After a year in public beta, Adobe has released
Photoshop Lightroom 1.0, a brand-new workflow tool that combines image editing and photo management with the ability to produce slide shows, high-quality prints, and Web portfolios. Like Apple’s
), against which it competes, Lightroom is designed as a professional-level product that also appeals to serious amateur photographers. After
a year in development, Lightroom is a feature-rich and powerful tool, even in its version-1.0 state. While I found a few glitches and anomalies, they are mostly minor and do little to detract from Lightroom’s impressive debut.
Five basic modules
The $299 Lightroom is built around five modules, each of which is set for a particular point in the photographic workflow process. Two of them, Library and Develop, are where you will spend most of your time, while the Slideshow, Print, and Web modules are designed for their appropriately named output functions. The program consists of a suite of categorization, organizational, and editing functions that help refine your workflow and perform a variety of editing tasks. Moving between the modules is simple: you click on the module name, or, in some instances, press a shortcut key that automatically takes you to a module. Pressing the D key, for example, always takes you to the Develop module, while the G key takes you to the Library module’s Grid view.
Lightroom’s contextual interface places images at the center of the screen and tools in panels around the edges. You can view your photos as a group in thumbnail form, as a small set of images in the Survey mode, or as a single image at various zoom levels. Panels that let you perform different module-based tasks are located on the left and right sides of the screen. At the bottom of the screen is the Filmstrip, which displays the current image set. Also at the bottom is the Toolbar, which lets you perform editing tasks and select images based on rating, color label, or Pick status. The Toolbar also displays information about the image. There’s a lot of information packed into Lightroom’s interface, and Adobe has mostly done a good job of letting you show or hide it when you want.
Lightroom’s basic interface displays the image in the center image well.
You can use the side panels to select and edit images, apply presets and keywords, and more. You can also display a grid of thumbnails in the center image well. The Filmstrip, at the bottom of the screen, is available in all Lightroom modules, and lets you see the current set of images you’re working on.
Building your library
The library—your collection of photos—is Lightroom’s centerpiece: you can view all your photos on screen in the Library module or build subsets of images (like albums in iPhoto or projects in Aperture) that let you home in on specific groups of pictures for editing. From the moment you import images into the program, you can apply organizational data to them and select images based upon that data. Some of this data, such as keywords and file names, you apply yourself, and some of it is metadata that your camera stores with an image.
The Import Image dialog box lets you rename files with your own custom tags and camera metadata. You can also add keywords and apply preset editing tasks to a group of photos, direct where you want Lightroom to store them, and make a copy of the imported images in another location as a backup.
Lightroom gives you a number of methods you can use to tag or filter your images. You can rate them (from one to five stars), set them as a Pick or a Reject, color-code them in one of five colors, apply keywords, or use a combination of these methods. You can apply most of these tags via keyboard shortcuts to either one image or a group of images. Lightroom’s keyword feature is quite extensive; it lets you create keywords on-the-fly and apply them broadly across your library. You can attach keywords to an image or set of images in many ways, including via the Keyword Stamper tool, which lets you apply (or remove) keywords simply by clicking on an image.
You can group images into a collection, which makes it easy to focus on a particular set of images based on your own style and criteria. A Quick Collection mode lets you swiftly add an image or a group of images to a temporary collection. This is especially helpful when you’re going through a large group of images that you might want to add to an existing collection.
You can use Lightroom’s features to help you compare and sort photos. A Survey feature lets you display multiple pictures on screen, so you can consider differences in lighting or exposure, for example, when trying to choose which image best suits your needs. You can also group related images into stacks, which reduces the group to a single representative image. Stacks are represented by a number icon in the corner of the image in the Library module or in the Filmstrip; clicking on the number automatically expands the stack so you can view and edit any image in the stack.
As you’re cataloging and organizing your library, you can find subsets of your photos based on the folder or collection they’re stored in, as well as by keyword or metadata information. Lightroom’s Metadata Browser, for example, lets you find images based on the data embedded in an image at the time it was taken, including the camera model or lens used, the file type, the date, and various exposure details.
Once you’ve selected a subset of your library, you can then use the Toolbar to filter your images further based upon their rating, Pick status, and color. Overall, Lightroom’s fine multitiered approach to image organization and selection prepares you for the editing process.
