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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Scott Kelby on Adobe’s New Lightroom and the Future of the Digital Workflow

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On the eve of the release of Scott Kelby's new Lightroom book, The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Book for Digital Photographers from New Riders, Dave Cross got a few moments to sit down with Scott to talk about Lightroom, how it relates to Photoshop, and how it will impact today's digital photographers. It's a very candid interview, where Scott gives some surprising insights about Lightroom, the development of his Lightroom book, and the reaction to the launch of his new magazine for Lightroom users, called "Darkroom."

Scott Kelby on Adobe’s New Lightroom and the Future of the Digital Workflow

By Dave Cross

On the eve of the release of Scott Kelby’s new Lightroom book (“The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Book for Digital Photographers” from New Riders), I got a few moments to sit down with Scott to talk about Lightroom, how it relates to Photoshop, and how it will impact today’s digital photographers. It’s a very candid interview, where Scott gives some surprising insights about Lightroom, the development of his Lightroom book, and the reaction to the launch of his new magazine for Lightroom users, called “Darkroom.”

Q. You’ve been out there teaching a number of live Lightroom training sessions lately, where you’re getting to see people’s reactions to this new way of working. What kind of feedback are you getting?

A. It’s been really pretty amazing, and I have to say it’s been a bit of an eye-opener for me as an instructor. I’ve been teaching Photoshop for 14 years now, and today’s photographers all pretty much know what Photoshop is, what it does, and they usually have some working knowledge of Photoshop, so my job has always been to show them how to use the program more effectively. But with Lightroom being a brand new product, you actually have to introduce the program, and show why they’d want to use it and the advantages it offers, rather than just “how to use it” which is what I usually do with Photoshop.

Q. So a lot of photographers are seeing the program for the first time?

A. Exactly, so you have to do a little more explaining, and almost a little demoing, as part of the training class, because this isn’t just a new program—it’s a new way of thinking and working. A few weeks ago I did a 2-day hands-on Lightroom workshop, and all of the students had already worked somewhat with the free public Beta version of Lightroom, so it was more like a Photoshop class in many ways; I was just showing them how to take the genie out of the bottle so they could work faster and more efficiently than they had before. Plus I got to show them the new features added since the public Beta, which are very significant. But last week I taught a session at the Digital Landscape Workshop Series photography workshop out in Yosemite National Park, and about half of the attendees had never seen Lightroom, so it was a completely different experience.

Q. So how did they react?

A. Well, it’s an interesting story. For an instructor, teaching Lightroom isn’t like teaching Photoshop, because Lightroom is really a photography production tool—there aren’t a lot of special effects built-in, or whiz-bang filters, or any of the “wow” stuff that Photoshop has, so you don’t get all the laughing, and ooohhhing and ahhhhhing you get in a typical Photoshop class. When you’re showing Lightroom, you see a lot of nodding heads in agreement, and a lot of those “ah ha” looks, and you can see the light bulb coming on for some of the students as they realize how much time they’re going to save doing the boring stuff, so they can get over to Photoshop to do the finishing and creative stuff they really enjoy.

Q. So was it hard not getting that type of verbal feedback?

A. Well, honestly, at this last session (in Yosemite), it does make you wonder how you’re coming across to the students. At my hands-on workshop, everybody was totally into it from the word “go,” but here most of the students had never seen the product, so I had to totally change the way I taught it, and so during the class, besides fielding questions as I went, it was pretty darn quiet in the room. So, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t sweatin’ it. But right after the class, I was mobbed with questions, and people were saying things like “That’s it—this is my new workflow starting today” and “Why isn’t Adobe telling more people about this?” and “Lightroom is just amazing!” and suddenly the whole room was abuzz with Lightroom chatter, so I felt a lot better.

Q. So they got it—they just didn’t verbalize it?

A. Yeah, I definitely say so, but not just because of their comments that night after my session. It was what happened on the last day of the workshop. I’m standing in the back of the room, and everybody has their laptops open so I can see what they’re working on. Well, I was just absolutely blown away to see almost every single person was using Lightroom. I told them during my session a few days earlier, that they could download a free 30-day trial version from Adobe’s Web site, and apparently not only had everybody done that—they were using it. I grabbed my shooting buddy Dave Moser, who was there with me, and said, “You’ve got to see this!” and I took him around to show him how many people were processing their photos in Lightroom now—we were both speechless. Out of 33 people, 30 were using it (the other three had Photoshop open, but for all we know, they just jumped over there from Lightroom). That’s when it really hit home for me how big Lightroom was going to become. The students totally “got it.” So much so, that they were already embracing it, using it, and they seemed totally comfortable in it. That was really gratifying for me, and as I left, I can’t tell you how many people thanked me for turning them on to Lightroom. I nearly floated out of the room.

Q. So, when are we going to see your new Lightroom book?

A. It has just come off press, so it’s just a matter of getting it out to the bookstores now, which does usually take a week or two, so it’s really an “any day” kind of thing.

Q. You had released a series of downloadable “ebook” versions of the book as Adobe released new free public beta versions? Are you planning on doing this ebook thing with any of your new books?

A. I certainly hope not [laughs]. I got really great feedback from readers of the eBook, so I’m happy that side worked out, but for me as an author, it was really tough. Of course, it was my own fault. My idea was that each time Adobe released a new version of the beta I would update the book. The problem was: when Adobe released a new Beta version, they changed so many things (including the interface itself) that there was no way I could do a simple update. So, I actually wound up almost rewriting the entire book four times (three for the ebook beta versions, and one for the printed version). That’s incredibly time-consuming, so it put all my other projects either on hold, or made them really late, and that has a domino effect when you’re involved in as many things as I am. So, when I say I certainly hope to not do that again (creating and updating versions of the book before the final product ships)—even though I laughed, I’m not kidding. I’m not ruling out having ebook versions of my finished books, but in hindsight, the beta book/ebook thing wasn’t smart thinking on my part.

