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Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Software Review
by Ben Stafford -  2/21/2007

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is a software product aimed at decreasing the amount of time that a photographer spends in front of a computer getting images organized or getting images ready to show clients.  Lightroom has been designed from the ground up to provide a streamlined and simple interface to make it easy for photographers to quickly perform the most common steps in their own workflow.  Lightroom is not a replacement for Photoshop, which you still need to perform pixel-level editing, but Lightroom can handle many of the simple color adjustments that you need to make in a non-destructive manner.

 

LIGHTROOM TOUR

Lightroom is arranged in several different “modules” – Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print, and Web.  The modules separate related functions and make it easier to get around.  The Library module is where you import images and organize them.  In the Develop module, you can apply adjustments to white balance, saturation, lighting, colors and even apply a cloning/healing tool.  The Slideshow module lets you create slideshows from your images, giving you control over the layout and then exports to PDF.  The Print module lets you layout pages for printing your images.  Finally, the Web module allows you to create web galleries in both HTML and Flash versions.

Lightroom lets you adjust the display for your preferences.  You’ll see in the screenshots later how things are laid out.  You can hide the left and right panels and you can hide the “filmstrip” along the bottom of the screen.  You can also set the panels so that they appear when you mouse over them.  The entire interface is flexible so that you can customize things to match your preferences.

Lightroom can handle 140 different raw image formats and TIFF images as well.

Library Module

The Library is where you essentially start using Lightroom.  The Library is where you import, organize, categorize and rate your images.  You can also apply some “quick” tweaks that are available in more detail in the Develop module.


Library Module (view large image)

When you import images into Lightroom, you have several options as to how the images are stored.  You can leave them where they are on your disk and Lightroom will just store a reference to their location.  You can also just import them directly into Lightroom, so that the images are not kept in their original location.  There are also a couple more options, depending on how you want to do things: Move Photos to a New Location and Import and Copy Photos as Digital Negative and Import.  Each method has its advantages, so it’s up to you to figure out which option best fits your workflow.

The Library screenshot above, you can see how things are laid out.  The left panel has functions for organizing and classifying your images.  You can add pictures to collections, browse images by filtering on keyword, you can browse by metadata (like only pictures taken with a specific camera model), and you can adjust the “zoom” settings of the image window.  The right panel has some “Quick Develop” features for quick image adjustment, a place to edit image keywords, and a place to edit image metadata (including EXIF info).

Along the bottom of the main window are buttons that provide various ways to view and sort the images.  You can view a grid of images, a single image, you can compare images side by side, and so on.  This main window is also where you can flag images, rate them, and add color coding.  Later, you can filter by flag or by rating.

Develop Module

The Develop module is where you’ll spend your time if you want to do some image tweaking.  By default, the left panel has the image navigator, a list of presets that can be applied (like grayscale, cyanotype, sepia tone, and others), “snapshot” management, and a history of actions that you’ve done within Lightroom.   The snapshot system lets you save snapshots of your changes at any point during image editing so that you can go back to a previous point in the edit history.  While on the topic of history, Lightroom also tracks actions program-wide.  For example, if you’re editing an image and click over to the Library module, you can just hit Ctrl+Z (on Windows machines) to perform an undo of the module switch.  It’s just kind of a cool way to do things.

If you do need to edit your image in Photoshop (or another editing program), you can start up that editor from the Photo menu. You can edit the original file, edit a copy of the original, or edit a copy of the original but with Lightroom edits that you've applied already.

The other thing important to note about the Develop module is that changes that you make to images are "non-destructive". No changes are made to the file on the filesystem - they're just stored as instructions in the Lightroom database, behind the scenes. Once you've "finished" an image, you can export it to make a final copy to put elsewhere in the filesystem of your computer.


Develop Module (view large image)

The right panel has the develop tools.  There is a histogram to keep an eye on your colors and exposure.  The basic controls let you adjust white balance by selecting a neutral area of the image or with sliders for temperature and tint.  In this same control, there are sliders to adjust exposure and the various tones in the image (recovery, fill light, and blacks), a slider to adjust brightness, slider to adjust contrast, and sliders to adjust the vibrance and saturation of colors.  A tone curve control provides another way to adjust lighting for highlights, lights, darks, and shadows in your image.   The other controls on the page handle more color adjustments (using Hue, Saturation, Luminance), including adding color tones to grayscale images.  You can sharpen images and reduce noise using Luminance and Color sliders.  A Lens Correction panel lets you combat chromatic aberration or vignetting that can occur (or you can add your own).  The Camera Calibration panel lets you create, modify, and manage color profiles when processing RAW images.

Below the main window, in the toolbar, are a few more things for working with your images.  You can crop your image or straighten it.  There is a red eye removal tool and you can remove spots by “healing” or “cloning”.  Also along this bottom toolbar is a button that lets you view the edited image next to the image when it was imported.  This view provides an easy way to compare what you’ve done with the original.

If you find that the changes that you've made to an image should be applied to another image in your library, Lightroom has some great features for "syncing" settings across all of your images. You can also "copy and paste" settings from one image to another.

Slideshow Module

In the slideshow module, you can customize a slideshow to your liking and then export the slideshow as a PDF.  Exporting as a PDF allows the slideshow to be very portable.  You can adjust the template of the slideshow using several preset templates on the left panel.  You can also adjust what, if any, text you want to display on the slide, including EXIF data and custom text.  There are plenty of options to customize a slideshow to your liking.


Slideshow Module (view large image)

Print Module

The print module, obviously, is where you get your images ready for output.  You can choose to output contact sheets, full sheets, or other ways of displaying the selected images.  Additional layout settings let you modify margin settings, add overlays, and manage color and sharpening at the time of printing.


Print Module (view large image)

Web Module

I was particularly impressed with the web module, especially since it can output Flash movies of your images.  The web module lets you create a gallery of selected images as an HTML gallery or Flash movie gallery.  As with the other modules, there are pre-configured templates that can be used to get your layout started.  Then you can apply all sorts of labels, modify the color palette, modify the compression and size of the thumbnails and full photos, and then preview things in a browser.  This area does do some fairly intensive crunching, so slower/older machines may struggle here – so just be patient.


Web Module (view large image)

Documentation and Help

The boxed version of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom comes with a nice Getting Started Guide that will give you a nice overview of the interface, modules, and features of the software.  More in-depth documentation is available from within Lightroom, by press F1 or accessing it from the Help menu.  The Help documentation is HTML based, so it will open up in your default browser.  It’s organized well and to the point.  A search feature lets you find what you need quickly.  Adobe is also very good have having a wealth of online resources as well, from articles to video tutorials.

Conclusion

I was very impressed with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.  It has a nice interface that is easy to get around and most of the features/functions are intuitive.  The software ($199 until the end of April, $299 after that) is not meant for everyone, but if your budget allows, it’s very nice for what it does.  I typically don’t need to do any type of editing at a Photoshop level, but Lightroom makes it very easy to fix color in the shots that I need to fix.  I’m also impressed with its flexibility as far as image organization is concerned – you can leave your images where they are on the hard drive, or not. Adobe has done a lot of work in getting Lightroom the way photographers wanted it. The beta program has been going for almost a year when Adobe actively gathered feedback from users. The final (non-beta) version does seem very polished.

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