Jul 26, 2010

Lightroom 3

Hey all!  Quiet day in the office so thought I'd sit down and jot down some of my thoughts on Adobe's Lightroom 3.   Click here for the product.

For the past 3 years or so I've been using Nikon Capture NX2 and Photoshop CS3.   Both very good products.  Capture NX, IMO, was ahead of it's time.  No layers, non-destructive editing, control points (which I still think is the coolest thing ever!) but needs a pretty hefty computer and can crash suddenly.  Photoshop is by far the best software in the world for photographers.  If you can figure out how to use it.   To be fair most of the stuff that we all use is pretty basic.  Not to many people get into the full power that this huge and expensive program offers.   But it is the best and if you can find what you need it's the most powerful.      In addition I also use Noise Ninja for noise removal (my camera sucks in low light) and PixResizer (best program available in freeware for properly resizing images for the web) and that is pretty much my workflow.  Capture - PS - NJ - PR.

I shoot mostly RAW (NEF for Nikon) so I'd open the image in Capture NX2 and do my crop, leveling, levels, colour correction, etc etc... and then save it off as either Tiff or jpg depending on how much more work needed to be done.   From there into Photoshop for resizing, text, borders, spot touchups, dodging, burning and the deeper funky stuff.  That would be the finishing touches unless it was noisy.  Then it would go off to Noise Ninja for cleanup and finally to PixResizer to resize for the web.    Not a bad workflow but it was jumping around from program to program.  Fortunately I have a fast computer, big screen and loads of video and computer RAM.   But it's worked nicely for me over the past few years.

Now I'd tried Lightroom 2 and either I put no effort into it or I really didn't understand it or was having a day but toasted it in disgust.  But this time around I downloaded the trial at Adobe who gives you a 30 day trial.   It installed nicely with no problems on my Windows 7 machine.  And it's 64bit!  Woot!

Almost immediately there was confusion.  How the hell do you open a file?   Well, Lightroom does have one issue that I'm seeing in more and more programs that I hate.   You have to import and export the images.  What the hell ever happened to File - open  and  File - save as?    I-tunes works this way as well and I can't seem to wrap my head around it.   It's a Mac thing or old dog new trick thing I guess.  hahaha.  (Remember I use both Windows and Mac depending on who has the best package - right now Windows 7 is better in my eyes)  But I guess it has something to do with the way it works with the images in a non-destructive manner.  Your originals don't get touched so you can't screw them up without really trying.   I see so many people working on originals and I shudder in fear haha.  

So this is what the import screen looks like.  On the left you have your input where you can select images on your hard drive, your camera, memory card or whatever.  In the middle you have the images and you select the ones  you want to import.  On the top you can copy, add, delete etc.   On the far right is the destination.  This is where you select where the images will be put.  Click import and it brings them in.  So it's setup like a workflow, left to right, Input - select images - Destination.

Now that the hard part is over, the rest (for me) was pretty straight forward.  At the top of the screen move from library into develop and your now in the editing mode.

On the left you have a thumbnail of the image and below that you can see your history of the actions.  So you can go back and forth, just like in Photoshop.   In the center you have the image, can zoom in and out on the image as needed.   There is also a really cool feature where you can put the original photo beside the modified one so you can see the differences in the work that you are doing, I find this invaluable and one of the best features going.    Across the bottom is "film strip" of the photos you imported.   As you click through them they show up in the center for you to work on.  If you have edited the photo it puts symbols on the image so you know you've worked on it.   As well you can rate your images (the same as in Adobe Bridge, so this replace Bridge and Photoshop).

The key stuff is on the far right.  It's setup almost like a perfect work flow.  Work your way from top to bottom.  It starts with crop, red eye, spot fixing, leveling etc.   Next down is exposure, fill light, contrast, brightness etc.   After that is done you move into the colours, make them more/less vibrant, saturation etc.   Forget what's next (cause I don't use them - split tones and stuff) but then your into sharpening and noise reduction.  Now these work really really well.  I have been a huge fan of noise ninja for many years.  This is as good if not better!   I took some images that had major noise and they look wonderful now that I'm done with it.   Sharpening works really well, almost like a high pass filter versus unsharp mask.  Very very impressed.  Next is vignetting which can be black or white, change the feather, roundness and numerous other options.   Then there is an add grain section, something I haven't played with.

From there I believe (haven't investigated much) there is ways of adding text, watermarks and I believe borders.   I'll take a look later.  

As there is no "save" or "save as", I would then use the export command to save the image.   I'm not sure if that is the proper way of doing this?  It works but I think there might be an easier method that I'm missing.  Anyone care to enlighten me?  Candis, I think your a Lightroom user correct?

For an image that was captured properly in a camera this program is wonderful.   Once I got past the whole import/export thing this program is a HUGE time saver.   What takes me 5-10 minutes with my other workflow is done in well under 5 minutes with Lightroom, with in most cases, superior results.    Proof that simpler is better.

I should also mention that it does a wonderful job converting my RAW images, no need to do it in the Nikon software first.  It also has lens correction software build it.  It detected my lens without difficulty and applied the proper correction.