Q. So how much different is this printed version of the book from the Beta 4.1 eBook version?

A. Believe it or not, I rewrote the entire book from scratch, so it’s 100% new, including new photos, new projects and lots of new content. I also added 200 pages, including a special chapter on black and white, so this book has the highest page count of any first edition book I’ve ever written.

Q. Why the whole rewrite from scratch?

A. Well, I didn’t plan it that way. I always assumed that I would just update the eBook for the final shipping version, and that would become the printed book, but something happened along the way. When you’re an author, and one of your books gets published, once it finally comes out, you sometimes look at it and think, “Man, I wish I had done this,” or “I wish I had included that,” but by then, of course, it’s too late. But because this was an eBook first, I was able to sit back, really look at what I’d done up to that point, and then because it wasn’t in print yet, I had the opportunity to take the book to the next level. I had learned so much about Lightroom since Beta 4.1, and I had so many new things to share, I called my Editor, Kim Doty, into to my office and said, “Kim, I’m going to rewrite the whole thing from scratch.” After I told her what I wanted to add, and how excited I was to be able to have a “second chance” to release my first version of the book, she was 100% behind the idea, and she really was instrumental in making the final version a reality.

Q. Was there that much new in Lightroom 1.0, that you could actually add 200 more pages?

A. Well, there’s lots of new stuff, but I also added two extra chapters in the back that I’ve already been told are by themselves worth the price of the entire book. I realized that all the Lightroom training already out there (including my eBook) pretty much did the same thing: this slider does this; this slider does that, here’s how to sort your photos, here’s how to print, etc. But I really felt what was missing, was one place where it all comes together—one place where you see the entire workflow, from beginning to end, in a clear, concise way. Without that, you’re leaving it up to the reader to piece together their own workflow. That’s bad because the most frequent question I get from beta users of Lightroom is: “What’s you’re recommended workflow?” (What should I do first, second, third, etc.?) That’s when I realized I had to add this to the book, and I had to do it in a way that would not only answer those questions point blank, but I wanted to do it visually and illustrate the process in a way that I had never seen before in any book.

Q. OK, I’ll bite—how did you visually illustrate the whole process?

A. You show everything, from beginning to end, and I mean everything! I did two in-depth real world workflow chapters; one for the wedding/portrait photographer’s workflow, and one for the landscape/outdoor/travel photographer’s workflow. I started each project with a live on-location shoot, and I included behind the scene shots of the shoot, including full details of all the equipment, lighting, camera gear, and camera settings for each shoot. Then, after the shoot I take the reader all the way through the entire process, in the same order I work with my photography, so they see every step, in order, all the way to outputting the final print. It’s the whole process, from beginning to end, with nothing left out along the way, and I’m really delighted with how it came out. It was an awful lot of work trying something completely new like this, but now that it’s all done—it was definitely worth it.

Q. The premiere issue of your magazine for Lightroom users, Darkroom, is right around the corner. How has the community response been so far?

A. The response we’ve gotten from Lightroom users, and NAPP members (who get the printed magazine free with their membership), has been incredible. I can’t tell you how excited they are to get their hands on it, and all their positive emails and posts have totally energized our team. On the flip side of that, a handful of people hate it with a burning passion that knows no bounds.

Q. They hate it, yet the first issue hasn’t been published yet, right?

A. Well, they don’t hate the magazine per se, but they really, really, really hate us using the name “Darkroom.” The vast majority of people totally “get” the name, why we used it, and to them “a name is just a name,” but man did some people freak out. I guess they feel like we did something sacrilegious by using the name “Darkroom” for a magazine about software. We all thought the name was kind of cute—kind of a tribute to the past, and an acknowledgement that Photoshop, and Lightroom, have become the darkroom of today. In fact, the place where you adjust the exposure and tone of your photos in Lightroom is called the Develop module. So, it seemed like a no-brainer: Lightroom/Darkroom, but it stirred up a hornet’s nest with some traditionalists who sent me angry letters and mean spirited forum posts outraged that we would use misuse “darkroom” in this way. They called me names, hurled insults, they brought my mother into it. It was pretty ugly. We really didn’t expect that kind of response on any level, but because these people were so freaked we’re considering adding to the beginning of the name as it appears on the cover (in small letters), so it reads more like “The new digital DARKROOM” or something along those lines. We never meant any disrespect to traditional darkroom users with our name, and I think that’s why we were so shocked at their angry response. But again, most folks are totally cool with it, and we’re just finishing up production on the first issue right now, and we’re very excited.

Q. So what’s next for you and Lightroom?

A. I’m launching a nationwide tour, called the “Lightroom Live Tour 2007” where I’m going to bring the pages of the book to life, starting with a live formal bridal shoot, shot right in front of the students, with full details of the shoot, and progress through the entire process step-by-step, until the final prints come rolling out of our Epson 3800 printer. I’m really excited about this tour, and for the opportunity to change the lives of so many working pros and serious amateurs for the better. I get to show them how to leverage Lightroom, and it’s built-in automation, so they spend much less time doing the boring production stuff, and more time doing what they love: shooting, and adding those creative finishing touches in Photoshop. Hey, that would make a great name for a book. Photoshop Finishing Touches.

Q. Do you think it’s funny poking fun of the name of my latest book?

A. Surprisingly enough, I do. Hey, it could have been worse—you could have named your book “Darkroom.”

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