Like many photographers, I have used an assortment of photo editing applications: Picasa, Photoshop Elements, Photoshop, iPhoto, Aperture, Nikon Capture, and Lightroom. Why do photographers move from one photo editing application to another like serial daters? Could it be a restless search for the one experience that will complete them? (I have no idea.)
For photographers who are serious about their photography, it often comes down to one of two choices: Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5(1). Yes, "Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5" is the real name (and I am not making this up), although I generally shorten it to "Lightroom." The current version is 5. I have used Lightroom for several years and I find that is works well for about 95% of my post-processing. Getting good at what you do is one way to Be a Better Photographer.
Learning new software is my least favorite thing to do (as is installing a new computer or recovering from a hard drive failure). The reason this process is often perceived as tedious is that we simply wish to get on with it. That is why we don't read software manuals, quick start guides, or (gawd forbid) Scott Kelby's excellent book The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Book for Digital Photographers. We don't want to delay our transition to a better program. The built-in learning curve has caused many a photographer to falter when trying to transition to Lightroom from a simpler platform. With this in mind, Mike Dooley and I developed a macro to micro (or Gestalt, if you prefer) approach designed to minimize transitional adjustments and get everyone off to a right start. There is nothing like initial success to fuel the desire to go further. Our Lightroom class progressed the way a photographer works, from importing image files to publishing finished photographs. Along the way, we introduced workflow features that assist in sorting and cataloging images even before editing begins. By the time the class had progressed to editing, Lightroom was no longer an unfamiliar territory. Mike and I held the class during two morning sessions on successive Saturdays.
Session 1 - Library
Because Lightroom incorporates powerful library features, we started with an overview and customization that would accommodate each photographer's preferences. Photographers are very picky about how they want things to look, feel, and function and Lightroom can be tailored to those preferences. Next came importing image files into the library and adding keywords to facilitate search functions. After the import, we demonstrated a number of workflow options that assist in quickly sorting through imported images files and separating the "good, bad and the ugly," so that the few are identified from the many for editing. We also demonstrated powerful functions like sort, find, and "smart collections" so that our photographers(3) would be able find a single photograph among tens of thousands in a matter of moments (even if it's the one of an annoying relative from the holidays in 1983).
Session 2 - Develop
With the library functions covered in our first session, the Lightroom develop module was the subject of our second session. While the library module satisfies our need for organization, the develop functions appeal to our creativity. Rather than focusing on all the things you can do, we presented why you might want to make specific edits, using the sample images that the class had imported in the first session. Our workflow followed a macro-to-micro approach: start with global editing and then progress to selective adjustments. Global edits affect the entire image; they include lens corrections, cropping, white balance, exposure, and tone curve. Selective adjustments change portions of the image. These adjustments include graduated filters, radial filters, spot removal, and the adjustment brush function. Beyond making a great image, our editing goal is to make it difficult for a viewer to discern what exactly we did. If your post-processing is obvious, you probably have overcooked it (although you may get lots of "likes" on Facebook). Editing is a lot like seasoning--a little goes a long way.
Beyond the mechanics of the develop module, there are also dynamic considerations. I often go back and review my edits a day or two later, just to see if I still agree with my prior decisions. Editing images into photographs is not unlike editing your writing. It is a slow and deliberate process that should be performed carefully and with deliberate purpose. Decisions about what to leave in are as important as what to discard. The process should not be forced or rushed; although on some days, it progresses faster than others. When nothing you try works, it might be better to find something else to do and come back to it later. There is never a one-size-fits-all method and, like a sculptor considering a piece of wood or a block of stone, you should check how you feel before you start, as you progress, and certainly when you think you're done.
One of the nice features of our Lightroom class is that we hold it at Bagelz in Wakefield, a wonderful bakery and cafe that makes caffeinated refueling and rest breaks a welcome treat. We begin each class promptly at 8:00 a.m. and wrap up by noon.
We were pleased to have a class of talented photographers and received these comments from the September class:
"Highly recommend. Mike and Bob compliment each other. I learned some great tools today. Thank you gentleman." - Kathleen Caswell
"Spent a few hours this weekend loading, key wording and cataloging old images. So helpful! Thanks Bob & Mike!" - Lori Viner
"Great class yesterday as all of the students seemed to bring different things to the table. I learned a lot and have already started using some of it yesterday afternoon… Four hours was just enough to to absorb a great deal and go back home and apply it. For me personally, eight hours would have killed me. Being able to go home and apply what was learned over a two week period is great" - Chris Emerson
"Thanks for sharing your knowledge about this great program! Over the past 6-8 months I've learned so much about photography, from the photographers' boot camp in late May, to the Lightroom 5 class. I feel comfortable now taking that "marginal shot" and recreating what I saw through the viewfinder. I look forward to seeing what other classes you'll put together to make my hobby more interesting. Thanks for a great couple of classes!" - Jeff Meunier
"Much thanks to bob kidd photography and Mike Dooley Photography for providing a well run Lightroom 5 workshop. Both brought a different perspective to the training that proved valuable. I consider myself an intermediate user, however, I learned many new tools and how best to apply them. Great job Bob and Mike..." - Chris Emerson
"Thanks again to both of you. Being in your class was a complete pleasure. You provided a supportive atmosphere and listened well. Much learned and much to learn. You gave us a great foundation to work from!" - Marian Goldsmith
Our next Lightroom class begins on October 18th. There are only a few seats left. Act quickly if you want to Become a Better Photographer.
Thanks for reading.
See ya next week,
(1) The Photoshop group would like to ignore the fact that 90% of what they do with layers can be done as well and much faster using Lightroom. What differentiates Lightroom from Photoshop is that Lightroom has a powerful library function for cataloging image files. Lightroom's develop functions are reminiscent of the process formerly performed in a darkroom, making it a true digital darkroom solution for 90% of photographers. Like Photoshop, Lightroom is a true cross-platform application that performs equally well on Macs or PCs
(2) Some photographers prefer to shoot in JPEG format rather than raw because their photographs look immediately better. While that may be the case, JPEG format lacks the bit depth of the camera's raw format. This is an established fact, despite the endless online and in person discussions that have occurred over time. Given the narrow exposure latitude of a digital sensor, there is a real advantage in editing a raw image file because the exposure can be pushed and pulled more readily.
(3) Our small group of six photographers came to the class with both Mac and PC laptops, evenly divided. What was the chance of that? Despite what keynote speakers may tell you, there is no advantage of one operating system over the other when it comes to Lightroom. They both work just fine. As you can see in the following photograph, the instructor's screen was projected so that everyone could follow along. As in our Photographers' Boot Camp, no one was left behind.