Apple is replacing Aperture and iPhoto with a new application Photos to replace both. Is it time to make the move to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom? A presentation at Hampton Roads Digital Shutterbugs prompted me to reexamine Lightroom after an initial attempt to evaluate the product went down in flames. This article describes my experiences during the one-month trial of Lightroom 6 I was able to attempt in April and May of 2015.
Apple’s new Photos tool is a very capable photo collection manager and photo editor designed for broad use by casual and beginning amateur photographers. It makes it very easy to produce high quality images from captures taken with some attention to composition and lighting and to save many less carefully made images.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is designed for use by the advanced amateur photographer and graphic arts professionals. Like Photos, Lightroom makes it easy to organize a photo library and perform basic correction of images. Lightroom goes beyond Photos in its ability to perform sophisticated manipulation of images and image regions. Where Photos makes coordinated model driven image alterations, Lightroom offers extensive creative control of individual manipulations but is extensible using preset libraries and editing plugins to perform sophisticated manipulations with Photos-like ease of use. Lightroom appears to offer a range of image similarity transforms not found in Photos to correct lens distortion, chromatic aberration, and 3-D perspective.
Reference 4 is a link to Adobe’s Lightroom introductory tutorials. Working through these tutorials is a good way to learn enough about Lightroom to get started with the program.
Reference 5 is a link to a set of tutorials introducing various digital photography techniques and the associated rendering techniques in Lightroom.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
When Apple announced that it was discontinuing Aperture, Adobe pitched Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Creative Cloud to Apple users. Adobe is trying to move its products from a product model in which you receive a perpetual license to a program version to a subscription model in which you pay by the month to use a group of products in their current versions. For $10 per month, you can use Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop and stash some stuff on Adobe’s cloud storage. As new versions are released the Creative Cloud application manager will fetch and install them for you so you are always up to date.
Lightroom strikes a balance between capability and simplicity of use. Lightroom’s design makes it easy to import images, make basic corrections, tag and collect images, and associate images with clients and client projects. The more sophisticated features of the develop module allow basic tilt correction and cropping, perspective correction in the manner of tilts and swings, application of transformations to multiple portions of an image, and sophisticated manipulation of color and contrast using tonal curves. Lightroom is also able to correct lens distortions and chromatic aberration.
Installing a Trial Version
If you visit http://Adobe.com, you can quickly navigate to special offers for photographers. Adobe is tiering its products for various use cases including graphic arts students, enthusiast photographers, professional photographers, and those working as graphic arts professionals. The initial links let you start a 1 month trial of Creative Cloud for photographers. This trial allows you to use Photoshop and Lightroom for one month.
If you follow the link, it will download an OS X disk image that contains the Creative Cloud installer. CC Installer, when launched, will install Lightroom. If you wish to install Photoshop also, CC Installer will do this for you.
It took me several tries to get a good installation of CC Installer that would actually install Lightroom in a form that could be launched. I believe this was because I had some legacy cruft from a trial of an older version (4?) lying around. I used Clean My Mac to slaughter everything Adobe and attempted a fresh installation that went successfully.
When you launch Lightroom, Creative Cloud application manager actually does the deed. At launch, it will check for the availability of updated programs and will offer the chance to install them. Your subscription entitles you to updates as they are released. Adobe also offers a traditional single user license that does not include updates.
Introducing Oswald, My Mac Mini
Oswald is a 2009 Intel Core 2 Duo Mac Mini with nVidia GeForce 9400 graphics. In 2014, the machine’s hard disk failed. I took the opportunity to perform a disk transplant and memory transplant. The machine now has 8 GB of main memory and 512 GB of SSD storage. The SSD is a Crucial solid state SATA drive. I chose Crucial for both the memory and disk for the convenience of a single order.
I mention Oswald’s internals because Lightroom 6 is smart enough to use the video hardware to do image transformations. Reference 3 describes the system requirements needed to use Lightroom and Lightroom’s use of the machine’s GPU.
On Oswald, I’ve found Lightroom to be responsive for importing and editing using this equipment. The smart thumbnail step in the importing process is slow but runs in a background thread that permits responsive use of the editor. With 8GB of memory, I’ve seen no evidence of paging in Lightroom.
Initializing the Lightroom Image Library
Lightroom keeps its data in two directories. On Mac OS X these are ~/Pictures/Lightroom and ~/Pictures/Lightroom Masters. The Lightroom directory contains Lightroom’s metadata about your images. Lightroom Masters contains the actual raw or other image files. The metadata describes each version of an image that you make. The metadata also includes your copyright, license grant, keyword tags, camera, lens, exposure, date and time of capture, GPS coordinates of capture, and other information about the image produced by the camera, added by the editor, or added by Lightroom.
The metadata contains a recipe for making each version of the image. The recipe contains a reference to the location of the image file in Lightroom Masters. If you need to rename an image file, you must use Lightroom to make the change because it must update the name in the Lightroom metadata. Similarly, if you move the library, Lightroom needs to update the file locations in its catalog.
Lightroom metadata allows you to assign images to collections. A collection is a group of images that are related in some way. For example, you can organize collections by client and project or create smart collections that include images having selected metadata values like camera, lens, date captured, or selected keywords.
Importing Images into Lightroom
Next I’ll describe the image importing process. This process imports your existing image files and new images from your cameras or their removable storage.
The importing process keeps selected metadata produced by the camera and some metadata added by other image management programs. For example, Lightroom can preserve Apple Aperture or iPhoto keywords but not rendering instructions.
