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.
All file formats that Lightroom supports (described here) and there are hundreds of different RAW file types that are supported as well (documented here).
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
This video tutorial will show you how to create your first Lightroom catalog as well as importing your first pictures.
The Lightroom catalog is used to store a link to the actual Photos or Videos (and not to store the image/video itself), any adjustments that you make in the Development module are stored in the catalog, as well as keywords and other technical information as well as the thumbnails. The Catalog is underlying component that makes Lightroom so powerful. You will need to import any files into the Catalog via Lightroom.
As part of your workflow you may need to create new catalogs. Some of the most common reasons for this are:-
- 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.)
Creating a new catalog
You can create a new catalog using the menu system and selecting File / New Catalog. Lightroom will then ask you where you would like to put the catalog, I would suggest that the catalog resides on your local computer’s hard disk, as this will enable the best performance (If the Catalog is placed on an external disk or somewhere else on your network you may not achieve fully optimised results) and will be there when you need it. once you have chosen a place for your catalog, then you can give it an appropriate name and press Create.
Importing your pictures & videos in Lightroom
Assuming that you have just created a new catalog or are just adding pictures to an existing catalog, the import module is something that will be used over and over again. You may import many different types of images into Lightroom, including JPG, PSD, TIFF etc. Lightroom has been designed from the ground up to support the RAW format and the RAW workflow. The RAW file is the most flexible format to create beautiful images from. There are many different types of RAW files, most camera manufacturers have there own format (i.e. Canon is .CR2), Adobe also have a format called the Digital Negative (DNG)
. For a list of all supported cameras and RAW formats with Lightroom as well as Adobe Camera RAW then please navigate to this page
The following picture shows the import interface of Lightroom.
The best way i have found to navigate the Lightroom panels is by working from left to right and in a clock wise direction.
You can see from the screen shot above, that the source folder is on the left hand side. The source is used to import the pictures into Lightroom from. You should select the folder that you wish to bring pictures in from (sometimes, you may not see all of your pictures, even though they are on the card or the drive. To resolve this, there is an “Include Sub Folders” flag under the “Select source” (if not source is selected), or clicking on the combo box at the top left of the screen (marked “EOS Digital” (to the left of the big black arrow). If this does not have a tick by the side of it then subfolder, won’t be displayed, click the “Include Subfolders” to display them).
At the top of the import panel you can see the Copy as DNG, Copy, Move and Add. These are controls for how Lightroom will import your pictures and videos. If you are importing from a Memory card and card reader, it is more than likely that this will be set to Copy, and is that one that you will use to import from these devices. The other options are for importing with more control are :-
- 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.
Selecting pictures and videos to import
The pictures and video that Lightroom is able to find are displayed in the middle grid part of the screen. Those pictures with a tick in the check box will be included as part of the import process. All content can be selected (Check All), or none (Uncheck All), or a selection of them from the filmstrip at the bottom of the screen. Also, the order of your content that Lightroom is displaying can be changed in the sort selector placed in the bottom right of this window, as well as the thumbnail size.
Options that are available as part of the import
On the right hand side of the import screen is where you are able to customise how Lightroom will import your content.
The Build Previews will create a larger image than just the small thumbnail that the Lightroom Library will display. These previews are handy for later and when we move to the Development module. However, making a lot of previews may have an affect on the size of your Lightroom catalog, but should not affect the performance of Lightroom when editing your work.
Build Smart Previews
This option will build a preview that can be used instead of the real image file, its useful when Lightroom is not able to find the original file. This can be handy when travelling and using Lightroom (i use this when i am on planes, trains and in a car). The files that are created are stored next to the Lightroom catalog in a special format and will not take up a huge amount of space (when compared to the original). There are controls within Lightroom to manage these files (i.e Build and remove, so is not a requirement to always build them here, just for the ones when required). My feeling is that they should be used when required and not all of the time, as it may increase the size of your catalog contents, unnecessarily.
Don’t import suspected duplicates
Lightroom has the ability to make sure that duplicate images are not imported into the catalog. This checkbox, when turned on will enable this feature.
Make a second copy To
As Photographers we are always protective over our content. This option will instruct Lightroom to back up your pictures whilst it is importing. This is handy for whilst you maybe away on your travels, in the studio or at home and can help you organise your data (just in case anything accidentally) happens to your master collection. Also, Lightroom has a backup option, this is designed to backup you catalog only and not your pictures, this is something you will need to manage.
Sometimes you may want to rename the files when they are imported, so that you can recognise them.
By enabling the Rename Files tick box, you can change the name of the files to be something that suits your workflow. There are templates that you can select, or you can create your own.
Apply during import
This option will enable to apply a standard and consistent behaviour when importing your pictures and videos.
Lightroom has a concept of Presets within the Development module. These presets can give your pictures or videos a certain look and feel (i.e. Black and White, Highly Saturated, Grainy like the old film days) and create consistency across your work. Presets can be made in Lightroom, or purchased as well as some free downloads from the internet. Develop settings/presets are non destructive and will not harm your photograph and can be removed at any time in the future using Lightroom. I would recommend choosing None here (at least for your first import), then you are able to see your pictures as they were taking from inside the camera before any adjustments are applied to them.
Typically we would like to get credit for our pictures if shared or used online. Having content in the Metadata preset (i.e. your name, website address and copyright information) will enable people to know where the picture came from. You will need to create your own, but can do from this option. The chosen one preset will stay in Lightroom Metadata option until it is changed (this will help you to not forget to apply it on every import).
Keywords are an important part of the workflow and will really add more context to your catalog. They will not only remind you where you took the image or video, but also enable to find them later. One tip here is that when importing your data the keywords should relate to the whole import, rather than just one or two of the images. You can add specific keywords to the images later, once they have been imported.
You can specify where the pictures and video will be placed during the import process. This is where Lightroom will be able to find the each piece of work when you move into the Development module. I would suggest that this is an External hard drive, or somewhere on your network, but that is not to say that it won’t work on your computers hard disk (you may run out of space at some point, if working with large RAW files though).
The Plus sign at the top of the picture above will enable you to create a custom folder in the destination, also, a right click on anywhere on the folder will enable you to do the same thing.
The final stage is to actually import the pictures from the source to the destination, and applying the options in the process.