Using the twin-pane view to compare and select which image to use.
The magic of digital photography is you can keep shooting until your memory cards are full or the batteries run out. There’s no cost concerns with the number of pictures you’ve bagged. That’s the gospel that digital evangelists preach, but there is a payback for all this photography and that is your time. Time it takes to download images to the computer to start, but then time taken to sort through them, pick the keepers, the ones you want to use and the ones that are destined straight for the bin. This is where Lightroom steps up to the crease, not as a replacement for Photoshop, but as a partner or precursor to using it.
The interface is all modern dark grey and black with a bagful of keyboard shortcuts and a wealth of information jammed into the screen. There are five areas of Lightroom, all listed along the top right of the display. These cover Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web and of these, the first two are the most important and useful.
The Library is the starting point and also the place where pictures can be compared and assessed. On the left side of the screen is a tabbed column containing Library, search, folder, Collections, Keyword tags and the Metadata Browser. It’s worth pointing out here that on the right side of the screen is the Quick Develop tabbed column, offering quick photo fixes. Anything here can be done in more depth in the Develop section, though at that point you have to ask whether Photoshop would be a better platform to use.
There’s also some overlap in how the images are laid out. The filmstrip along the bottom of the screen shows images that have been imported into the Library while to the left there’s a Navigator panel to show which area of the image is being displayed. However, the centre defaults to a grid view which duplicates the filmstrip to a large degree. They do show file names, numbers, resolution and can be rotated, added to a quick collection or flagged as a selection, but the real advantage of seeing them all here is simply that you can see more of them at once than can be seen in the filmstrip itself. All the above functions could just as easily be implemented on the filmstrip so at this point there is clear overlap. Where the advantage of using a dual display system actually pays off is in selecting images from a group.
|Here's the breakdown of the apertures used in all the shots in the current gallery. One click sorts to that variable.
This is primarily when a batch of images have been shot and you are looking to find the best one to use. Clicking on the XY icon brings up the compare view, with the current image on the left as the Select and the one next to it in the filmstrip appearing on the right as the Candidate. The cursor keys – or the on-screen icons – can now be used to cycle through images on the filmstrip in turn as you look for one that is better than the Select image. The Select image stays the same, the Candidates are cycled through. If you see one that is obviously better than the Select image, then a press of the up arrow will promote it to being the Select image. You can also click on an icon to do this, but it’s quicker with the keyboard. The images can be zoomed into simultaneously and also move around as one, to compare similar areas for sharpness and tone. This involves the Loupe icon and a fairly clunky method of zooming into the images.
While this all works well, and it makes selecting a keeper image out of a pile a whole lot easier than manually loading them into Photoshop for comparison, it has to be said that this is also what Apple’s Aperture program does as well. If you have a Mac, then you have a choice, unfortunately for PC people, you don’t. This is a pity because Aperture works like a digital equivalent of physically doing the task with a lightbox and transparencies, whereas Lightroom feels like software. In other words, Aperture is far more intuitive, powerful and easy to use. Never mind PC people, back to what Lightroom has to offer.
The left side pane of the Library is where keywords can be added, collections created and metadata browsed. It could be set out and operated more clearly, but the ability to scroll this pane off to the left, and the pane of the right as well, to make more room for comparing images is a good one.
The Quick Develop option
|Applying a tone curve and other adjustments in the Develop section of the program.
As mentioned, the Quick Develop section is in the Library, in the right side pane. This allows the white balance to be changed and exposure, recovery, fill light, blacks, brightness, contrast, clarity and vibrance to be adjusted either with modest steps, or much larger steps. You’ll either like the handy convenience of being able to tweak images while selecting them, or curse the crudity of control.
There’s also a keywording box here for adding new keywords or assigning existing ones. Images can also be rated and colour coded for sorting as well. The other element of the right side pane is the Metadata palette. The information here is presented in a much cleaner way than just looking at the mass of garbage in EXIF data so it’s far easier to see the important stuff.
The Develop palette starts to do more heavy duty processing work, with colour temperature and tinting, the strength of each RGB channel and the picture exposure as before but now with individual units of alteration rather than the crude chunks in Quick Develop. There’s some interesting elements here like noise reduction, covering both luminance and colour, as well as sharpening and lens correction facilities. This covers chromatic aberration adjustment and lens vignetting.
The other three elements of Lightroom really are far less important, though they are all concerned with output. They are all fairly basic compared to dedicated packages, so I presume they are included for the pro-level shooter who just wants a simple presentation facility for the best shots. Certainly you won’t be producing your holiday slideshow here as it simply isn’t powerful or varied enough. While there’s some merit in the Print section, as it ties in to the printer driver anyway, the Web output with its choice of flash and html and lesser formats is pretty basic in what it can do for you. Personally, after picking shots from a shoot that I wanted on my website, I’d be using my website creation software package to place and upload them, not this. It, however, could be of use for batch loading pictures for clients to look at on-line, rather than displaying them for all and sundry.
Adobe Lightroom Verdict
There’s a clear marketplace for software where either the majority of the shots it deals with are going to be basically okay technically, because you are using a regular lighting setup, or where a batch of pictures is processed and you want a fast and easy way to get the best one. If the job is going to involve lots of photo editing and/or you don’t really need to order the pictures – like extreme conditions and family holiday shots then Lightroom is not the answer. Otherwise, there’s plenty of sorting, tagging and picking options here – being able to pick from pictures via the Exif metadata is very handy, and the ability to tweak photos that really only need just that, while you are in the middle of sorting through, is a real bonus.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Plus points:
Create galleries from folders or on the fly
Tag, rate and colour code images
Some great sorting variables, such as items in Exif data
Compare and select image
Quick edits while comparing
Good general tools in Develop
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Minus points:
Not as intuitive as it could be
Limited and underpowered output options
It isn’t Aperture
VALUE FOR MONEY:
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.3 costs £205.62 and is available from the Adobe website.