Saturday, March 3, 2012

Adobe Lightroom Review

About a year ago, I heard a lot of buzz about Adobe Lightroom and decided to download a 30-day trial. Thirty days was enough to convince me that this is a tool I needed to add to my wish list and this is what my sweet husband got me for Christmas. Adobe Lightroom is a non-destructive photo editing tool (raw and compressed images), and it is a photo management database. I am primarily going to focus on the photo editing side of the tool in this review as that is what I have spent the most time with so far.

So what does "non-destructive" mean with respect to a photo editing tool you may wonder. Well, this means that you can tweak all kinds of settings on your photos and Lightroom will merely save all of the adjustment tool settings that you applied to your photo, rather than modifying your actual photo. Saving just the settings applied to the photo takes a considerably less amount of memory than saving off copies of the edited photo, and your original image is left untouched.

If you have certain combinations of settings that you like to use frequently, the tool allows you to save them as user presets. Then, with the click of the mouse, you can apply those same settings to any image you want. The tool comes with a collection of B&W presets, color presets, special presets, and general presets. These are great fun to play around with...simply hover your mouse over the preset name and immediately see the effect of the preset in a little preview window. Click on the preset and the effect is applied in the main window. You can share your user presets with others or use presets that others have shared with you. I have been entertained for countless hours playing around with these.

The tool has numerous panels with adjustment sliders for controlling everything you can think of. The amount of control at your fingertips is amazing.

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The control panels include:
  • Basic Panel with controls for White Balance, Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation. I was delighted to discover the eye-dropper tool in this panel which can instantly correct white balance.
  • Tone Curve Panel which lets you control tones by directly manipulating the tone curve, or using a handy-dandy adjustment tool to select areas right on your picture to manipulate by dragging up or down...very powerful.
  • The Hue-Saturation-Luminance/Color/B&W Panel lets you individually control hue, saturation or luminance of specific color channels, or for B&W you can independently control the black and white mix for specific color channels.
  • The split toning section allows you to independently control hue and saturation in highlights or in shadows which can give some very interesting results, especially with B&W images.
  • The Detail panel has sliders for various sharpening and noise reduction controls. These have to be the best tools I have used to date for sharpening and noise reduction with the ability to mask off the effects of noise reduction to certain areas of the image.
  • The Lens Corrections Panel is very interesting. You can enable profile corrections which will automatically correct distortions caused by specific lenses if it can auto-detect the type of lens used. If it does not auto-detect your lens, you can manually enter your lens information to see if a profile exists for your lens. If so it will auto correct your image. Now Lightroom also allows you to manually tweak various distortion and perspective settings to correct for strange angles you may have taken your picture at. You can do some really cool stuff with these settings.
  • The Effects Panel allows you to add some post-crop vignetting or grain with several sliders to control specific attributes of the vignetting or grain. The cool thing about post-crop vignetting is that you can manipulate your crop setting at any time and the vignetting will automatically re-adjust to the newly cropped image....no need to go back and re-do the vignetting.
  • The Camera Calibration allows the ability to tweak certain settings for a particular camera type; for example, if you have a particular camera that you feel always is a little heavy in the reds, you can tone down the saturation on the reds for that camera profile.

  • In addition to the panels described above, Lightroom has a very powerful non-destructive crop & straighten tool, a brush for spot healing or cloning imperfections on your image, a red eye correction tool, a graduated filter tool to apply adjustments in a graduated fashion, and an adjustment brush to directly paint adjustments over areas of your image. Lightroom also has built in tools which allow you to directly upload your images to Facebook, Flickr, or export to your hard drive. There are plugins out there which allow you to directly upload to other sites as well.

    Things that Lightroom is NOT Designed to do

    While you can most definitely create some artistic effects to your images using Lightroom, Lightroom is not a photo editing tool in the same sense that Photoshop is. Aside from adding a watermark to your image, you can not draw things on your image with brushes or stamps. You can not combine multiple images or add textures using layers; nor can you apply many of the artistic filters and effects you will find in Photoshop.

    Things That Could be Improved

    Since I use textures alot on my images, I find the built in mechanism to integrate Photoshop or Photoshop Elements with Lightroom a bit tedious. I usually start by editing my images in Lightroom to make them the best they can be, then I use the "Edit In" Lightroom option to send the edited image over to Photoshop Elements, which opens Elements as a completely separate application. I can apply textures to my images and any other photo manipulation that can not be done in Lightroom. Then I save off the image in Elements, which sends it back to Lightroom, where I can use Lightroom's Publish Services to upload my images to the websites of choice. Now if I do anything funky in Elements, such as saving off different versions of my edits to my hard drive before saving the original image that was sent over by Lightroom, the image never goes back to Lightroom (A software bug maybe???).

    Now, since both Lightroom and Photoshop Elements are Adobe products, wouldn't it be nice if they could interact a little more seamlessly? I am thinking of some kind of Lightroom plugin for Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, which would allow you to select "Lightroom" from the filter menu in Elements and pop up a Lightroom window. Within the Lightroom window you can use the Lightroom sliders and presets, then click done and the lightroom edits become a new layer within Photoshop Elements. It would also be nice if I had some way of using the Lightroom publish services from within Photoshop Elements. Now maybe this kind of plugin does actually exist, and I just haven't found it yet. Please let me know if this is the case as I would love to give it a try!

    Well, this concludes my review of Adobe Lightroom. As I discover fun things about this tool, I will be sharing tips and tricks over on my main blog. The Home link at the top of this page will bring you back there. Feel free to comment on this review with your own impressions of Adobe Lightroom, and please let me know about any fun Lightroom plugins you find out there.

    Have a great day!


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    Sunday, February 5, 2012

    Reviewing Photography Software and Products

    Coming soon, I am going to be posting my impressions of various photography software, equipment, or products. Some of these software packages I have only downloaded a free 30-day trial to see what they are like and most likely only scratched the surface of what is possible with the product. I invite you to add your impressions if you have tried or regularly use the software or products being reviewed. My first review is going to be on Adobe Lightroom. Until then....have a great rest of the weekend!



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