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I have to admit, when it comes to changes I’m usually not the first to jump on board. I tend to do things a certain way and get comfortable there, so when I was contacted to test out Adobe LightRoom a few months ago it proved to be the catalyst I needed to get my photo library in order. Since the beginning of Bark Pet Photography I had been using Adobe Bridge to do what I call my “first round edits” – correcting color balance, exposure, contrast, etc. in my RAW files. Once I had the basics out of the way I could open up my files in Adobe Photoshop, do some re-touching, and save the files to their final format, TIFF.
It’s been a while since I’ve opened a new program and felt the frustration of trying to “figure things out”. I know it’s not the smartest way to learn, but really it’s the only way I can ever seem to grasp a new program. Sitting through a class or following along with a video tutorial actually drives me even more bonkers than banging my head against a desk when I’m stuck on a problem I can’t seem to figure out. Maybe it’s the triumph I feel when I finally DO figure something out on my own, or perhaps it’s just the way my brain is wired to learn, but whatever it is I was not looking forward to the self-induced pain of learning a new program.
When I received LightRoom I immediately loaded the program onto my mac and opened it up to putz around in. Since I knew next to nothing about the program I was confused by the completely BLANK screen looking back at me. Where were my photos? LightRoom’s first major difference from Bridge was quickly apparent – it’s NOT a file browser. In Bridge, you open it up and BAM you have your whole computer at your fingertips and can browse away just like you would in your finder window. LightRoom on the other hand is a database in which you have to first IMPORT the files you want to be able to access through it. At first this seemed like a useless and painful step to me but once I started importing files and saw how much quicker I could actually preview the files, the fact that I had to import them in the first place became a non-issue. But just so we’re clear, the term “import” is a bit of a misnomer in my opinion because it makes me think I’m actually MOVING files into the program when in fact that is not the case at all. You see, when you import a file into LightRoom it’s creating a “link” to the file’s location on your computer or external hard drive. It also creates a full-screen preview of the image that can now be accessed very quickly without needing to actually “call up” the original file. This is advantageous because if you’re like me and have external hard drives that you tend to use on multiple computers you can still access your photos “offline” during the times you accidentally left your drive plugged into your work computer.
Another feature about LightRoom that is important to point out is the fact that is totally NON-DESTRUCTIVE. So, when you’re color-correcting, cropping, sharpening, etc. you’re saving all of these changes into a little “side-car” metadata file that accompanies your original file. You’re NOT actually changing the original file, but only changing how it is being viewed on the screen. This also means that at any given time you can “revert” back to your original file or even make alternate variations of your file by using “virtual copy” which creates another metadata file – tiny in size compared to a copy of your original file which is MUCH larger.
Once you’ve imported your desired files into LightRoom you can then take advantage of the plethora of sorting and organizing tools available to you. You can “rate” images with stars and sort them much like you can in Bridge, but you can also create custom filters which enable you to sort images in pretty much any way you could ever imagine. Recently, I was confronted with a task of finding a photo specifically shot at f/11. A task that seemed daunting at first became a breeze when I realized I could simply create a “smart collection” that filtered out all of my photos shot at f/11. And once I actually started using “keywords” to categorize my photos the task of finding a certain breed, age, or colored dog could be done in seconds! No more racking my brain with questions like “was Buddy a golden retriever? How about Norman?” while manually searching through my files for an hour straight when trying to turn around image requests for a commercial client or creative director at a magazine.
Sure, going through your entire image library and keywording your files takes time. It took me a few months (of on-again-off-again work) to actually get all of my files imported and cataloged, which is why I’m only now getting to this review. But once you realize the power of your keywords and the ease at which it allows you to find stuff, I can guarantee you won’t go back to your old way of working. For me, it also opened another door – the ability to quickly turn around image requests for stock photos. Need a dog running on the beach? How about a cat photo in black and white? I can now find these photos and get samples out in seconds. Taking this idea even further I started to think that it would be nice to actually have an online database that could be search-able by stock clients. I had already been making use of LightRoom’s integrated “web galleries” (more on that in a minute) for my clients’ proofing sites, so I wondered if LightRoom was capable of creating a similar gallery that actually exported each photo’s keywords with it so that the photos could be filtered online, much as they are within LightRoom. Unfortunately, this was not a feature that came built-in with LightRoom – a surprise considering the program is so powerful when it comes to filtering photos and has amazing web-gallery functionality built right into it, so it only seemed natural to be able to merge those capabilities into an online SEARCHABLE gallery.
Since this was my first disappointment with LightRoom I decided to do some research and dug up a few different plug-ins that would extend LightRoom’s capabilities and allow me to do exactly what I needed. Some of the plug-ins I came across were paid applications, while others had a free version to work with. Since I wasn’t sure how well this experiment would, or would not, work I opted for the free plug-in and downloaded FotoPlayer for LightRoom. Since this is a review on LightRoom and not Fotoplayer, I’ll keep the details of my weekend fighting with the plug-in to a minimum. All in all I was able to get the plug-in to function immediately within LightRoom, it just took a lot of trial and error to get it to actually work the way I needed it to. Once I got my settings dialed in (which if you do download FotoPlayer you’ll see there’s about a billion and a half settings to play with) I was good to go, but it still left me yearning for Adobe to build-in this sort of functionality so it’s as intuitive and easy to use as the rest of LightRoom. (hint, hint Adobe!)
Rounding out the pluses of LightRoom is the incredibly easy to use “web” feature. In the past, uploading proofs for my clients was always a round-about annoying task that consisted of creating a pdf contact sheet through bridge, adding a watermark to the pdf through adobe acrobat, exporting the individual pdf pages as low-res jpeg’s, importing those jpeg’s into iPhoto, and finally uploading the album to my free .mac gallery. I know, I know probably couldn’t be more inefficient but at the time it was the easiest FREE solution. Now that I have lightroom, creating custom proofing galleries for my clients is as easy as pressing “upload”. I can add my watermark right in LightRoom, save my website’s ftp info, and then LightRoom will automatically upload web-sized images for me! I was actually pretty skeptical when I first saw this feature and realized I had to put in my ftp info. For some reason whenever dealing with ftp’s and websites in general things are never easy, so the fact that this feature worked on my FIRST try was downright awesome!
Pretty much I’m a convert – Adobe LightRoom rocks. I took the leap to try a new program and in the process have become way more efficient and organized. A big thanks to Adobe for letting me try out their software! If you’re thinking of making the switch or want to improve your own photo workflow I’d highly recommend starting with Adobe Lightroom.
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