The first 5 things to understand about Adobe’s Lightroom

Posted by on Jan 19, 2015 in Lightroom, Software | 0 comments

The first 5 things to understand about Adobe’s Lightroom

Adobe’s Lightroom is a very comprehensive program that can be used to both catalogue and process your pictures. With new subscription pricing models available that bundle this program with Photoshop and the demise of Apple’s Aperture, more photographers than every seem to investigating this program. As with any program, new users can feel a little overwhelmed when they first start using Lightroom so here are a few key concepts to understand about the program.

1) Lightroom Catalogue File

The first thing to understand is the Lightroom catalogue file, it is after all the heart of the program. The catalogue is a database that contains 3 pieces of information about each of your photos: where the photo is stored, instruction on how you want to process the photo and information about the photo used for organisation (keywords, collections etc). It is important to understand that it does NOT contain your photos; the photos remain in separate folders that you designate at the time of import.

With all of this vital information about your photos, protecting yourself against data loss is important. You can elect a regular backup cycle within Lightroom for your catalogue e.g. when shutting down or once a week. Remember though, this step is just backing up the Lightroom catalogue, not all of the associated photo’s. For a more in-depth discussion on data backups check out this previous blog post by Tony White. One thing to be aware of with your Lightroom catalogue backups, each time the application runs the backup it creates an individual file. It may pay to delete older copies of the backup files after some time to reduce space usage.

I know that many professional photographers use multiple Lightroom catalogues, e.g. one for each wedding etc. This can be a very useful manner in which to use the program if you need or desire keeping photos and their information separate. I regularly use a number of different catalogues, one for my main photos, one that captures family snapshots and a couple for specific events I have photographed. Think carefully before choosing to use separate catalogues as it can make looking for photos a little bit more tricky.

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2) You are entering a workflow

The use of Lightroom gives us a lot of power and control over our photos but I have seen a few people get themselves messed up when using the Lightroom. In nearly every instance, these people have come unstuck because they do not appreciate the requirement or have not considered the workflow around their photo handling. Once your photos are added to Lightroom, it is best to continue using the application for all photo handling steps from then on. If you need to move or delete a photo, use the application to achieve that step. If you use Windows Explorer, Finder or some other application to move a photo then Lightroom is not going to be able to locate it and you will need to manually find the photo from within the application.

Considering in advance your workflow around the handling of photos is going to go a long way to help you get the most out of Lightroom. You should spend some time thinking about where your photos are going to be stored, how your photos going to are named, what type of identifiers you want to apply (keywords, colours, flags, collections etc) for finding photos.

Whilst Lightroom provides some significant photo processing tools, sometimes we need to go outside to a separate application for other processing steps. Once again, in a lot of cases, you can harness the power of Lightroom here to control that interaction with an external application. This process is called “round tripping” your photo, basically you are telling Lightroom to send that photo (or a copy) to the external application for processing: once processing is finished, save the photo in the external application and it will be returned to Lightroom. The power of this process is the fact that you retain all of your Lightroom setting for that photo e.g. it will keep any keywords you have applied previously. Lightroom will even allow you to see the before and after versions of the photo. The main applications I use in this manner is Adobe Photoshop and the great series of Google Nik Software plugins

3) Time and space saving advantages

The real power in Lightroom comes from its ability to save us time. It is this feature that draws the professional photographers to the application but it is certainly something everyone can make use of in our day to day requirements. There are many features within the application designed to speed up processing, the ability to copy settings from one photo to another lets you make general adjustments (like white balance ) to all images from a single shoot very quickly.

Presets are another key time saving feature and they are prevalent throughout Lightroom. In the Develop module you can take a mixture of settings and turn them into a “recipe” that can be applied to any images with a simple click of a button. You can even download presets from many locations on the web if you are looking for inspiration.

Presets can also be used both importing and exporting photos, this allows you to apply specific settings like metadata, keywords or colour labels on import and things like watermarks on output.Screenshot 2015-01-19 23.15.11


4) Finding your photos in lightroom

This very powerful software offers the user a multitude of ways to identify and group photos together. Using each of these tools or a combination of them, will make it very simple to find your photos.

Collections – a method of grouping your images. Think of it as an electronic photo album. The best bit is that a photo can be in many collections and they can be added manually (dragging and dropping) or automatically with Smart Collections by defining a series of rules (eg all photos taken between 1/1/2014 and 31/12/2014 with 2 stars).

Metadata – this information is added to the photo at time of capture within your camera, it contains information about the camera and its settings. Lightroom also gives us the opportunity to add additional information to the metadata for example your name, contact details, image title and location the photo was taken.

Keywords – are additional information tags that you add to the image. Keywords can be as complex or as simple as you like. They should be meaningful items that you might use to find that photo again, e.g. Who is in the photo, what is in the photo, does it invoke any specific moods.

Flags, colour labels and star ratings – generally you add these items as a way of grading your images, making it easier to find your better photos faster. It pays to put a bit of thought into these items and write the values down somewhere so that you are applying them consistently. They do not have to be about image quality though, for example I use the red colour label to indicate that the image is not processed.

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5) There is no save button

This is the one thing that most amazes new lightroom users, when you are making changes to your photos there is no save button. Very simply, this relates to the process called non-destructive editing that Lightroom uses. When you make changes you are not actually changing the image itself, you are changing an information file about the image. Think of it like a recipe for your photo, that gets applied when you either print or export the photo. This process gives us some wonderful benefits:
– multiple recipe files can be created for each image without duplicating the image each time. This saves you disk space.
– you can return to the image at anytime and make changes. Even going back to scratch and starting again.
– favourite recipes can be saved as “preset” giving you the ability to apply to other images quickly

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In summary, Adobe’s Lightroom is one of the industry leaders for photo management software. Changes over the last few years have seen the software priced so that even beginner photographers can afford it. Getting the software can bring significant benefits to the photographer, but it does come with a bit of learning curve, keeping mind the 5 points raised above will give you a great starting point.

Want to learn more about Adobe Lightroom? Check out the Lightroom workshops run by OzLight Photo Adventures. We provide workflow and image developing courses aimed to helping you get the most from software.

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