Adobe Lightroom: A Beginners Guide

Adobe Lightroom: A Beginners Guide

An introduction to Adobe Lightroom

I wonder how many of you use Adobe Lightroom? Please let me know in the comments section what you think of the software or what other post processing software you use.

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There are two approaches to postproduction of digital images. You either do or you don't. I've got a lot of sympathy with those who don't. After all, isn't it better to be out shooting rather than spending hours looking at a flickering monitor going slowly mad? However, I'm in the camp that believes that most, if not all, images benefit from at least some polishing after shooting - even if it's as basic as spotting out dust or adjusting contrast. My tool of choice in this task is Adobe Lightroom. Here's why.

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Adobe Lightroom is essentially Photoshop for photographers. It uses the same core technology, though packaged in a different way. It lacks some features of Photoshop – though mainly those things that irrelevant to photographers (Photoshop is like a Swiss Army knife, designed for a variety of different users). However, it does some very nifty things that Photoshop doesn't.

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The most important of Lightroom's features is non-destructive editing. When you edit an image in Lightroom you never alter the original pixels in the image. Instead, Lightroom builds up a list of your alterations in a database. This list of alterations is applied to an image every time you open Lightroom. The truly wonderful thing about this is that you can step back through the list, unpicking what you've done previously to apply new alterations. You can keep doing this ad infinitum without ever losing the image that you originally shot. You can also make virtual copies of images to create a series of radically different interpretations of the originals. And because the copies are virtual, they don't take up large chunks of precious hard-drive space.

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Lightroom also differs from Photoshop in that it's modular. The two modules that I use most are the Library and Develop modules. Remember that I mentioned databases before? Lightroom has a name for this database: catalogue. Images are imported in Lightroom's catalogue. The Library module allows you to sort, copy, rate and rename images in the catalogue to your heart's content. More importantly Library also allows you to add keywords and descriptions to images. Relevant keywords are a very powerful way to find images, either on your PC or on image-sharing websites such as Flickr. Rather spookily, Lightroom learns what keywords often go together and will begin to suggest keywords, which is useful if slightly impertinent.

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The Develop module is Lightroom's toolbox, with all the tools you could want to fix images. These run from the extremely sophisticated (such as lens profiles that automatically fix the specific distortion and aberration problems of a lens) to the more prosaic (such as a slider to adjust contrast). There are also a variety of presets that allow you to quickly apply commonly-used effects such as black and white conversion to images. And, as I mentioned above, whatever change you make to an image is temporary. If you're not happy with an alteration you can undo it and start again at any point, tomorrow, next week, in ten years' time even. You can even apply the changes you made to other images, making it easy to process large numbers of images in one go.

Finally, once you're happy with your alterations, your image can be exported (as a new file) with your keywords and alterations applied ready for printing or uploading to the web. And of course, once that task is out of the way you'll then have time to out an shoot more images that can then be imported into Lightroom...