Post production tool – Adobe Lightroom

In the past episodes, you heard and read me mentioning this crucial phase in Digital Photography: The Post-Production. This is a very important stage in the creation of a photography piece, just like developing is with Film Photography. This is where the second magical effect takes place; where a not so great exposure can potentially become an interesting and creative one and where an amazing shot becomes a masterpiece.

There are hundreds of Post-Production tools out there on the market, and it would be impossible to cover them all. Instead, I am going to cover The one that I believe, has revolutionised Digital Photography: Adobe Lightroom.

For those who read my profile and could think that I am biased since I work for this amazing company that is Adobe, let me just inform you that I am far from being one of the few users but rather one among the majority of serious/professional photographers that build their Post-Production workflow around Lightroom. But let’s dive in and hopefully by the end of this reading you will understand my position.


What is Adobe Lightroom?

Lightroom, aka LR, is the digital version of the darkroom one can find at the back of a photo shop where a skilled technician gives life to your film shots. It runs both on Windows and on Mac and a free 30 day fully featured trial version is available here ( http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop-lightroom.html ).

screenshot of Adobe Lightroom 4

Screenshot of Adobe Lightroom 4

As you see in the screenshot above, LR has seven modules (top right corner):

  1. Library: This is the place where you visualise, quickly flip, tag with keywords, in short, organise your images and also filter search them, read their metadata, resize the thumbnail and many more actions such as applying development settings onto multiple shots.
  2. Develop: This is where the magic happens. Where you play with the Exposure, the Saturation, Contrast, White Balance, Crop, Noise Reduction, Lens Correction etc.
  3. Map: This is a new feature that came with LR4 (March 2012). It enables you to visualise your pictures on a map world.
  4. Book: This is a new feature that came with LR4 (March 2012). It enables you to creates books (PDF or Blurb pluggin).
  5. Slideshow: It enables you create slideshows.
  6. Print: This is a module where you can invoke a printer and apply some layout settings.
  7. Web: This is an interesting tool that creates either a web HTML or a flash based gallery that you only need to deploy onto your web server.

The Catalog concept

LR is not like other Picture Organiser/ Post-Production software such as the famous iPhoto on the Mac. It does not have a library to which you import your images. LR is based on the concept of a catalogue.

The very first thing you do when you open LR for the first time is to create an empty catalogue, which is a file that is located wherever you want on the filesystem. Each time you will either import or edit an image, the location and development information will be recorded in that catalogue, and your file will remain untouched.

This is what makes LR such a powerful tool as it lets you edit as much as you want (we will see this later on) without altering your image, the one that is stored on the filesystem.

You might be asking yourself the: What is the point of editing if the modification is not applied to the image? The answer is simple. When you need to print or copy your image with modification, you either use the Print, Book, Slideshow, Web module or the export feature.

This is with a view to giving you total freedom when you edit your image with no fear of damaging the original. You do not have to worry about how many actions you can apply to an image before the history buffer is full and you cannot revert. In LR you can always revert to any stage of your development as we will see later on.

The Library module

When you import your exposures it will look like this:

Import feature in LR4

Import feature in LR4

As you can see in this screenshot, the import panel lets you preview the files you have on your memory card whether it is an exposure as RAW files or movies.

You can choose the target location where you want to copy/move your files. I have a whole structure on my filesystem with two root directories, one for the edited images and one for the ones to be. This way I am never confused as to what is left to develop and what is done.

Regarding the structure on your disk, you are free to do what is most suitable for you, whether you want to organise your exposure by date, location…

Personally, I’ve always done it with a combination of country-place-subject-year.

You will notice that you can even choose not to copy the RAW file that is on your memory card but get a copy of it as a Digital NeGative (DNG) file and you have the appropriate options around it. We will cover DNG in a future episode.

Once you have imported your exposures in LR, you can visualise them as thumbnail or in full size in the Library module.

On the left panel of the module you can see the structure on your disk:

Tree structure of your photos in LR

Tree structure of your photos in LR

On the right panel you have the most usual information about your exposure (ISO, Aperture, Shutter, Metadata…):

Metadata of your photos in LR

Metadata of your photos in LR

The export feature in LR is extremely easy to use. It lets you create your export preset that you can record and use later. Personally, I publish my artworks on three galleries (http://TomMigotPhotography.comhttp://tom-migot.artistwebsites.com and http://www.redbubble.com/people/tommigotphoto ) and both printing services that host my galleries have different colour space preferences for their printer. One uses AdobeRGB and the other sRGB. As you can see below I have created two presets and when I export my work I use one after the other to obtain the appropriate format:

Export panel in LR

Export panel in LR

The export can be other than on the filesystem:

Export panel in LR

Export panel in LR

The Develop module

Once you have selected one exposure, you can go in that module to edit it.

Develop module in LR4

Develop module in LR4

On the left panel, you find some editing pre-existing, and custom presets (B&W tones etc.), the history of all the editing actions and collection panel. Note that you can choose which panel to show or hide from  the window menu and this is true for all modules:

select the panel you need in LR4

select the panel you need in LR4

On the right, you will find all the panel that are listed in the image above from the Histogram to the Camera Calibration.

