Lets face it, Adobe Lightroom is still the most misunderstood of Adobe’s software offerings. Can it replace Photoshop? Should it? Can it enhance your workflow with Photoshop? I’ll answer those questions and a few more in just a moment.
Adobe Lightroom at its core is an photo database management tool. Its strength lies in the fact that photos are faster and easier to locate, filter, and view than in Adobe Bridge, and this even includes files that are offline on external hard drives or DVD’s. Every other feature, including the ability to edit photos non-destructively, is just icing on the cake. Imagine you have portrait sessions from multiple clients on multiple external hard drives. If you cataloged your photos with Lightroom and keyworded the client’s name to each photoshoot, you could search for the client’s name in Lightroom, see what hard drive the photoshoot is on, filter the 4 and 5 star photos, and select the best photo all without plugging in a single external hard drive. For a busy photographer, the database function alone could save large chunks of time.
The database structure is hard to grasp if you’re moving from a file folder organization system like Adobe Bridge. Lightroom doesn’t replace Bridge either, but the two programs work in harmony to keep your photos organized and accessible.
So what’s the first step to getting started with Lightroom? It’s importing your photos, and you’re given plenty of choices for doing it. Photos can be downloaded from your memory card automatically and placed in a new folder, or existing photos can be imported along with the option to leave them where they are or to have Lightroom copy them to a new destination. Besides raw files, Lightroom can import and adjust PSD, TIFF, and JPEG files.
Now once you have your photos in Lightroom, you can give them a star rating in the library module just like Adobe Bridge, or you can flag photos as selects or rejects. Another powerful core feature is the develop module which allows you to perform the same adjustments to a file as Adobe Camera Raw. These adjustments are non destructive and even include tools like selective adjustments and spot healing. If you’re a photojournalist, wedding photographer, or landscape photographer, you can see where the ability to adjust photos and apply those same adjustments to all the photos from your photoshoot another time saver. It’s much faster than applying adjustments using a batch in Photoshop. Many photographers in these or similar fields have used Lightroom to completely replace Photoshop and streamline their workflow.
If, on the other hand, you’re a portrait photographer, or heavily edit your photos, you may find tools like spot healing too cumbersome and inflexible to keep your editing completely in Lightroom and abandon Photoshop. Another advantage is the ability to open up your raw photos into Adobe Photoshop directly from Lightroom for more heavy handed edits. Once inside Photoshop, the files may be saved as PSD, TIFF, or JPEG, and will automatically be imported back into Lightroom’s database. The one caveat of this system is that PSD files need to be saved with “Maximum Compatibility” turned on, in other words along with all your layers, a flattened copy of your photo is saved inside the file as well, increasing your PSD size.
Lightroom does include some features that have nothing to do with editing but are still extremely useful to serious amateurs and professionals. The first is the slideshow module which allows the user to customize a great looking slideshow complete with your businesses logo in the corner to view when sitting down with clients or when making presentations or lectures.
The next is the print module. It allows a user to print proofs and contact sheets with multiple photos quickly and easily. The one drawback is that it lacks some of the more advanced color management and soft proofing options available in Photoshop. Art or client prints can be “printed” to a JPEG file in Lightroom and opened into Photoshop for fine tuning.
Last is the web module which shares some functionality with Adobe Bridge, but allows you to generate and upload web galleries without ever leaving Lightroom. Lightroom and Bridge do have different web gallery styles with many third party options available, but Lightroom’s default styles tend to look more sleek and modern in comparison to those included with Bridge.
Is Lightroom right for you? It might be. You may see the benefits easily if you shoot a large number of photos or if you have an extensive collection of photos spanning over a number of different hard drives. The additional features in Lightroom are there to help you serve and impress clients, and that’s never a bad thing. You could be processing your photos so quickly, you’ll be seeing the light in no time.