the camera raw plug-in for Photoshop as well as other photo editing features which creates a streamlined workflow style package. Lightroom allows users to easily import and organize photos with far more ease and with more options than using Bridge. Another unique feature of Lightroom is that it does not change the original photo at all. Users import their photos into Lightroom’s library. Once the photos have been put into Lightroom they can be changed several times without destroying the original copy. This is a huge advantage over Photoshop. Photoshop is a complete editing tool and once changes are made to the original file and saved there is no going back. Lightroom works completely different. Once the files have been imported into the library, thumbnails are generated and used as if it were the real photo. Changes to the photo are stored as metadata attached to the photo explaining how the photo should be displayed. The original metadata is not corrupted and with a click of the reset button in Lightroom can restore the photo to its original appearance. Because you are working with what is essentially a low-resolution copy of your photo, Lightroom is much faster and far less taxing on your computer’s processor. Because you’re working with the raw file format adjustments are made directly to the metadata that actually makes up the photo so finer adjustments in highlights, shadows, and noise reduction are at such a level, that they are far more precise which results in a better exported image. Another advantage that Lightroom has over Photoshop is working with multiple photos at one time. This is a huge timesaver if you have multiple photographs. Let’s say for example, that you took 150 photos and you did not notice that you had your white balance set incorrectly. You import all of your photos into Lightroom and noticed that all 150 photos need to be color corrected. Batch processing would be as simple as correcting the first photo, selecting the 149 behind it, and pressing one button labeled sync. Again, this can be done in Photoshop but not this quickly and easily. This article is not intended to go over every feature of Lightroom and explain how it works but I want readers to understand that Lightroom is designed for photographers who want to quickly and easily process photos and export them for use in a variety of ways.

Lightroom Library Module (click to enlarge)

Lightroom Library Module (click to enlarge)

The top bar contains the Modules (click to enlarge)

The top bar contains the Modules (click to enlarge)

Working With Photos
Without getting too technical and over explaining how to operate Lightroom, a quick overview of the interface will explain how Lightroom is organized. At the top right-hand corner are the modules. These access different parts of Lightroom but the main ones you will be working with is the library module, and the develop module. There are seven modules in total; library, develop, map, book, slideshow, print, and web. You may notice that the modules follow in order or “workflow” as we go from importing into the library and exporting to slideshow, a photo book, print or web.

Right side panel, Develop module (click to enlarge)

You import your photos into Lightroom to the library module. It’s very straightforward, and works on the same principle as moving files around the computer. Once your photos are imported, you will see them represented has thumbnails on the bottom of the screen. This is what you use to select the photos that you’re working on. I think you’ll agree, it is very beneficial to be able to see all of the photos that you will be working with without having to go into another screen, then select the file, and import it. On the right-hand side of the screen is a panel that displays the folders as they would appear in a more traditional computer-based file explorer. You can easily open and close files in the left panel and see them displayed on the bottom filmstrip. Once your photos are imported it’s time to move to the develop module. This is where all the adjustments are made.

Over on the right panel you will see numerous categories related to specific adjustments. It is in this area where you can adjust your exposure, highlights and shadows, contrast as well as noise reduction and

Basic Controls, Develop module

sharpening. Unlike Photoshop there are no layers in Lightroom, you are strictly working with one photo, making the adjustments, and moving to the next one. There’s also a set of tools available for local adjustments, cropping, spot removal, and redeye removal. Adjustments can be made to one photo and then applied to other photos in the filmstrip. The display in the center of the screen is your work area. There are some useful features in Lightroom for the work area as well, one of which is comparing two photos side-by-side. As I mentioned before it is not my intent to teach you how to use Lightroom, but to understand its cohesiveness, power, and ease-of-use.

Final Output
Once you have made adjustments to your raw files and are happy with the results it’s time to export. Lightroom offers users the ability to export finished photos in a multiple of ways. Free plug-ins available at the Adobe Exchange on the Adobe website allow exporting your raw files as JPEG’s or any other file type of your choice directly to social sites like Facebook, and photo sharing sites like Flickr. You can export to folders on your hard drive or have them automatically uploaded to a site that can print your photos on everything from standard photo paper to coffee cups or make canvas prints. If your goal is to print out your own photos the newest version of Lightroom, Lightroom 4, also has a new proofing view that allows the user to see what the final print will look like based on paper type and printer model.

Is Lightroom For You?
This is such a brief overview of what Lightroom is, you may be wondering if Lightroom is for you. If you’re new to post processing digital photographs, Lightroom is much easier to understand than other full editing suites like Photoshop. Remember, this program is designed for photographers so it’s structure and workflow is much easier to use and less complicated than something made for designers. If you’re not used to capturing your photos in anything other than a JPEG format that can be somewhat intimidating to you. Look over your cameras instructional manual to see what other file formats you can store on your media card. One of the downsides of working with raw files is that they are much larger than your typical JPEG. If your camera only exports JPEG’s or you are more comfortable working in that file format you can still use Lightroom. Although Lightroom was primarily designed to work has a way of “developing” your photos, JPEG’s do work well with Lightroom.

Full Screen Develop module (click to enlarge)

Does Lightroom Replace Photoshop?

When I talk to people who are unfamiliar with Lightroom they often ask “does it replace Photoshop”. The answer is no but it depends on what you need done. In some instances the answer maybe yes. Photoshop, with the camera raw plug-in and using bridge as and import interface, can do almost everything Lightroom does however Lightroom is far more simpler and easier. I like to explain it this way. Pretend you went to IKEA and bought a small table. You get the table home, and you need to build it. You look at the instructions and they say you will need a screwdriver, a half inch wrench, a hammer, and the pair of pliers. Not having any tools of your own, you ask your neighbor if you can borrow some of his. He tells you it’s okay and that all the tools are located in a large chest in his garage. When you get to his toolset you realize he has over 4000 different tools and you have no idea where to find the simple items you need to build your table, that is what Photoshop is to Lightroom. Lightroom excels in its simplicity, ease-of-use and end result. There are just so many tools in the toolbox with Photoshop that it can be overwhelming, and cumbersome. My workflow often includes Photoshop, but I always start in Lightroom.

How Much Does It Cost, and Where Can I Get It?
Lightroom is a lot less expensive than Photoshop. Adobe currently has Lightroom 4 listed on their website for $149. This is actually a price drop compared to version 3 which sold for $199. Upgrades which used to cost $99 are now listed at $79. Lightroom typically cannot be found in standard big-box stores but can be found on major online sellers like Amazon. If you wish to simply try Lightroom and see if you like it, you can download a free 30 day trial from the Adobe website.


One Response

  1. The thing I like most about Lightroom is the ability to click on the name of the slider and have it return to its original position. Makes not having to remember numbers nice.

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