I have been asked a few times recently, what is Lightroom, how does it work and what’s the best way to get started. I wanted to take a different approach and focus on the how, rather than the what. So decided to put together a short series of videos that show my workflow around Lightroom. The workflow is something that use for my image making and maybe different from other people, and that’s ok, because people find their own groove with the product. The idea of this series is to show the basics, but with the idea that as your skills grow, you will also develop your own technique, but it’s a great place to start and see how other people use the features in the product.
So first off, What is Lightroom?
Lightroom is a software application made by Adobe that allows a Photographer to mange their pictures and videos, as well as providing an elegant way to edit them and create beautiful finished Photographs and maybe a little bit of video.
Lightroom exists because it solves a very basic problem, and that was to provide an imaging solution for Photographers that would support the natural workflow from start to finish, but to provide elegance and simplicity. The other side of the problem is that any solution must support RAW files, as well as a way to not damage the picture, but provide a way to be creative and an ability to create beautiful images. Lightroom was designed in this way, with the photographer in mind and since then has grown in features to support new requirements, including the management and simple development of videos from the camera/phone.
You can see in the picture below that the Photographers typical workflow is label using the tabs at the top right hand side of Lightroom.
How will Lightroom help the Photographer ?
Lightroom does many things to help the Photographer, from providing an intuitive interface for the beginner, but providing powerful tools for the advanced professional Photographer. There are some key principles that Lightroom adopts to make this happen.
Lightroom supports non destructive and non linear imaging workflow (for RAW files, as well as other file formats (png,tiff, psd etc), which effectively means Lightroom won’t make any changes to the original files and all changes are stored separately in a small format called Metadata, as well as allowing you to make any changes at any point in time without having to think about dependencies. Not only does this protect you, but provides you creative freedom to try different visions on the same picture without having to commit to anything. It also means that when used correctly, it won’t take up huge amounts of storage for the adjustments.
What are RAW files & images and where does Lightroom put them?
RAW files & images can be confusing, so, it’s worth mentioning why it’s an import part of the picture making process. Most Digital SLR and compact system/mirror-less cameras today support both the JPG and RAW format. The JPG format is actually a final image picture format and it is created in the camera, this means that the colour, sharpness, saturation as well as other elements are fixed in the picture and can’t be undone. The image can be changed using Lightroom, however, it is not as flexible when it comes to editing and certain elements can start to be destroyed (depending on many different factors, mostly relating to how the JPG was created in the first place). That is not to say that it can’t be changed and support a non destructive workflow, Lightroom is able to work with JPG’s as well, you just won’t be able to push the image as far in a JPG workflow, compared to a RAW file. The JPG format is an important format though, as it is typically used to publish your images to the Internet, print or sharing with friends via social media, JPG’s are also heavily used in DVD creation etc.
On the other side of the fence, the RAW file is extremely flexible as the image has not been created yet, it’s more akin to a series of numbers that represent the final image. The challenge though is that a RAW file is just numbers, therefore requires a program to decipher them. Lightroom understands the RAW file and will create you a preview of the final image. All of the tools that are provided inside Lightroom are designed to work with this format and provide you with the best image quality possible in any picture editing tool. The only drawback with the RAW file is that it is typically larger in size that the same JPG file, and will take up more storage on your disks.
Which ever file format is used the files need to be imported into Lightroom, using the import feature (this screen is shown in the picture below).
Let’s look at each module inside Lightroom and explain it’s purpose to the Photographer.
1. Library module
The Library module is at the heart of Lightroom. At its core Lightroom is an optimised database system, which provides a way for photographers to organise and manage their pictures, either by searching and find the content where ever it may be in the setup. This includes network drives and external hard drives. Lightroom never actually puts any of your pictures or videos in a place that you are not able to access them, therefore not locking you in.
It’s true however, that you need to import your pictures into Lightroom. Importing your work into Lightroom is really just to enable Lightroom to be aware of them and where to find them, should you want to edit/work on them. You can actually put your pictures wherever you wish, either using the Import module in Lightroom, or manually, and then telling Lightroom where it needs to find them (again via the import). Ultimately, Lightroom leaves you in control of your content, and as of such is able to manage 100’s of thousand of images and videos at any one time, across your whole set up.
You can see Lightroom importing images in the picture below, but the video at the end of this post will show you how i import and manage my images as part of my workflow.
There is a huge advantage with the Library module though. When you take a picture with the camera, the camera’s internal electronics also contribute to the final image, the camera will automatically apply this additional data to your image when it creates the file. This information contains the technical aspects to the picture, i.e. the ISO that was used, F-stop, flash settings, white balance and possibly GPS location information (if you are lucky enough to have a GPS receiver in your camera). This information is loaded into Lightroom upon import automatically and can be important when looking for your images later on. However, the real key to finding your images once they are in Lightroom is by using additional information that the camera is not able to tell you, and this is keywords. Keywords are a way to describe the picture by your own language, i.e. where it was taken, who is it the picture, if it was a celebration and there are many other ways to describe the pictures. Some people like to really go to town on this part of the workflow, but if you are not used it doesn’t have to be complicated or even take a lot of time, it is really just about you explaining what you will remember about the picture, the next time you want to find it. I would suggest that you start with just enough for you to remember when/where or what is in the the picture when it was taken.