I have only scratched the surface on the features.  There are built in presets for artistic blank and whites, colours and filters.   You can build your own presets and have the program do batch processing on any images that you select.   But the best part is, it all makes sense!   It's not like the big Photoshop where you have to dig for features and still feel that your only using 3% of the program (which you are lol).  For me Lightroom is a very logical flow and it's very easy to figure out and how to use.   I didn't watch any tutorials or do any reading.  I just picked up the program and in 10 minutes I was editing photos.

I was given a batch of portraits to work on back a few weeks ago.  Wonderful material but the photography was very very poor.  The images are noisy, red eye in most pictures, bad jpg artifacts, focus issues etc...   From the batch of about 60 photos I pulled about 30 and in about 2 hours I had completely transposed them with Lightroom.   They now look as close to professional as you can get with the original quality.  I had spent several hours using my old work flow on 5 of the images and my results were not as good as what they were with Lightroom.

The workflow is laid out perfectly for me.  Input, straighten the image, crop, red eye, spot removal, exposure issues, levels, colour tweaks, sharpening, noise removal, vignetting, export.     All in one panel.   I'll include text, borders and copyright to that flow once I figure it out.  And the beauty?  All done from 1 program!  

But then I still put them to pixresizer for sizing.  HAHA.  That little 3 meg program, IMO, is the best for resizing.   Can take a 3meg jpg, strip out the exif and take it to 1024x768 and still be under 100k in size with no real noticeable reduction in quality.

So that's my review of Lightroom 3 from working with it for 3 hours.   It has me pretty sold.  If your stumped by Photoshop (or don't have over $1000.00 to buy it), don't like Capture NX (most don't) or are sick of jumping from program to program, give it a try.  Nothing to lose with the 30 day trial.

Cheers all!  Back to work ;-)


For those who don't read the comments.  Candis gave some wonder links to help with;



  1. LOL! Sounds like you had the same revelation as I did when I tried it out a while back. I was so impressed w/ the ability to do all aspects inside one program. So glad you gave it try and found it useful ... Do you think you'll convert your photo management over to Lr fully?

    When I decided to make the switch (from Bridge/PS) I realized I was going to have to get my head around the whole catalogue thing. The best advice I've seen regarding file structure is to keep your photographs in a unique folder and only use this folder for your images (sub-folders w/in that are fine) and this is also where you'll save your Lr folders. When you create a new catalog or set one up for the first time it asks for a location to save Lr files (it saves image preview data and things like that as well as the editing information so it's faster to load). As long as Lr can find the original files, the catalogue will remain robust. Also recommended doing similar w/ back-up drives (if using). Keep folder structures the same.

    Oh, there is so much you can do.

    As for the save/save as, you're right. Once you have an edited/processed image, depending on what you're doing w/ it (i.e., posting online, for printing, etc.) you have a few options. If you want an image for your blog let's say, then yes you export (button on lower left in library module). You'll get a dialogue box asking where to save, what to call it, what size (here you would put size and kbs etc.), if you want watermarking ... and all these options can be saved as presets. For me, I now have an export preset that automatically resizes an image 600px on the long edge, 80% quality, adds watermark, sharpens for web standard and saves to a To Blog folder. If you want to export a large size jpeg, that is another option.

    This comment is too long as it is, but yes -- there's so much to this program. Like you, I'm most excited about being able to do most of my work w/in this one program. Anyways, I'll leave it w/ a few links I've found handy and if you have any questions I'll try to answer (have only been using it a short time myself) or if you have any interesting finds, be sure to let us know.





  2. Thanks for your thoughts Candis! I've transferred those links to the entry itself. All very helpful indeed. yes I can see converting my photo management over to Lr completely. Not sure if I'm comfortable having all the images in 1 big catalog, and to be honest I'm still a bit confused about catalogs, but will read more when my mind is more fresh. But I am getting a better handle on the whole import thing.

    Right now I dump my images to two external hard drives via USB or the CF card. I put the date of the photos and a description. So I have a tree that is Year, Date (Month/Day), description. I have always found I can remember "when" things happen, so it's easy for me to go back. Inside that directory I will then make sub directories for processed, to be processed and upload. So I always know where to find my finished images and resized ones. Then I mirror it to a 2nd hard drive as further backup. So Lr is a bit different in how it works. Having my full catalog for all to see doesn't work well for me as I do have images that I don't want anyone looking over my shoulder to see. So I like to continue to work in my smaller directories with my file structure. I think I can do this just by importing each time I want to do work. As the directories are fairly small it might not waste to much time going in and out. Just need to wrap my head around it all.

    Old dog new trick hahaha.

    Yes, lets keep chatting about Lr, either on here or on e-mail. Much to learn. Thanks for the help already!

  3. Scott - forgot another link. Julieanne Kost, works at Adobe, has some great vid tutorials.


    I do similar w/ folders - Y-M-D w/ a bit of text to job memory for each card. Since I'm doing the 365 this year, I basically have a day folder w/in each month folder. From what I can tell, Lr can work w/ this same structure.

    But yeah, seems like the trickiest part of the program is figuring out how to incorporate current file management practices w/ a cataloging database program. Seems like once we get that under control, it should be pretty straightforward. (Hopefully ... :)

  4. How is that 365 thing coming? Do we get a sneak preview?

    Now I just need to start getting out and doing some shooting so I have something to play with in Lr hahaha.