Review: Adobe Lightroom

Review: Adobe Lightroom August 5, 2015

I mentioned last week that I’m getting back into photography, and that I’d picked up a copy of Adobe Lightroom. And I have to say, Lightroom rocks.

Palm Trees Under Glass
Palm Trees Under Glass

Once upon a time it was the case that Photoshop was the tool of choice for professional finishing of digital photographs. It was simply what you used if you could afford the “Photoshop tax”, because it had all the tools you needed. You could crop images, fix (some) exposure issues, adjust the perspective, dodge and burn, change the degree of saturation, and many other things you could do in the analog process by your choice of camera, film, optical filters, and darkroom techniques.

But photographers were not the only users of Photoshop; the designers got a hold of it, and over time it became more an application for creating and modifying images in general, for using digital photos as part of a larger process and for creating images out of whole cloth, for fixing the defects of nature rather than holding up a mirror to it. I don’t mean to look down on designers here; but the point is that Photoshop has gotten increasing complex and powerful over the years. It’s still possible for a photographer to use it to finish photographs, but quite often it’s overkill: everything is possible, but the usual operations are more difficult than a photographer (especially a casual photographer) might like.

Enter Lightroom, which is aimed directly at the working photographer. It’s an all-in-one solution.

First, it imports my images from the camera to my preferred directory structure on the disk. I do not trust applications like iPhoto that want to pull my images into their own directory structures. I’ve used many different applications over the years to manage my images; I want a storage system that will outlast any given tool.

Second, if I shoot “raw” images (something I’m experimenting with) it does the raw conversion for me transparently.

Third, it helps me to catalog all of my photos, doing face detection and tracking other metadata painlessly.

Fourth, it helps me to find images and to browse my archive. It’s by far the most pleasant tool I’ve used to do this; its predecessor in my toolkit was Adobe Bridge 4, which Lightroom resembles in some ways, but Lightroom is speedier and easier and more streamlined, without sacrificing power or flexibility.

Fifth, and this has been the best discovery, it helps me to make the most out of my photos. With Adobe Bridge, you had to jump to Photoshop or Photoshop Elements to “develop” your pictures. Loading the image into the external editor was automatic but dreadfully slow; and then you had a Photoshop file to manage. With Lightroom you just go to the Develop tab, and start working.

The tools on the Develop tab are mostly oriented towards working with the entire image rather than pixel editing: e.g., exposure correction, color adjustment, perspective corrections, cropping, de-hazing, sharpening, noise reduction, and cropping. There are a few tools aimed at editing small portions, such as red-eye removal and spot healing, but that’s about it. And these are the tools I actually need. I purchased a Photography subscription to Adobe’s “Creative Cloud”, which gives me access to Lightroom and Photoshop; so far, I haven’t run into anything I wanted to do that requires Photoshop. I haven’t even started it up.

Better still is the way in which Lightroom modifies your image files, which (except for saving metadata) is not at all. Lightroom never touches your pixels. Instead, the changes you make are saved as a list of things to be done when you view the image; the original image is untouched. Then, when you export the image in some way (as an image file, or to the printer) Lightroom applies the set of changes in the optimal order, yielding a new image with minimal degradation. Further, you can create virtual copies of any image, and develop each in a different way.

All of this makes Lightroom extremely forgiving. I had always found image editing stressful; I was afraid of making mistakes and losing my original, or of doing a lot of work and then screwing it up. The upshot was that I rarely made the effort to pull the best out of an image because it was no fun.

With Lightroom, on the other hand, I’ve been having great fun. Highly recommended.

Incidentally, here’s the unmodified original shot that resulted in the image above. I’d never have attempted this sort of thing without Lightroom.

This is what the camera originally saw, straight out of the raw converter.
This is what the camera originally saw, straight out of the raw converter. The picture up above is what I saw on the side of the building and wanted to capture.

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photo credit: William H. Duquette. All rights reserved.


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