Friday, September 2, 2011

Learning Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Summary: Resources for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom newbies.
Recently, I spent $120 on a copy of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 hoping that it would help me improve my post-processing workflow. I'm not a professional photographer, I do not carry expensive digital photo equipment, but I hate low quality (under/over-exposed, grainy, etc) photos, so I mostly rely on photo editing, which -- with more photos in my collection -- was becoming more cumbersome. After reading a number of rave reviews and user comments (e.g. PCMag, ARS Technica, Amazon), I decided to give Lightroom a try.

I had some reservations about using Lightroom on my 3+ year-old laptop with 3 GB RAM and a weak integrated graphics card running 64-bit Windows 7, but it installed and launched fine. My first impression was:
How the heck do I use this program?
I'm not a pro in digital graphics, but I can find my way around most photo editors, including Adobe products. However, my initial attempts to do something useful in Lightroom left me in the state of... what do I call it... frustration... bewilderment. I really had no idea where or how to start, so I finally decided to spend a few hours looking for short introductory tutorials. I will include references to the helpful resources below, but here is my second impression (after I grasped the basics and tried Ligthroom on a couple of hundred photos):
I'm still at the very early stage of learning the basics, but the more I learn about Lightroom, the more I like it.

Here are the features I enjoy (or plan to enjoy) most:
  • Non-destructive editing: When you edit an image, Lightroom does not actually modify the original file; it simply saves your editing steps (which can be quite complex) as instructions (metadata) in a catalog (a catalog contains information, or metadata, about a selected collection of your photos, but it does not include the actual image files). The problem here is that if you lose a catalog file, you will lose all edits of the photos referenced in the catalog (this is why it's important to back up your catalog files regularly). The benefit is that you do not need to keep duplicate files. You can also create multiple virtual copies of the files (pointing to the same physical file) and use them to apply different effects, such as black and white or vignette effects. Lightroom will apply your edits to a new physical copy of the file whenever you export or publish them to a hard drive, your web site, or a photo hosting site, such as Flickr of Picasa.
  • Batch processing: Lightroom allows you to apply the same changes to multiple files in a single step. Why is this important? Because many times you will have similar photos shot under similar conditions. Instead of adjusting them one at a time, you can select a group and apply the same changes once.
  • Before/after shots/previews: Lightroom offers several ways to compare the effects of your editing steps to the original photos, so you can go back and make adjustments. Presets allow you to apply multiple adjustments in a single step. When you roll the mouse over a specific preset, you can see a preview of the preset applied to your photo before you actually make a change.
  • Photo editing: After watching a number of tutorials, I was blown away with the types of adjustments Lightroom supports (and if these are still not enough, it lets you edit your photos in an even more advanced editor like Photoshop CS or Photoshop Elements). I'm using the basic tools (auto toning, exposure correction, clarity improvement, noise reduction, sharpening), and even these produce good results. And since all of the edits are non-destructive, you can always go back to the original.
  • File handling: I always had problems keeping track of my photos. I would copy a new set of shots from a flash card to a dedicated folder, make adjustments, and save the modified files to another folder. Then I may crop the modified files (to 4x6) for printing and save the cropped copies in yet another folder. Messy. With Lightroom, you can easily move photos between different directories without leaving the program. It allows you to rename the files and apply adjustments on import and export.
  • Metadata: I'm yet to start using meta tags (such as keywords) on my images, but when I do, I suspect they would make it easier to handle (search, select, group) photos.
Now, here are some links that I found helpful (if you have additional recommendations, please post them in a comment):


I haven't read any of these, but they seem to be getting the most positive reviews:
Cheat sheets
Presets and plugins
Tips and tricks
P.S. I must mention that the help file that comes with Ligthroom is quite helpful, so you may want to start there.

See also:

#CreativeFriday – An introduction to #Lightroom

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