Suffice to say the panels on the right are the more interesting ones. Let’s have a quick look at what you can do in LR4 Develop module. Note, I will do episodes on specific editing in a near future.

The Histogram

The histogram in LR4

The histogram in LR4

As you can see it provides you with the Exposure Triangle values and enables you to see how the black and whites but also the colours are balanced in the image. As you modify the exposure and other colour settings the histogram updates itself dynamically to always reflect the editing changes onto your exposure.

The Toolset

Located right under the Histogram, it enables you to (from left to right):

Crop
the crop tool in LR

the crop tool in LR

Spot Removal
Spot Removal in LR

Spot Removal in LR

Red Eye Correction
Red Eye Correction in LR

Red-Eye Correction in LR

Graduated Filter
Graduated Filter in LR

Graduated Filter in LR

Adjustment Brush
Adjustment Brush in LR

Adjustment Brush in LR

The Basic

This panel is where the most important editing settings are:

The Basics in LR

The Basics in LR

The HSL / Color / B&W

This is a very powerful panel where you set the saturation of the individual colours:

The HSL / Color / B&W in LR

The HSL / Color / B&W in LR

The Detail

This is one of the most praised features of LR: the Noise Reduction tool.

The Detail in LR

The Detail in LR

The Lens Correction

When shooting RAW, you have the power of applying Lens Correction feature that will correct any known defect caused but the lens (i.e. distortion, Chromatic Aberration…). When set to Profile, LR reads the lens detail from the exif data in the RAW file and fetch the matching lens profile that contains the corrections.

The Lens Correction in LR

The Lens Correction in LR

The Effect

This is an interesting panel that enables you to create some creative vignetting in your exposure:

The Effect in LR

The Effect in LR

For the sake of transparency, I must admit sometimes I need to use Photoshop to do some retouching such as removing disturbances in an image, generating an HighDensityRange image or merging multiple shots with a view to obtaining a panorama. LR makes it easy as a right-click on the image and the contextual menu lets you choose:

Open the photo in Photoshop from LR

Open the photo in Photoshop from LR

Right click on the image to edit it in an external software like Photoshop CS6

Apply HDR and other Photoshop functions from LR

Apply HDR and other Photoshop functions from LR

Right click on a selection of images to do HDR or panorama in Photoshop CS6

The Map module

The map module in LR

The map module in LR

As said earlier, this module is a recent addition to the latest LR release (March 2012). I do see the value for such module when people would organise their exposure by dates, and it could be tricky to find pictures of a specific location. However, while it is a cool feature, I do think it was added to match what already existed in other software like Apple iPhoto and Aperture, and it is not a driven factor when purchasing LR4 or even upgrading from version 3. Thanks God, this is by far the least interesting feature that came with LR4.

The Book module

The Book module in LR

The Book module in LR

For the past five years or so we can see many online printing companies emerging and offering to publish your images in a professional looking book. Blurb is a world leader in this. Personally, I was looking forward to this feature. As my profile and the screenshot of the Map module show, I am an enthusiast traveller and have accumulated a huge amount of exposures over the years among which some really good memorabilia that I always wanted to print as a book. The prices are always decreasing, and while it is getting easier and easier to arrange a book via the software the service providers give you, it is time-consuming, and you need to export your exposure. Here, the tool is integrated and is not a Blurb tool. As a matter of a fact, Adobe who is number 1 publishing software editor, has integrated some of its high-class libraries inside LR4, so it is extremely easy to arrange the pages and text according to your wishes. As the end, you do not even need to rely on Blurb to produce the book. You could simply generate a PDF and provide it to any publishing company in order to be produced.

The Slideshow module

This module is extremely easy to use and produce a very quick and nice movie out of the images you select.  The episode French Rock Band Photoshoot was done using this module that produced and .mov file that I then added to my usual Movie framework in Adobe Premiere Pro CS6.

Here are some of the settings you can use when editing your slideshow.

The Slideshow module in LR

The Slideshow module in LR

Right panel in the Slideshow module in LR4

The Print Module

I personally never used this module since I do not own a professional printer and I’d rather use my online gallery host for getting prints or canvas of my work.

The Print Module in LR

The Print Module in LR

Print module in LR4

The Print Module in LR

The Print Module in LR

Some of the right panels in the Print module in LR4

The Web module

This module is quite powerful and useful for those who host a website and want to quickly publish entire galleries/collections. Whether you want an HTML or Flash result LR can do it.

The Web module in LR

The Web module in LR

The Web module in LR

The Web module in LR

Some of the right panels in the Web module in LR4


Conclusion

Adobe Lightroom 4 is my favourite Post-Production tool. I manage to do 90% of my work in it, and the small 10% is done in Adobe Photoshop CS6. One of the great features that are not often mentioned is how great the tool fits with the Operating System and other Adobe and non-Adobe softwares (i.e Gimp) that are installed on the computer. I cannot recommend it enough as it will help you organise and ease your Post-Production workflow which as any photographer knows can be extremely time-consuming and not always the most interesting phase for some. Price wise I think it is a bargain with only £103.88. If you had one tool to choose between Lightroom and Photoshop, I would go for Lightroom in the blink of an eye. While Photoshop offers all the editing features of LR and even more, it is not as easy to approach for first timers and does not offer you the greatness of organising your exposures.

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