These days, becoming a photographer is much more than just owning a DSLR camera and taking pictures whenever we want. We must learn from the very core of photography history about how to develop our own personal style by taking lessons from what masters of photography may tell us with their work, but learning to master the tools technology provides us is also an essential part of this process.
In 2006, Adobe Lightroom (affiliate) came to life as an independent Project made by the creators of Adobe Photoshop. Created with the goal of developing a software program designed by and for photographers, today Lightroom stands as a lifesaver in many cases – implementing a workflow that reminds users of the old-school post-processing methods for negative film in a non-destructive digital way.
Lightroom provides the user with a friendly interface, designed to enhance every aspect of photography we may encounter in our day-to-day work. Regardless of your skill level in what using similar kinds of software, Lightroom quickly adapts to the user’s needs, becoming a lifetime companion.
Therefore, I would like to extend to you an invitation to learn more about this stunning software, provided to us by the guys from Adobe.
Lightroom vs Photoshop
The very first question to arise when we learn about the existence of Lightroom may be: ‘Why do I need another software program, if I already have Photoshop?’ Because it would be a crime to neglect Lightroom’s potential of getting the most out of our photographs in a very short time, something that even Photoshop can’t do on its own, even if you could label them as ‘cousins’.
Despite being the top-of-the line industry software for digital editing of images, Adobe Photoshop most certainly lacks a well-structured user interface to serve the needs of the photographer. Most retouching that can done quickly is quite simple, and unless you really know your way around Photoshop, you may even end up ruining your work, since Photoshop doesn’t work in a non-destructive way.
You will also need a fair amount of filters and functions in order to do more complicated enhancements, perhaps even depending on third party plugins when necessary in order to add more detail to an image or for certain adjustments in portrait photography.
On the other hand, Lightroom doesn’t have these types of limitations in its interface, although for Adobe Photoshop users it may be quite the shock to realize that there are no layers within Lightroom: every single adjustment is made on the imported image, and if, for some reason, you need to reset the image parameters to their original values, all you need to do is undo changes or move back the sliders to their original positions.
These days, popular photographers don’t have to debate and settle for choosing one software or the other, they work with a combination of these two applications for a much broader workflow, since they realize that certain things can be accomplished only in Lightroom, whereas certain others can only be realized inside Photoshop (artistic effects, for example).
Adobe Lightroom Interface
It has been a long road of improvements since the first version of Lightroom, the most noticeable and important changes being in the tools between version 3 and 4 (with the change from the old-school “Fill Light” option to the current sliders for controlling Highlights, Whites, Shadows, and Blacks for illustrating being just one of the major adjustments accomplished).
With their mind on expanding their products to a broader market worldwide, Adobe now has two possible options for getting their software in your hands.
Adobe Lightroom 6
The lifetime-license version (which is actually the most expensive way of acquiring Lightroom even if updating it to new versions requires an ‘upgrade fee’.)
Adobe Lightroom Creative Cloud Subscription
In 2012 Adobe launched a subscription system for every single application they offer, which also applies to Lightroom. The most popular package is the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan, which includes Adobe Photoshop CC and Lightroom desktop, mobile, and web. One of the benefits is that we can discontinue the service anytime we want without losing data in the process, although we won’t be able to edit any new pictures without a valid license.
The major difference between these two versions is actually how often they get updated, Creative Cloud users often getting critical software updates before the Standalone users do.
Lightroom’s interface is split into panels and tabs. The tabs at the upper part define the environment module, with which we are working:
Library: A catalog of our images and the main Module in Lightroom. It also offers a Quick Develop section that can be used with Presets installed in Lightroom.
Develop: Lightroom’s core module for making adjustments. This is the module where you can fully edit your pictures
Map: Works with the Metadata information on your pictures, geotagging your pictures for easier location identification.
Book: In connection with Blurb, Lightroom offers us access to a wide (paid) variety of templates, so we can use our photographs to create visually attractive books in PDF format
Slideshow: Designed for creating videos and presentations inside Lightroom
Print: In contrast to Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom takes into consideration all the variables needed for the printing process, developing its own print module for making this task easier for the user. Templates are provided (or you can design/buy new ones) for performing a layout design of our work before printing it.
Web: This module, developed for use in combination with web design tools; creates web galleries with the pictures we processed inside Lightroom
In short, how you get the most out of Adobe Lightroom actually depends on your objective. For digital illustration needs, most likely you are going to use only the Library and Develop modules, but if you plan on using Lightroom strictly for all the print processes, then Lightroom actually provides enough tools, so you won’t have to worry about acquiring new software like InDesign or Illustrator for doing a proper layout of your prints.
