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Introduction to The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book

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Martin Evening provides introduction to the main features in Lightroom 3, including an example of a typical studio shoot workflow, in this chapter from his book, The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book: The Complete Guide for Photographers.

Welcome to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, an image processing and image asset management program that is designed to meet the needs of digital photographers everywhere. This book explains all the main tools that are in Lightroom and provides inspiration and advice on how to get the most out of the program. It also offers tips on how to set up your computer and how to get the best results from your digital camera files.

Lightroom was designed from the ground up to provide today’s digital photographers with the tools they need most. This is reflected in the way Lightroom separates the various tasks into individual modules, is able to process large numbers of images at once, and lets you archive and retrieve your images quickly. But before I get into too much detail, let me begin by explaining a little about the basic concept of Lightroom. Then I’ll move on to an overview of all the main features and how you might go about using them in a typical digital photography workflow.

What is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom?

Lightroom is a high-quality image processor and image database management system rolled into one, with a modern interface and fast image processing capabilities. The guiding light behind Lightroom’s development was Mark Hamburg, who had once been the chief scientist working on Adobe Photoshop. For a good many years, Mark and the rest of the Lightroom team at Adobe looked closely at how photographers worked digitally and the problems they faced when processing and managing large numbers of digital images. This is the result of that research. Lightroom is not a single, monolithic application; instead, it should be viewed as a suite of application modules that combine to provide an ideal workflow for digital photographers.

Keeping things simple

One of the early goals of the Lightroom project was to remove complexity, and right from the start, the founding principle of Lightroom has been to provide “unreasonable simplicity.” Lightroom’s tools are, therefore, designed to streamline the image management and editing process and to make the user experience as smooth and simple as possible. The program aims to provide photographers with the tools they need most and eliminates the call for complicated workarounds. For the most part, I think you will find that Lightroom has managed to do this. It does not have too many complicated preference dialogs, nor does it demand that you do anything special to optimize the program settings before you get started. For example, there are no color management settings dialogs to configure, since the color management in Lightroom is carried out automatically without requiring any user input. The Lightroom team has, on the whole, managed to achieve its aim of keeping things simple, but as the program has evolved, these principles have, to some extent, been compromised with the introduction of more options and new features.

Modular design

Lightroom was created from scratch. This allowed the engineers to build upon their experience and knowledge of how Photoshop works to produce a brand new program that is purpose-built for modern-day image processing requirements. The Lightroom program is composed of individual, self-contained modules that are built around a core that contains the advanced image processing and image database engines (Figure 1.1). Each module can be thought of as offering a unique set of functions, and in Lightroom there are five separate modules: Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print, and Web. This modular approach will make it easier in the future to add and maintain new features. For example, if at some point it is decided that Lightroom needs high dynamic range image editing capabilities, a new self-contained module might be added. From an engineering point of view, this enables Lightroom to run more efficiently because each module can have direct access to the central engines at the core of the program. If there are flaws or bugs in any particular module, these show up only in the functionality of that module and do not compromise or affect the performance of any of the other components. This adds to the overall stability of the program.

Figure 1.1 Lightroom is engineered using a modular architecture system. At the heart of Lightroom are the image processor and image database engines. Lightroom is designed so that all individual modules are able to tap into these two core components of the application. This is what gives Lightroom its speed and adaptability.

One of the reasons Adobe Photoshop rose to such prominence as an image editing application was because of the way Adobe openly encouraged third-party companies to create their own filter plug-ins for Photoshop. Lightroom continues that tradition, and the potential is there for third parties to create add-on features for Lightroom such as Export plug-ins. It is too soon to tell if this will result in lots more third-party products for Lightroom, but rest assured that as new modules are added, Lightroom will never risk becoming bloated since it is easy to turn off or remove the plug-ins and modules you don’t need (see Appendix B).

Lightroom performance

As long as the computer you are using meets the minimum requirements listed on page 8, you have all you need to get started, although Lightroom’s performance will vary according to the size of your image captures. The basic specifications shown here may be fine for 5- to 6-megapixel camera captures, but if you are shooting with an 11- to 22-megapixel camera, you will definitely want to use a modern, dual-core processor computer with a minimum of 4 GB of RAM in order to get the best performance from the program. With a well-configured computer, you’ll have the ability to quickly navigate a collection of images, apply image adjustments, and synchronize settings across a collection or folder of photos. Image catalog searches are fast, and the Lightroom interface is designed to make it easy to update the metadata and narrow your search selections. Wherever possible, Lightroom uses the cached image data to generate the previews, and as a result, you will find it takes no time at all to generate a slideshow or a Web photo gallery. Plus, when you are in the Print module, the Draft mode should take only a few seconds to generate a set of contact sheets. This is because Lightroom is able to print directly from the high-quality image previews instead of re-rendering each image from the master files.

