Since I got the Canon 30D, my image processing software has been Adobe Photoshop – initially CS2, and more recently CS3. Now Photoshop is a superb package, with enormous power and flexibility. For images that need cloning, fancy processing and editing, tweaking of brightness, contrast and colour in selected areas, and much more, it’s wonderful. But a lot of photos don’t need anything like that. They need to be adjsuted a bit – maybe the white balance, saturation, or a quick tweak of the curve. And for that, Photoshop can be a bit slow.
Adobe were aware that they weren’t quite doing all they could for photographers, and after a lot of work, they revealed a new product: Lightroom. I downloaded the beta about a year ago, fiddled with it a bit, but couldn’t really get to grips with it, and sort of forgot about it. Some time later, it was released under the slightly cumbersome name of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, but everyone seems to call it Lightroom, so I’ll do the same.
I read a few reviews, and as time passed, a lot of quite sensible people seemed to be suggesting that this might actually be a useful piece of software. After version 1.1 was released, the positive comments seemed to become more common.
So, I did some reading, and downloaded a trial – by which time it had been updated to version 1.2. And after a bit of fumbling, I began to get the idea. Lightroom is designed to work with RAW files, which suits me perfectly. You can make a lot of adjustments – many of them the same as those you can make with Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), the Photoshop plugin that is used to convert RAW files into other formats. Like ACR, the adjustments are not made to the file itself – it can save them into “sidecar” files in the same way that ACR does, and it will happily read in changes made in ACR, but its default behaviour is to save everything in its own database.
Apart from the usual adjustments to the overall image that I’ve referred to above, there are also tools for removing red eye, removing spots and a nifty crop and straighten tool. The crop tool takes a little getting used to, as rather than moving a copped area over the image, you actually move the image behind the crop area. This actually works very well, and the crop area includes a “rule of thirds“ grid, and a finer grid appears when rotating the image to align a horizon or other feature.
Once you’ve made your adjustments, you’ll want to do something with your image. Lightroom makes it easy to export in other formats – JPG, PSD, TIFF, with easy control over the size and resolution of the exported image. Another nice feature is that you can make it do something with the exported images – I’ve got a setting that automatically drops the images into the Flickr Uploadr, which saves some time.
And Lightroom can produce web galleries based on templates which it can automatically upload to your website, and nifty slideshows to show off your pictures. Oh, and it’s got toys for printing, too.
But perhaps the most interesting bit is the Library, which allows you to organise your ever-growing image collection. By adding keywords to imported images, you can group, classify and otherwise select images based on whatever criteria you find most useful. Because you have access to all that lovely Exif data, you can easily find all the pictures you took with a particular lens, or a particular ISO setting, or which you’ve labelled in a particular way.
So, after a couple of weeks of using it, I decided that I had to have it, and I’ve ordered it. It should arrive before my trial runs out, which would be useful. This afternoon, I spent some time reorganising all my existing image files. I put all the “output” files – PSD and JPG files – in a new folder, and the RAW files (plus some JPGs from the odd occasions when I let the camera produce those) in another, then imported all the original files, with their ACR sidecar data where it exisited, into Lightroom. Now all I’ve got to do is go through over 5,000 files and add suitable keywords….
Lightroom: if you work with digital photographs, it might be useful to you. It’s available for Windows and Mac (both in the same box, even!), and you can get a 30 day trial from Adobe, which should be long enough to make up your mind. There are lots of resources on the internet to help you get to grips with it, and some good books, too.
 Note for people who don’t know what that is: don’t worry about it, I’ll start making some kind of sense soon.
 As opposed to darkroom, see?
 Or “general guideline of thirds” as I prefer to think of it