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Enter the Lightroom

Given Photoshop’s historical dominance in digital imaging, the concept of a digital camera workflow completely bypassing Photoshop is intriguing, but it certainly isn’t a new idea. While the Photoshop digital camera workflow is really a four-player team with Camera Raw, Bridge, and now the Photo Downloader, other companies have seen an opportunity to consolidate camera downloading, image processing, and organization into a single product. Bibble Labs’ Bibble and Apple Aperture are two examples of this approach. A team within Adobe also saw the value in a single integrated application for digital camera photography, which led to the development of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.0.

As Lightroom approached its release date, more users were asking this obvious question: If we have Lightroom, do we still need Bridge and Camera Raw? After using Bridge CS3/ACR 4 and Lightroom to process several shoots of digital camera raw images and high-resolution film scans, I believe that the differences do stand out.

Lightroom is tightly focused on the workflow of a volume photographer who needs to work quickly yet precisely. Everything in the program serves that workflow, and features not serving that goal are left out. The single-window, five-module user interface avoids dialog boxes so that the image itself is always front and center, with controls that surround the image but never block it like a dialog box would. A Targeted Adjustment tool inverts the usual paradigm of dragging a slider to change the image; instead, you can drag over the image to move a slider, acting directly on the image instead of the image controls. Lightroom also allows great speed and flexibility in applying keywords through clicking, dragging-and-dropping, typing (with auto-complete capability), or using a keyboard shortcut—whichever way is easiest for you at any moment.

Figure 2

Figure 2 Library module in Lightroom, similar to a Bridge window

Of the five modules in Lightroom, the features in the first two modules—Library and Develop—are matched by Bridge CS3 and ACR 4, respectively. The other three Lightroom modules—Slideshow, Print, and Web (site generation) —are more limited in Bridge or require sending images to Photoshop for further handling. In Bridge, image processing happens inside the modal ACR 4 dialog box, which can contain only the images you selected in Bridge. Heavy processing sessions involve going in and out of that dialog box a lot. ACR 4 also lacks the innovative Targeted Adjustment tool and the unlimited undo history that Lightroom saves across sessions. And, you still must use the very slow method of clicking keyword checkboxes with the mouse to apply keywords in Bridge CS3.

Figure 3

Figure 3 Bridge window with loupe active

Bridge CS3 does have some advantages over Lightroom 1.0. You can easily browse any folder on your computer and manage file types other than images (such as fonts, sounds, and InDesign and HTML files), which is why Bridge is central to the Adobe Creative Suite. Bridge also provides access to Adobe Stock Photos, the Adobe Photographers Directory, Adobe Version Cue, and collaboration features. If you have the Creative Suite, you can also use the Tools menu in Bridge to place selected images directly into other CS3 applications such as Adobe InDesign CS3 and Adobe Illustrator CS3.

Figure 4

Figure 4 Editing a camera raw image in Develop module in Lightroom

Figure 5

Figure 5 Editing a camera raw image in the Adobe Camera Raw 4 dialog box within Bridge CS3

Figure 6

Figure 6 Editing an image in Photoshop CS3

Certain common batch processes, such as exporting entire shoots to specific JPEG settings, are simpler and easier to set up in Lightroom. However, Photoshop CS3 still offers far more control and precision, but at the cost of a steeper learning curve to master and integrate the Actions, scripting, and batch-processing commands located in different areas of the program.

After spending time with both workflows, I prefer working with photos in Lightroom. I love the more immediate Lightroom image-editing environment and the wealth of speedy single-key shortcuts, and I can’t live without the saved history and the Targeted Adjustment tool. And in Lightroom I can apply keywords faster than in any other photo organizer I’ve used.

If organizing and processing high volumes of digital photographs is a large part of your job, the additional efficiency and flexibility of Lightroom over Bridge CS3 and ACR 4 could save you enough time for Lightroom to earn back its additional cost over Photoshop CS3. Your image settings transfer smoothly between Bridge CS3/ACR 4 and Lightroom, so if you have both you can pass the same images between the two products.

If you already plan to upgrade to Photoshop CS3 and are constrained by budget, you can pass on Lightroom. You’ll be able to develop images just as well in Bridge CS3 and ACR 4, just not quite as efficiently as in Lightroom. If you often use Photoshop for graphic design, photo illustration, digital painting, or advanced retouching, you’ll definitely want to go with Photoshop CS3 because Lightroom lacks brushes, layers, masks, channels, special effects filters, and other features you’ll need.

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