It goes without saying that the performance speed and image quality should be of paramount importance. For Lightroom 3, the engineers have carried out a complete overhaul of the underlying Lightroom architecture and revised the way the previews are generated and managed. This is reflected in the way that the Grid view previews remain sharp when scrolling and the Library module navigation is snappier when you jump from one folder to another. Lightroom has also removed some of the bottlenecks that tended to cause the program to stutter whenever it was overloaded by such requests.

Adobe Camera Raw processing

If you are accustomed to using the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in via Bridge or Photoshop, some of the controls in Lightroom’s Develop module will already be familiar to you. This is because Lightroom shares the same Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) processing engine that was originally developed by Thomas Knoll, who with his brother, John Knoll, created the original Photoshop program. It has since evolved to become one of the best raw processing tools on the market, supporting more than 250 different proprietary raw file formats, including most notably the full range of Canon and Nikon digital SLRs. Thomas has now been joined by Zalman Stern and Eric Chan, both of whom have made significant contributions with their work on Camera Raw.

Color controls

Lightroom is intended mainly for working with raw images, but the image adjustment controls in the Develop module can also be applied to TIFF, PSD, or JPEG images that are in RGB, Grayscale, CMYK, or Lab mode (but note that Lightroom image adjustments are always carried out in RGB). The Basic and Tone Curve panels provide intuitive controls with which you can easily adjust the colors and tones in any photograph. The B&W panel offers an adaptable approach to black-and-white conversions whereby you can adjust the balance of color information that is used to create a monochrome version of a color original. As you dig deeper, you will discover that the split tone controls work nicely on color images as well as black-and-white converted pictures. With a little experimentation, you can easily produce quite dramatic cross-processed type effects. The Develop module provides further tools to optimize your photographs. The sliders in the HSL / Color / B&W panel behave exactly the way you would expect them to, so you can easily manipulate the brightness and color characteristics of targeted colors. There are also tools for spotting and applying localized adjustments. Above all, Lightroom 3 has seen a major leap forward in image quality, with the improvements made to the demosaic, sharpening, and noise reduction. These new features alone are a good enough reason for upgrading to version 3.

It is worth pointing out that all Develop adjustments in Lightroom are non-destructive and are recorded as edit instructions that are stored with the image. This means that a single raw master file can be edited in many ways and printed at different sizes without having to make lots of different pixel image versions from the original. Any image edits and ratings you make in Lightroom will also be recognized in current versions of Bridge and Photoshop. The same is true of labels and metadata. Any metadata information that is added to an image via another program will be preserved and updated in Lightroom. For example, if you add keywords and assign a colored label to an image in Bridge, these changes can be transferred to Lightroom and updated in the Lightroom catalog—although this does raise the question of which settings are correct when a single image has been modified in two separate programs. In this situation, Lightroom informs you of any conflicts and lets you decide (see the accompanying Note on updating settings in Lightroom).

The Lightroom workflow

All the modules are presented in a logical order: In the initial import stage, you bring your photos into the Library module. Then you process them in the Develop module. Finally, you export your images or output them via the Slideshow, Print, or Web module.

Managing the image library

Lightroom has been designed to offer a flexible workflow that meets the requirements of all types of photographers. When you work with Lightroom, you begin by explicitly choosing the photos you would like to add to the catalog. From this point on, the way Lightroom manages those images is actually not that much different from working with any other type of browser program. Most browser programs are like glorified versions of the Mac Finder or Windows Explorer; they are mainly useful for inspecting the contents on a computer and allowing you to see everything that is on a drive or in a specific folder. The main difference with Lightroom is that you control which images are imported into Lightroom. Images can be imported from a camera card, directly from the camera (via the Tethered Capture panel), or by copying them from an existing folder. Or, you can tell Lightroom to add photos to the catalog by importing them from the current folder location. After images have been imported into the catalog, anything you do in Lightroom (such as changing a folder name or filename, deleting a file, or moving a file) are mirrored at the system level. When deleting, you have the option to remove the file from the catalog only or move the file to the trash for permanent deletion. Working with the Folders panel in Lightroom is, therefore, not dissimilar from working with a hierarchical folder list tree view in a browser program. But in Lightroom, the list tree in the Folders panel shows only those photos that you have requested to be in the catalog and nothing else. Of course, a hierarchical folder management is fine if you know in which folders your images are stored. But when you start working with many thousands of photographs, you’ll soon find this is no longer such a practical solution. Lightroom can store all your images in a neat hierarchy of folders, but its real power as an image asset manager comes in when you use the Filter bar features to search for images in the catalog. Once you get into the habit of entering descriptive keyword information each time you import new photos, you’ll be able to search your archive more easily and more quickly when browsing for specific photographs.

