Lights on in the room

An interesting package arrived in the post the other day from Adobe’s PR company.

It was a copy of the latest version of their Lightroom package, Version 3, which reminded me that I have never really discussed it in these pages.

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Adobe is, of course, most famous for its Photoshop image manipulation program but I believe that Lightroom is almost equally as important to photographers, although perhaps not quite yet as well known to the person on the street.

Photoshop has no equal in manipulating and fixing images and was sufficient for professionals and enthusiasts for a long time, but as these people took increasing numbers of digital pictures, the need emerged to keep track of them and to reduce the time spent processing them.

A new kind of program was needed that could catalogue large numbers of pictures, that could be used to edit lots of them quickly, that could be used show them to other people, and export them in whatever form they were required.

Lightroom was Adobe’s answer to this need and it has steadily been steadily gaining ground in the photographic community since its introduction a couple of years ago.

How Lightroom works is that you begin by importing pictures from a camera or a folder on your hard drive and then you use it to look through them, mark the bad ones for deletion and rate the others with between one and five stars. You could use ratings to show the difference between pictures which might be OK for an album or, for example, ones which are good enough to frame.

The next step is to take the pictures you want to process through to the Develop module where you can sharpen them, adjust the exposure and colour balance, correct distortions caused by your lens, remove dust spots and blemishes, apply a graduated filter to the sky or crop and straighten them.

Lightroom never alters your original picture but stores all your corrections as a list of instructions in a database and applies these to copies of the picture when you come to export it for use. It can be used instead of Photoshop for a wide variety of tasks but it does not replace it for things such as compositing more than one picture together or removing the light post growing out of somebody’s head.

The final step is to select the pictures that you need for a particular purpose and export them from Lightroom at the size you need. The Export module can be used to produce individual pictures for printing, picture layouts with one or more pictures, slideshows and web galleries.

Lightroom has come a long way since Version 1 and the newly-released Version 3 has a number of great improvements including a really good digital noise reduction capability. It now has the ability to add film-like grain to a picture and supports tethered capture, meaning that you can import pictures directly from your camera into the program as you shoot them.

A great new feature is the lens correction facility which can fix the perspective and other errors introduced by a wide variety of lenses including the most popular ones available from the major manufacturers. This can either be done automatically or on a picture by picture basis.

I believe that Lightroom would be a valuable tool for photo professionals or enthusiasts but it would be overkill for the happy snapper who only takes a couple of pictures now and then. There is nothing especially hard about using it but it does present something of a learning curve and it would pay the new user to spend some time to learn to use it to its full advantage.

There is a huge amount of material available including many books, online tutorials and videos to make learning it very easy. My favourite source for Lightroom information is the Adobe TV site (tv.adobe.com) which hosts a number of video tutorials including a show called Learning Lightroom 3.

Two other shows, both presented by Julieanne Kost, are Getting Started With Adobe Lightroom 3 and The Complete Picture, which also covers Photoshop. Each of the three shows consist of a number of episodes which are well worth watching.

I have found Lightroom particularly valuable as a timesaver in my photography and was particularly impressed recently at how easy it was to call up all the photographs I took in 2009 and rated with three stars or better, which I wanted for a photo book I was making.

Lightroom is available for both PC and the Apple platform. It’s main competitor is the Apple-only Aperture program which does simplify the choice for us PC users.

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