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Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.1 for the Professional Photographer Book Review
by David Rasnake -  2/18/2008

Adobe's Photoshop Lightroom 1.1 image workflow software is the latest version of one of the company's most popular photographic tools, providing an editing and organization solution geared toward professional photographers and amateurs who have large catalogs of images to manage. As a tool, Lightroom offers a lot of power, but has also brought a lot of confusion (even among professional photographers) as to how it works, who needs it, and how it differs from Photoshop.

Lightroom Book Review

While slanted more heavily toward the needs of professional photographers, David Huss and David Plotkin's Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.1 for the Professional Photographer, a new guidebook to the software from Focal Press, attempts to answer some of the pressing questions surrounding the software and provide a detailed, easy-to-read trip through Lightroom's different modules and functions. With a street price around $25, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.1 for the Professional Photographer might be the ideal bit of pre-reading for those considering a costly Lightroom purchase: providing a basic overview of how to get started using Lightroom to its full potential, this book provides a great entry point for more serious photographers looking to test out what Adobe's latest has to offer.


Structure and Layout

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.1 for the Professional Photographer is divided into seven chapters, moving logically from Lightroom basics, importing and cataloging images, and photo editing to Lightroom's web and print production tools.

Lightroom Book Review
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It bears noting that roughly half of the text is devoted to Lightroom's production-side functions, emphasizing the software's printing, slideshow, and web publication tools. While all of this will be of some interest to casual photographers, again, the emphasis on these chapters in particular is on helping pros produce client-ready deliverables with Lightroom, and beyond the printing tips, much of the discussion in the second half of the book may be of limited interest to even serious amateur shooters. On the flip side, for photographers interested in making slide shows or web galleries, Huss and Plotkin offer one of the most comprehensive, readable primers I've seen on Lightroom's capabilities in these areas.

In terms of layout, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.1 for the Professional Photographer is exactly what I like to see in a software guidebook, with lots of photos and screen shots to guide unfamiliar users to the right place.

Lightroom Book Review
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Similarly, Notes and Tips are called out in colorful boxes to make your life easier.

Lightroom Book Review
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Overall, I found both the layout and the overall writing style easy to process and easy to work through. Huss and Plotkin stay away from jargon without "dumbing down" explanations – a good balance that the average Lightroom user, who presumably isn't a photographic novice, will appreciate. In reading the guide cover to cover, I was able to move comfortably through the 170-odd pages of text over the course of a few evenings (and without the feeling that the book could have been better marketed as a sleeping aid). Because Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.1 for the Professional Photographer is not a comprehensive guide to every possible feature and menu option in Lightroom, and because there are no page-by-page subsection tags like in some texts, the book could be better as a reference text.

In general, though, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.1 for the Professional Photographer is appropriately conversational and even slightly irreverent, and this serves to lighten the mood and lift some of the mist that seems to surround Adobe image editing systems in popular culture. The authors' history of Lightroom's development makes some tongue-in-cheek commentary about Photoshop and Lightroom's near mythic status:

In the beginning, there was Photoshop and it was good. But soon the scribes of photos began to partake of the digital camera and they became restless. Forsaking the film of their fathers, they began creating digital photos as if they were free. Soon digital photos began to multiple throughout the land. Thomas Knoll and Mark Hamburg looked down from Mount Adobe upon the photos wandering about the hard drives and said they needed someone to lead them to the Promised Folders lest they be led astray by a false prophet.

Then a light shown from on high and behold, there was Lightroom.

The fact that the authors rarely effuse about Lightroom, preferring honesty, no-nonsense explanations, and even sarcasm and criticism where criticism is due, should give this text a lot of credibility among serious shooters looking for straight answers.


Introducing Lightroom

Like a lot of other Lightroom users, presumably, I jumped right into using the software after its release last year without putting a lot of thought into the range of features that Lightroom offers and how best to evaluate and slightly modify my photographic workflow to take advantage of everything the package could do. In short, I knew what I wanted Lightroom to do and didn't spend much time considering what else the program could offer, learning most of what I know about Lightroom beyond its basic cataloging and image color/exposure features by trial and error and accidental discovery.

Even if, like me, you have a workflow in place for getting your photographs from your camera to the ready-to-print stage, transitioning to an all-in-one image workflow solution like Lightroom is probably a good time to think about some of these basic process questions. Thus, Huss and Plotkin begin by answering the most basic question about Lightroom and image workflow in general: What is a workflow and why do I need one? Does Lightroom replace Photoshop?