Importing from Aperture
Lightroom is able to import Aperture 3 libraries. The Aperture 3 format is common to iPhoto and Aperture so both are covered. Lightroom maps each Aperture Project or Album into a Lightroom Collection. Collections may contain collections. The import of my library produced some empty collections. When this happened, the collection usually had an algorithmic numeric name rather than a recognizable name based on a date or given by me in the original library. Once the import completes, you may want to reorganize this part of the library using a recognizable structure and naming.
Importing your Aperture library uses a plugin found on the File -> Plugin Extras -> Import from Aperture Library menu item. Although not intuitive, Adobe clearly explains this in the getting started tutorials. I believe they chose to put this tool here because it is a one time process. My library took a couple of hours to process so put this operation on at bedtime.
Importing from My Sony Alpha 65
Use the Import button down on the bottom toolbar to import photos from a device (iPhone or camera) or from the file system. Lightroom is aware of device raw file formats but leaves you on your own to find the directory on the device media to import. I had to hike through the camera SD card file tree to find where it kept the photos. Once located, it brought in the raw file, jpeg file, and metadata into the Current Import in the Catalog. An import option allows you to import into collection Quick Collection which you can rename after the import.
Lightroom lets you build preview images as part of the import process. This can take a while and tends to peg out both processors on my early 2009 Mac Mini (8 GB main memory, 512 GB SSD system volume). Lightroom will tell you what it is currently doing in a little status pane in the upper left corner of its main window.
Importing From My iPhone 6+
When you connect an iPhone, Lightroom will recognize that it is present and offer it as a source. Lightroom is aware of the iPhone camera’s file structure and will locate the photos and movies without user assistance.
Lightroom Organizing Model
In this section, we’ll look briefly at where Lightroom keeps your photos and how it organizes them.
Where Your Photos Are
Lightroom keeps your raw and jpeg files in the file system. If your Lightroom database is in Pictures, your image files will be in Pictures/Lightroom Masters. Lightroom keeps its versions data in Pictures/Lightroom. If you wish to move the Lightroom directories elsewhere, you must use Lightroom to make the move because the version files contain references to the original image location. To properly move the library to another disk, Lightroom must revise all of these references to use the new locations. This gives some insight into Apple’s decision to keep the Aperture and Photos image libraries as opaque objects using Core Data. Given Adobe’s desire to work across platforms, they chose to stay in the file system.
If you look at the Lightroom Masters directory, you will see that Lightroom keeps your images by date organized by Year, Month, and Day. The day folders are named using numeric dates yyyy-mm-dd making it easy to browse the file system to see what is available. Note that Lightroom creates a folder for each day of the month and that some may be empty.
The files that you see will be the unedited files. Lightroom does its magic by recording the sequence of editing actions that you take and applying them to render the edited image when it is needed. It is like Aperture and Photos in this way. No editing actions you take will damage the original capture and you can always get the original back to start over or to make a new rendered version for a different purpose.
Overlaying Order on the Masters
Lightroom provides several organizing models that you can use to group images. These include
- Collections containing collections or images
- Smart Collections, a set of images selected by query on image metadata (camera, date, keywords, and many more)
- Folders within a day folder to group images
When you do camera or file system import, the importer gives you the following collection options.
- Add to the quick collection
- Add to an existing collection
- Add to a new collection
As collections can contain collections, it becomes possible for a working pro to collect photos by client, client project, and project shoot creating the collections at the time of import. The file handling sidebar provides the collection options, allows you to choose one of the existing collections, or to create a new collection for the import.
Smart collections dynamically group images into collections based on meta data attributes. The smart collection editor lets you build a ruleset used to select the images for the collection. The metadata include camera, lens, image capture data, and keyword values.
My Initial Collection Practice
The importer also lets you apply keywords to all of the images in the import. I use the importer to apply classification attributes common to all of the images in the import. Once the import completes, I use the Library module to add subject specific and image specific keywords. For example, I add dog names, tag the image for the holiday card, etc.
I currently have smart collections for
- Each dog
- Each camera
- Each residence
- Beach photos
- Thanksgiving and Christmas photos
- Holiday cards
- WHRV pet calendar candidates
Lightroom offers two editing modes, library quick edits that can correct white balance, exposure, and other image basics and developing which brings the full powers of Lightroom to bare. Lightroom is able to import both still photos and video into the library. The library quick edits work with both stills and videos. The more detailed developing edits work only with still images.
Library Module Edits
The Library Module editor allows you to make global changes to the image, for example, changing color balance, applying an overall tonal correction, improving clarity, removing noise, or fiddling with vibrance and exposure. Lightroom applies these transformations to each pixel of the full image.
Developing Module Edits
The Develop module lets you make multiple versions of an image using techniques and tools that affect only part of the image. The tools include cropping and transformations inside masks or outside masks. Masks may be elliptical regions or parallelogram regions. I’ve not done much with these.
The Develop module provides the following commonly used tools
- Color/monochrome tool
- Tone curve
- Split toning of highlights and shadows
- Sharpening tool
- Noise reduction tool
These can be used to enhance an image or to do pseudo-color manipulation of the image. It is this module that you do renderings that mimic the traditional film materials.
Lightroom saves your editing actions on a stack. As you take each action, Lightroom pushes it on the stack. You can pop actions off to revert to an earlier version. At any point, you can make a named snapshot of the stack. You do this in the Develop module. Snapshots are most useful when you want save multiple evolving renderings of an image but only need to use one at a time. Snapshots can be named with the name indicating the intent behind the snapshot.
Lightroom’s Develop module lets you make virtual copies of an image by right clicking. To differentiate versions, it gives each a sequence number. Versions are useful when different renderings of an image are needed simultaneously and are most commonly used when different crops are needed or very different rendering treatments are needed. They are often used to make different crops or different color treatments of an image, for example, different film/print styles.