Hopefully through the videos throughout this series and at the end of this post will help you in getting a clear understanding of how to get Lightroom to work for you and you too can create beautiful images that you will want to share with the world.
The Development module has been designed like an artists canvas and provides the tools that can be used for image enhancement (i refer to enhancement rather than manipulation because Lightroom never actually changes anything to the underlying content, where Photoshop is clearly a manipulation tool). It’s important to explain the difference between image enhancement and image manipulation. Image manipulation on an image is usually done with Lightroom’s big brother Photoshop and used hugely flexible when it comes down to changing elements within an image or including new images into an existing scene, i.e. removing things from the picture and replacing with other elements from different pictures. Image enhancement is really similar what you are able to achieve in the traditional Darkroom, or improvement of the image, but not fundamentally changing its structure . The structure of the final image is never really compromised when using Lightroom, it may be that blemishes need to be removed and other artefacts, but never introduced from another picture.
The Development module has some very powerful tools and will work with many camera formats (from RAW to JPG, TIFF and other standards). The tools that exist can help you create your vision for the Photograph, but will also enable you to be highly creative with the picture in hand. Lightroom also enables some simple video enhancement as well.
From a Development point of view, Lightroom is able to work on an image in two modes. 1. to alter the standard “global” elements of the image, from Exposure, recover highlights and shadows, convert to Black and White, sharpening plus many other options. 2. Lightroom introduces the powerful local adjustments panel, which allows you to paint your enhancements into the picture in defined selected areas, i.e. you may want to add more dimension or shape a models face with a dodging and burning tool (to create an image with more impact), therefore you can paint this adjustment in and create an effect that is easily removed or changed, at any point in time.
The image below shows the Develop module and the tools on the right hand side that are used in Global and Local adjustments.
3. Map (an internet connection is required for this feature)
A different way to look and work with your pictures is by the location where they were taken. If you are lucky enough to have a camera with a GPS receiver or an GPS adapter, then the picture will be placed onto the map automatically (when you enter the Map module). The Map module does require an internet connection to work, as it is powered by Google Maps. The GPS data is part of the Meta Data that exists inside Lightroom and will created automatically when GPS tagged images are imported into Lightroom . You can also manually enter the GPS data or by collecting GPS data from another GPS enabled device (like a smart phone,or GPS receiver). Lightroom will also try to fetch more location data about the picture using the GPS coordinates if you would like it to, but can be turned off when required. This won’t have an impact on your connection performance, as the amount of traffic generated is negligible. This query to the Google Map engine will find the date and will fill in the blanks for you, collecting the town (sub location), state/province, Country, country code etc, location as well as other elements. We will look at this in more details with a dedicated session on the map module. For the more advanced user, Lightroom also support GPX track log data, which means that you will be able to see the route you took when taking the photographs and therefore re-trace your steps when required.
The picture below shows the Map module inside Lightroom, as you can see the map already has some pictures tagged, and will show those pictures in a pop up window.
Adobe has partnered with a company called Blurb to enable book making from within Lightroom. This module is part of the Photographers workflow and is integrated into the Development module, as well as the Library module. Creation of books inside Lightroom, does not require and other special software to be downloaded, just an internet connection when you want to send books to Blurb for printing within Lightroom. Blurb are renowned for printing high quality ad-hoc books (from 1 to many), however, you can also create a high res PDF or high res JPG renditions of your pages. The benefit of having an in built module is that any changes that are made in the Development module are subsequently reflected in the book, where ever the image is used either in the book you are making or may have made previously. Once your book has been designed, it can than be sent to Blurb (via your internet connection) for printing (via a button within the Book module), which can then be accessed and viewed and print by others (if required)
You can see the book module in the picture below.
5. Slide Shows
Sometimes you want to show your work to an audience and want to create it based up on the images and videos in your Lightroom Library, as well as including some music. Creating a slideshow manually can take a long time with other products, having the ability for Lightroom to create it from your selection as well as your developed work is a great feature and is used regularly by many different people (from beginners to professionals).
You can see the slide show module below.
Lightroom can help you publish your work to your website, ftp or create a page/site from a template.
Print in Lightroom is super simple and will enable you to print your pictures on the printer and paper combination of your choice. Lightroom also supports a soft proof mechanism that will allow you to look at your picture before it’s printed, to make sure it looks right and you don’t waste expensive materials. The Print module makes is super easy to print within a calibrate workflow and makes sure that your prints are of the highest quality.
We hope you can see how Lightroom really embraces the Photographers workflow and provides a flexible and scalable solution for your future pictures. This series of tips and tricks, how to videos and posts will hopefully give you a good grounding and a starting point for understanding and working with Lightroom 5.
We also hope you enjoy the video and tutorial sessions that starts with this post.
Importing your first pictures into Lightroom
- Wanting to split paid jobs and personal portfolios,
- Having specific images inside different catalogs for content separation (i.e. Holidays, Portfolio, Landscapes etc)
- Final work and work in progress in different catalogs
(So, it’s always a good idea to know how to create a new one.)
- Copy a DNG will copy the native camera RAW file (i.e. Canon .CR2) from it’s native format and convert to the open Adobe DNG format.
- Copy will copy the files from the source to the destination
- Move will move the files from the source into the chosen destination and delete the files from the source.
- Add will not copy or do anything to the pictures/videos, it will just tell Lightroom where they are.
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