Additionally, given that many photographers – even those of us who've basic grown up shooting digital – are woefully unknowledgeable about technical aspects of the computer equipment we depend on for image processing, the text provides some basic insights into hardware choices (Mac versus PC, the impact of increased processor speed and RAM on graphics handling) as well as tips on using the system with graphics tablets and network attached storage – two staple technologies for more serious amateur and professional shooters.

Likewise, the discussion of Lightroom's basic layout and function is pleasantly to-the-point. In less than 10 pages, Huss and Plotkin cover Lightroom's basic modules, how to access each one, how to set up the software interface for effective navigation, and basic usability tips that are, in my view, crucial to using the software efficiently, like how to access basic functions via the keyboard and what to do if toolbars or panes go missing (as they're wont to do in Adobe interfaces).


Image Organization Tools

Arguably the most important section of this text, where this guide moves beyond being simply a Lightroom manual and provides useful insight into photography more generally, is in the sections devoted to importing and organizing images. The authors' basic suggestions for file storage structure, workflow techniques, grading, and keywording all provide invaluable bits of general knowledge; if you're a shooter looking to put together your first workflow and file storage system, these basic discussions will be especially helpful. While it's only fair to say that there's very little here in terms of file system advice that couldn't be pieced together from other sources, the processes that Huss and Plotkin outline for organizing large numbers of image files, in particular, will, if heeded, eliminate lots of file system headaches in the long run.

I found the authors' explanation of collections versus catalogs, and of the nondestructive file handling process in general, to be among the most helpful and well-presented in the book. As with the file system discussions above, while most of the information presented in this book is unique to Lightroom, many of the larger concepts could be applied broadly to just about any professional image workflow tool currently out there.

I was also impressed with the fact that while Huss and Plotkin explain how to use Lightroom to import files, they (correctly, in my view) provide lots of caveats about using Lightroom's importing functions. Too often, guidebooks seem more like an elucidation of the user manual than a thought out explanation of best practices from someone who's actually used the software. On this count, Huss and Plotkin deserve kudos for not assuming that just because Lightroom can do something, that using Lightroom to do it is the best course of action for real photographers in the real world. "As with all of the tools in Lightroom," the authors write, "it is important to remember that just because a tool is there it doesn't mean you need to use it."


Image Editing Tools

Comparatively little of Huss and Plotkin's time (only one whole chapter, in truth) is spent working through the Develop module. While the explanations of what Lightroom can do as an image editor are both concise and lucid, this particular book, with its ostensible focus on professional photographers, assumes for instance that you know what a Levels adjustment does and when you need to use it. While the authors do provide some basic conceptual explanations of the image editing process ("One school of thought believes that you should adjust exposure first and color balance second while other believes the exact opposite.") the discussions rarely move beyond this level.

Moreover, if you're looking to move into more involved image editing by way of Lightroom and need explanations of both program operation and basic concepts, this text is probably not the best choice available. By the same token, however, it should probably be suggested that if you need extensive explanation of basic image editing concepts, Lightroom, with its heavy emphasis on organization and workflow, probably isn't the best package to dive straight into. In either case, assuming a basic level of familiarity with the concepts at play, discussions of the tools available in Lightroom and some of what makes them unique are helpful. Even better are the authors' tips for efficiently integrating the editing process into your overall workflow in Lightroom.

With all of that said, while I can't claim to read from the position of a Lightroom novice, I had no trouble achieving the desired outcome for each sample editing process by following the authors' instructions to the letter.


Conclusions

While Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.1 for the Professional Photographer probably won't be the reference of choice for those looking to learn about all of Lightroom's intricacies, it is a very good introductory guide for serious photographers. If you're already familiar with Lightroom, you may do better with something delving more into advanced concepts, but as a companion to your first copy of Lightroom (or to that copy that you've been too intimidated to do much with) it's hard to imagine anything that you'd need to know that wouldn't be covered here.

Moreover, given the level of general photography knowledge required to make this guide truly useful, the authors have aimed Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.1 for the Professional Photographer squarely at the middle ground: serious photographers who know what they need to do with their images, and want to learn how to do it in Lightroom. If the "for the Professional Photographer" part of the title didn't make it clear enough, don't look to this book for basic explanations of basic photographic techniques. All in all, though, this book should appeal and speak to anyone – professional or amateur – who's seriously considering getting into a package that offers the power of Lightroom. While some of the production-level discussions are probably "pros only," the general method for creating a file system and workflow outlined in this text is recommended reading for anyone heading down this road.

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