Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Program: Lightroom

Every once in awhile, a program/product comes along that makes you think "God, why haven't they thought of this sooner?" Other programs can do similar things, more or less, but these programs wrap it all up with a big fat bow on it. I'm thinking Netvibes, Google Sync, HijackThis, UltraMon and SUPER here... if you're familiar with them. I've only used Lightroom for a week and can already say it's one of those programs.

Rather than jump into all the reasons why I'm Lightroom's bitch, let's first talk a little bit about the RAW format. To summarize, RAW is basically the raw data captured by the image sensor of your camera without any processing of the image by the camera's brain. This is great if you want to work through all your pictures and post-process them on your computer or just use some program to convert them to usable images like JPG. This isn't so great if you don't have a good way to manage and process them; Photoshop not being an example of one IMO.

Before Lightroom, I decided I wanted to get everything right in the camera and do nothing after the fact. As I started doing more and more "photography work" it became apparent this was an unrealistic expectation and started processing images. I'd tweak the white balance here, adjust the exposure there, increase the saturation or just convert to he whole damn thing to black and white. Photographers generally keep/work on ~10% of what they shoot so while I wasn't adjusting every photo, we were still talking dozens of pictures that got "cleaned up" manually.

Enter Lightroom, the tool designed by Adobe with the direction of professional photographers. I'm going to blather on about all the cool features in a minute but before that take some time to "View the Feature Tour" on Adobe's Lightroom page I linked above. Go ahead, do it now, I'll wait until you come back... and make sure you watch at least through the 'Develop' section (2nd sub-clip). Pretty cool, right? Here's a list of the reasons why I love it.
  • Manage - If you're not using Adobe Bridge, which I wasn't, managing photos is a complete nightmare. If you take 300 photos and want to "keep" 30 of those, you're copying/deleting or using Save As to preserve your originals. Lightroom's ability to manage entire collections within the program, flag photos as "keepers" and filter on any number of conditions means you get only the photos you want in your face.
  • Non-destructive editing - It saves all your changes in a small config file separate from the original. When you open the picture, it applies all your changes instantaneously but the original remains untouched. No saving copies with your changes to preserve original files.
  • Presets - Photoshop has plugins that will allow you to easily do various things like sepia tone but Lightroom does it out of the box. What's more, Lightroom allows you to easily save your actions as a preset that can be automatically applied upon original import of a file.
  • Sliders - Who doesn't love slider adjustments? All the cool stuff isn't buried three menus deep with some obscure name. Instead, they have clear and concise labels and out in the open, laid out in a way that pretty much anyone can understand.
  • Cropping - The auto-cropping rotation is simply amazing. If you want to tweak a photo a few degrees in other programs, you're doing it by entering a numerical value, using a guide to check how it lines up and then cropping as necessary. In Lightroom, you move the little slider from side to side and it automatically overlays guides and squared cropping boundaries. Not only that, but you can undo cropping at any time, even after you do other things to the photo.
  • Export - Not only can you export "what you see is what you get" to a JPG but there also a plethora of plugins that allow you to export to a bevy of photo sharing sites. I've used the one for Smugmug, since that's where my portfolio is hosted, and can say it works pretty seamlessly.
So that's it, I can't recommend it enough. I used it for the last two galleries I posted and think it's changed the way I see post-processing. Let me know if you're having trouble finding a place to purchase it... I can recommend some good retailers. ;-)

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