Lightroom Workflow and Tools
Workflow in Lightroom can be categorized according to the following options:
- Photography optimization
- Beauty retouching
- Working with presets
This doesn’t mean that you can’t combine steps from one and another in order to create a beautiful work of art.
By Photography optimization, we are referring to getting the most of an image we shoot. This will depend mostly on the format of the image, since you, if you work with a JPEG file, are making adjustments to an already processed file, whereas you, if you use RAW as your preferred file format (please do this if your camera allows you to), have full control over the way the photograph will look, as RAW (just like the name implies) is a non-processed file format for digital photography.
Beauty retouching can be handled with tools like Adjustment Brush, and Graduated/Radial Filters, with which you can apply modifications to certain areas with very precise parameters. Even if it may require further modifications inside Photoshop, it can be quickly combined with presets.
And as Lightroom’s maid of honor, presets give us enough features that we could keep talking about them for days on end. You can work only with presets, which will require having a good preset library, or you can combine it with your photography optimization workflow.
Start by importing the pictures into the software itself. When you open up Lightroom, the software will take you inside the Library module. In case you have already imported pictures, the Library module will look like this
In case you want to import pictures, go to the Import button on the left panel, and this new dialog box will appear
In this new window Lightroom will provide the options needed for importing our pictures, so we can be quite sure to label this as the first step inside our Lightroom workflow. Notice that unless you disable the option at the Preference menu, every time you insert a Memory Card, USB drive or CD/DVD disc, Lightroom will open at this very same screen, showing the options for importing media files.
Metadata can (if embedded on the file) also be accessed at the Library module. A preview of the image shooting conditions appears inside the Histogram panel with values related to ISO, Focal Length, Aperture, and Shutter Speed.
Now, switch to the Develop Module. The UI will change to match this change.
In the left inferior panel, Lightroom displays all the presets I have installed. A preview of our image is shown at the upper panel on the left side, which can be quite handy for previewing certain effects besides presets.
At the right side of the interface we see first the Histogram data, which, in addition to giving the information we mentioned before, also provides information regarding Blacks, Shadows, Exposure, Highlights, and Whites
Next, we have a number of tools displayed below the Histogram, which are as follows in order from left to right:
- Crop tool: For cropping our image
- Spot removal: Very similar to the Healing Spot tool inside Photoshop. You can sample a certain area, and then work your way through, applying corrections where needed
- Red Eye correction: The name says it all – it is very quick for applying the needed correction
- Graduated filter: Creates a gradient area where adjustments made, by you, are distributed according to their position in the gradient area
- Radial filter: Works exactly the same way as Graduated Filter, but according to a radius rather than a gradient area
- Adjustment brush: Works with exactly the same parameters as the previous tools, but allows you to apply the adjustments where needed
With these tools and the sliders in the panels below, you can create as many adjustments as you need. Take into consideration the next set of tips for enhancing your work within Lightroom:
- Start by correcting the White Balance of the picture. This will define every other adjustment you can add later, such as color tint on the image. Always sample for neutral gray areas (which can be defined by having pretty similar values on R, G, B) or work your way with the sliders for a custom effect.
- Use the Exposure slider conservatively. The image tends to lose detail due to burning areas, so when you apply an increase with the Exposure slider you are only making things worse. If you compensate for your underexposure using highlights, whites, shadows, and black, you will end up with a much more professional looking outcome than by simply increasing exposure.
- Increasing the values on sliders will depend on your objective. When we talk about increasing Whites and Highlights, this means going towards the positive values on the sliders. In case you want to increase Blacks and Shadows, go with negative values for those sliders, as positive ones actually decrease the amount of Blacks and Shadows present on the image.
- Changes made on images are usually readily visible, and the most admirable feature of Lightroom is that the procedure works in a non-destructive way, meaning that the original image is preserved, even while we are able to change the values assigned to the image whenever we feel like doing so.
- A quick way of creating more detail in the image is by increasing the Clarity slider, as it will add more light and detail to the image, but be careful as it can also add more noise as well.
- Vibrance and Saturation sliders how Lightroom (like Photoshop) handles the amount of hue present in our images.
- Work with the Before/After, as this represents a quick and effective way of seeing modifications without having to export the image in order to compare it with the original file.
- Vignetting and Split Toning are always great finishes in every kind of situation. Learn your way around those effects, if you want to master Lightroom.
Presets inside Lightroom
Rather than requiring third party plugins, which will only slow down Lightroom performance, Presets are all the extra tools we need to achieve magnificent effects with our images. They can be defined as sets of instructions created around the parameters of native Lightroom tools for gaining a desired effect.
These elements allow us to change the conditions of a photograph quickly and can be used in combination with Lightroom’s native tools, as well as by combining several presets made by different designers.