We have all been so “caught up in Photoshop” as the industry-accepted software for serious photographers to the extent that we have come to feel that we “can’t live without it.”
But Lightroom, in it’s latest incarnations, and given the plug-ins that work with it now, can do 90% of the work you need to do in a better and more integrated way. Here’s the “before and after” of a “well-exposed” image after processing it in Lightroom for less than three minutes:
Let me say right now that Photoshop can do certain things that are very important and that we need its power to do those things: Stitched Panomamas, merged series of HDR images, super-picky retouching of the type required for glamour portraiture, product, and food photography, converting a photo to a photopainting, combining vectorgraphics with photos, and 3D manipulation of photos. Lightroom doesn’t have Layers or Layer Blend Modes (but the upcoming Perfect Layers plugin from OnOne…the immediately previous subject of this blog, does and OnOne just announced an update to their Perfect Suite that includes Perfect Layers).
Lightroom can’t change the shape of objects precisely using the Liquify filter or make composite photos. Only Photoshop can warp and distort images or portions thereof with Freeform Transformations, Puppet Warp, the Liquify filter. All that’s a lot. Strictly speaking, you also can’t process HDR in Lightroom, but you can use plug-ins for HDR PhotoStudio, Photomatix Pro, HDR Expose, and HDR Express from within Lightroom and most will do either merged HDR or tonemapping to give a wider dynamic range to the photo. You . see the file in Lightroom’s catalog as soon as it’s done. Here’s the “before and after” of an image tonemapped in HDR Express Pro:
But virtually all of the things that Photoshop can do are what you need to do to a photograph after you’ve narrowed your entire selection down to a chosen few or when you have to combine photographs for which you’ve already done the basic processing and gotten client approval (including those times when you’re the client) for. On top of that, only a “chosen few” of us will ever bother to do those things at all, or…if they need to be done, will send the photo to an expert who specializes in doing that sort of thing.
When you stop to think about it, all of the above operations are things that get done to the photographs after the client has seen them and, on top of that, they are probably done to less than 20% of the photographs that are finally chosen. Lightroom, on the other hand, does two very important things in your workflow that Photoshop doesn’t do at all: Catalogue and manage your images and make it possible to automatically present them to a client as either a contact sheet or slideshow.
Furthermore, these days there’s another very good reason to put Photoshop second: If you only rarely need Photoshop (or any of the other advanced Adobe apps), you can rent them for as long as you need them and that makes it easy to “swap in an out” of all the applications. A “full on” version of Photoshop costs $699, but you can rent it for $49 a month. (I think that’s a brilliant move on Adobe’s part, too, because there are thousands of times when someone who rarely needs the program will need to use it for a while. And if it gets to the point where you would have to pay more to rent it, there’s nothing to stop you from buying it. Meanwhile, with Lightroom coming first, you’re doing your most essential work more efficiently and making more money, so it’s more likely that you’ll be able to buy it. In today’s economy, all that stuff is important!
The Lightroom Catalog lets you keep track of every image you’ve ever taken, records all the camera’s shooting information with each image, let’s you add keywords, titles, captions that will let you find any of your 20,000,000 images or so in a second and, at a click of the mouse, shows you side-by-side comparisons between two frames or to view the image at 100% magnification so that you can perfectly judge grain, motion blur, and focus before deciding whether to keep the image or not. You can even use stars, frame colors, and “pick” designations to decide what to keep and what to throw away (anything at all that you’ll never use or for anyone else to see…a great photographer knows what to throw away). Here’s the Main Catalog window showing some of the thumbnails from one of the shoot. You see that they’re much higher quality than Camera Raw thumbs and by dragging a little slider, you can make them all any size you want:
On top of that, Lightroom does a much more intuitive and highly “automatable” job of making the original frame show what you want to show with maximum dynamic range, perfect color balance, and any number of pre-set styles that can be achieved with the click of a button. And it always does all of this without ever “wrecking” the original image. You always have the option to go right back where you started from. Now it’s true that you can do exactly the same thing in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements if you do it in Camera Raw—except that Camera Raw won’t process TIFF, JPEG, PSD or other non-RAW files non-destructively, while Lightroom will.
The process of processing is super-intuitive, too: You use sliders that immediately preview the results in the selected image(s) as you drag the sliders. You can also correct the overall tonal range by simply dragging a portion of the histogram that’s shown at the top of the sliders. You can even use the same techniques to sharpen and remove noise, do split-toning, correct lens aberrations, and correct perspective as though your camera had a tilt/shift multi-hundred-dollar lens (or two). Then, on top of that, there are really fast tools that let you adjust the exposure, brightness, contrast, saturation, clarity, and sharpness of whatever you “brush” over with a brush of the size and edge softness that you choose for any particular region of the photography. The major difference is that you do it in a much more “readable” interface that gives you a much better idea of picture quality. Lightroom does all this in its Develop Module, shown below:
There are various ways to apply all these adjustments at once to any number of the thumbnails you’ve pre-selected for that purpose, too. Talk about saving time. Think of a portrait assignment, where you have to shoot 40-50 “snaps” of the same person doing nothing more than changing look and expression. You can process every one of those shots perfectly, all at once. You can also reset any of those shots back to the original, should you happen to want to process it differently.
The next thing that happens is that you have to show others (e.g. clients and art directors) the immediate results of what you’ve done so that they have time to fire you and hire someone else unless your photos exceed their expectations (sounds cruel, but that’s pretty much “the real world”. Lightroom not only gives you the processing control, but the ability to instantly “show and impress” with its other three modules: Slideshow, Print, and Web.
A slideshow is a great way to show the client your “picks”, either on a computer screen or attached to an email. You can even add a soundtrack to dramatize it. There are lots of more versatile ways to make a slideshow, but these are saved as either PDFs or Video. The PDFs will usually open as a PDF document and the advantage is that people can just click back and forth between the images. A movie plays without a pause and shows all the timing and dissolves and synchs the soundtrack. You can set up a template that identifies you, shows your copyright, and places the name of each file under the image. I find this last thing a great help because then the viewer can tell you exactly which image is being asked for or commented on. Here’s the way the screen looks:
Putting together a slideshow is really pretty automatic once you’ve read the instructions and set yourself up a template. Then all you have to do is, in the Library Module, select all the images you want to use in the Slideshow. That could be a Collection, which is thumbnails you’ve dragged into a title, or they could just be the highlighted thumbnails in the catalog folder for a given shoot. Then go to the Slide show module, pick your template and choose All Filmstrip Photos or All Selected photos. Click Preview to run the slideshow and set the timing. Then choose Export PDF or Export Video and send or show the result to your client. It rarely takes me more than 5 minutes to put even a fairly complex slide show together.
If you want to go over the images with the client in person, but not on the computer, you can either make printed Contact Sheets or do quick “layouts” of related series of images. To print contact sheets, I use the Page Grid sliders to make the images larger than in the pre-sets and have the program print the filename under each image.
You can have as many rows and columns as you like. You can also make “Picture Packages” that are great for showing a series of images from the shoot as they “tell a story” when published. For those, I usually print both the Title and the serial number under each.
The final module, and one which could be especially interesting if I had a site to put the pages in is the Web module. There all all sorts of templates…and you can download even more from the Internet for free. It takes only minutes to put together a web album, with the images titled and identified, complete with a thumbnail index and larger frame sizes. You can simply FTP it to your site and email anyone who might be interested to have a look at it and make their picks.