Where does Photoshop fit in?

For many years now, Photoshop has pretty much dominated the pixel image editing market, constantly adapting to meet the varying demands of lots of different types of Photoshop customers, from graphic designers to illustrators to special effects artists working in the motion picture industry. Although Photoshop is a powerful image editing program with a wide range of tools to suit everyone’s requirements, it has also become increasingly complex. When the two Knoll brothers, Thomas and John, first created Photoshop, they could hardly have predicted then what Photoshop users in the future would be doing with their program, much less predict the technological demands that digital capture would make. Photoshop started out as a program for editing single images in real time (as opposed to the deferred image processing route), and the legacy of this basic Photoshop architecture has led to various compromises being made as the number of features in Photoshop have expanded.

Many Photoshop authors love to write about what they describe as “simple Photoshop techniques,” but then proceed to take up eight pages with step-by-step instructions. (Before anyone gets too upset, I confess that I have been just as guilty as anyone else when it comes to writing about Photoshop!) And then there are all those bits of contradictory advice, such as “Don’t use Convert to Grayscale when converting a color image to black and white,” or “Don’t use the Brightness and Contrast dialog to adjust the brightness and contrast.” Sometimes it is almost impossible to avoid going into such detail because to write anything less would only cause more confusion. Plus, some features, such as the Brightness and Contrast command, have been in Photoshop for so long that it would be unwise to remove them now. Lightroom is unencumbered by such legacy issues. You don’t have to follow complex workarounds to achieve optimum results, and the Develop module controls all behave exactly the way you would expect them to.

Because Lightroom was built from scratch, the engineers have designed a program that not only addresses current demands but anticipates future needs. For example, take image adjustments. Whenever you apply consecutive image adjustments in Photoshop, you progressively degrade the image. Lightroom, on the other hand, allows you to make as many adjustments and changes as you like, but it only applies them as a single adjustment at the point where you choose Edit in Photoshop or export the photo as a fixed-pixel image.

The Adobe Camera Raw plug-in that is used by both Bridge and Photoshop does provide the same level of flexibility, but only up to the point where you render a raw file as a pixel image to be edited in Photoshop. In Lightroom, the photos in the catalog are like your digital negatives. Whether they are raw files, PSDs, TIFFs, or JPEGs, these are always preserved in their original state throughout the entire Lightroom workflow. You can create slideshows, generate Web galleries, or make print outputs without ever physically altering the original files.

Integrating Lightroom with Photoshop

People often ask if Lightroom could ever become a complete replacement for Photoshop. I somehow doubt it, because Photoshop will always be a specialist tool for retouching single images, making photo composites, and other essential production tasks such as CMYK color conversions. Lightroom, however, can currently be used to perform many of the jobs that, up until now, would have been carried out in Bridge and Photoshop. Lightroom is an ideal front-end application for importing new images and building a searchable database of your master photographs. Once your photos are in Lightroom, you have all the controls you need to carry out image edit selections, group and rename photos, and make basic and advanced Develop adjustments. When you’re ready to take your photos into Photoshop, you can use the Photo Ô Edit in Adobe Photoshop command, or use the File Ô Export command to process selected images and have these automatically added to the catalog in the same folder as the master files or, if you prefer, to a separate new folder location. Personally, I prefer to keep the archives of the raw files on one drive and the Photoshop-edited derivative files on a separate drive, and I make sure all these files are regularly backed up to drives that are stored off-site.

Although you can use Photoshop to output your photos as prints, the Print module in Lightroom is perfect for all types of print jobs, from draft contact sheets to fine art printing, especially with the dedicated output print sharpener that is built into the Lightroom print processing.

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