Editing and enhancing
With Lightroom, you’ll find that there’s no single way to make tonal adjustments to your images. Initially, this might seem confusing, but ultimately, the variety of methods frees you to deal with images in the way that works best for your project.
Lightroom’s editing functionality is extensive and covers most of the basics, including complete tonal-range editing, color and saturation adjustments, precise color-to-gray scale image conversion (with split toning to create sepia-style effects), sharpening and noise-reduction tools, and the ability to correct for chromatic lens aberration and vignetting. You can also crop images and remove dust spots and other imperfections with the Spot Removal tool—this tool is very precise and has been nicely integrated into the Develop module. There are no masking or selection tools, however; for that, you will need an image editor like
). Lightroom works nicely in conjunction with Photoshop too, preserving image edits as you go back and forth between the programs.
Lightroom’s Tone Curve panel and histogram offer feedback about your image as you move your cursor over the panels; this feedback is really useful in determining how much latitude you have in adjusting an image before you begin to generate unnatural-looking images with muddy shadows and overblown highlights. And, in the spirit of letting you achieve the same result with different methods, you can simply click and drag in the histogram to adjust the exposure, the blacks, or the highlights; or you can use the respective sliders underneath the histogram. (The same is true for an image’s tone curve.)
With the Targeted Adjustment tool, you place your cursor on the tone in an image that you wish to adjust and then drag up or down to apply the effect. While you have the tool selected, visual feedback is provided in the panel: in this case, I’m using the tool with the Tone Curve panel (middle left), and Lightroom is telling me that I will be adjusting the dark tones in my image.
In addition to providing the traditional photographic tools, Lightroom features a Targeted Adjustment tool, which lets you click directly in your image to adjust the areas you want. No more worrying about where a tone is on the Tone Curve or in the histogram, or how much color you need to remove to desaturate a portion of an image. With the Targeted Adjustment tool, if you want to make the reds in an image less saturated, you just click on the red portion of your image and drag the cursor down until you get the effect you desire. It’s that simple. The Targeted Adjustment tool is one of the best image-adjustment tools I’ve ever used. It won’t entirely replace the need for curves, levels, and histograms, but it’s more intuitive.
With Lightroom, you don’t have to worry about making a mistake and altering your original file, because, as you edit a photo, Lightroom keeps track of what you’ve done and stores those edits in a separate file, leaving the original intact. Your edits appear seamless, but you can always get back to your original image. If you want to work on different versions of a file (for a Web project, or to show different options to a client), you can use Lightroom’s Virtual Copies or Snapshots feature to create different versions, with different editing states, without significantly increasing the size of your image library. (Note that while Lightroom has a feature to automatically back up its library file, it will not back up your individual images: you’ll still need to make sure you’re doing that as part of your workflow.)
Lightroom’s History and Snapshots features let you revert to your original image, or to any point in the editing process. When you roll your cursor over a Snapshot or an item in the History list, Lightroom’s Navigator panel displays a preview of the image at that state.
Any editing changes you make to an image, from cropping to exposure adjustment, you can copy and apply to another image, or even a group of images. A smartly designed Copy Settings dialog box displays 27 options; you click on the functions you want to apply, and then paste those settings onto any image in your library. A similar command works when you have a group of selected images. When you have the image the way you like it, you click on the Sync Settings button and the same dialog box pops up, letting you apply only the changes that you want to make. This is great for a set of underexposed images, images that have a dust spot from the camera sensor in the same location, or for applying the same crop settings to a set of photos.
Lightroom can read five photographic file types: JPEG, TIFF, Photoshop (PSD), Digital Negative (DNG), and Raw. Working with any of these image types is seamless, but you’ll find that Lightroom is most powerful when you’re using Raw images from your camera. Lightroom has the most recent version of Adobe Camera Raw built in; it supports more than 150 digital cameras, but you won’t even notice it, because you process Raw images the same way you process any other image. You still get all the capabilities of Raw processing—especially the expanded exposure latitude and improved detail and highlight recovery—without having to go through the Camera Raw dialog box. And you won’t notice a speed hit when Lightroom is building previews from Raw images.
Getting photos out of Lightroom
Library and Develop are Lightroom’s deepest modules; by contrast, the Slideshow, Print, and Web modules are much more streamlined and structured. They’re designed to work with small groups of images, and you’ll find that the best technique is to use Lightroom’s Collections feature to build sets, especially for the Slideshow and Web modules.
Of these three modules, Slideshow is the simplest, if even a bit underwhelming: you can take a group of images and easily produce slide shows, with music, against a background. You can add text and metadata to slides, as well as music from your iTunes library, but you’re limited to a single transition style, and the only export option is PDF, which means that you’ll lose your transitions and your music. Overall, this module feels like it needs a bit more work.
On the other hand, printing from Lightroom is a dream. The editing panels in the Print module are plain, but they let you create custom page grids for anything from a single image on a custom layout to contact sheets with metadata information (such as file name, camera type, aperture, and focal length) and text overlays. You can save your templates as presets and apply them at will. When you print, you can apply one of three levels of sharpening, and the color-management options are straightforward and uncluttered.
In the Web module,
Adobe’s acquisition of Macromedia
pays off handsomely. In addition to a good selection of HTML templates, Lightroom features a few customizable Flash templates that let you create portfolios with some pizzazz. As is the case with the Print module, you have some layout flexibility—you can adjust the color palette, the number of cells on an index page, the metadata you include with your Web pages, and so forth. You can even add a watermark to Web images, although watermarks are text-only, and the location, size, and color of the text are fixed. I found this restriction odd, given the flexibility and customization throughout the rest of Lightroom.
I tested Lightroom with a library of more than 3,000 images on a variety of Macs, including Intel MacBooks and MacBook Pros, a Power Mac G5 Dual, a PowerBook G4, and even an iBook G4. In most photo-editing operations, Lightroom’s performance was pretty quick, even when handling large files. Operations slowed down as I added large numbers of Raw or TIFF images to the library, especially while viewing them in Grid mode as Lightroom built (or rebuilt) image previews. Both a 1.67GHz PowerBook G4 and a 2GHz Core Duo MacBook were able to keep up with a 3,000-image library, easily building Web galleries and applying synchronized edits to large groups of images.
On slower Macs, like the PowerBook G4, however, Lightroom was poky when generating previews or going from an image in Grid view to editing it full-screen in the Develop module. Not surprisingly, I got the best performance from systems with faster processors, but RAM was an even bigger factor: the more RAM a Mac had, the better Lightroom performed.
Lightroom is a deep and fairly complete product, although there are still a few places where it needs work. There are trivial details: some keyboard shortcuts having different meanings in the Develop and Library modules; you can rename an image only in the Library module; there is no Secure FTP option for uploading galleries to the Web; and the jumpy behavior of the Filmstrip window, which, when hidden, often pops up abruptly when you’re trying to access a tool on the Toolbar. I also found the documentation to be a bit too abbreviated:
seems to be Adobe’s mantra here, and while it’s fine to discover things on your own—like the fact that the Remove Spots tool size can be changed via the scroll wheel—a complex $300 program should have a more thorough manual. (However, Adobe does have some
very good video tutorials
that offer insight into Lightroom on its site, and they’re worth watching.)
And while it’s not a flaw per se, some people will be put off by Lightroom’s overly modal interface—one in which you must move from one module to another before you can perform a specific task. This is in stark contrast to
Apple’s Aperture, whose more free-form approach lets you edit an image no matter where you might be in your workflow. I don’t think Lightroom’s technique is better or worse than Aperture’s, but I do think that people who are serious about using a workflow-centric editor should look at both to determine which suits them best.
Macworld’s buying advice
For years, the first program serious digital photographers bought and aspired to learn was Photoshop. That’s still true, but many people soon realized that Photoshop’s power may be overkill for most editing needs, and that image management and workflow are often more crucial tasks when working with large numbers of images. With Photoshop Lightroom 1.0, Adobe has recognized this need and responded by building a strong workflow foundation for serious shooters.
Lightroom has smart editing features, and, because it seamlessly incorporates Adobe Camera Raw, you’ll get the most out of your photos with a minimum of effort. And with Lightroom’s extensive cataloging and tagging tools, Adobe has made it easy to access your photos quickly and painlessly. There are definitely places where Lightroom can improve, but, even as it is now, it can help you gain control over your ever-expanding photo library.
Rick LePage is
’s editor at large.