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An Overview of Lightroom
In a previous article I discussed what’s new in Lightroom 3. A complete tutorial would fill a book, but this should give you a foundation. In this article I will present a more detailed background for using Lightroom and its organizational capabilities.
In Part 3, to be published soon, I will discuss the tools for “developing” your images and outputting them to whatever end use you need.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom was designed for photographers. It is a powerful image management program for getting your pictures into the computer, organizing them in powerful ways, developing raw images (using the Adobe Camera Raw engine), taking them to Photoshop or other external editors, printing, outputting for the web or slideshows, and exporting images for various uses. Bridge, by contrast, is a much more limited browser. Lightroom is a wonderful tool for organizing your images as well as “developing” them. Everything you need is at your fingertips, like the controls in a sports car.
For many images, you may find that you can do all needed adjustments and output in Lightroom. But for some things, such as the use of plug-ins, compositing, and complex masking, you will need to send the images to Photoshop or another editor. Lightroom does that for you, and it brings the new images back into its Catalog for management.
A key concept to understand about Lightroom is that in order to use it you need to let it import folders of images, which it catalogs. The Catalog contains thumbnails and larger previews of images you import, either by downloading from a camera or from images already on your hard drive. In the latter case, the images are not disturbed on your hard drive. Either the Catalog or a separate .xmp file contains metadata for each image (data from the camera and things you add such as your copyright, notes and keywords). You don’t have to work with the Catalog; Lightroom uses it behind the scenes.
If your existing images are in a hierarchical folder structure (a Trips folder, a People folder, a Flowers folder with folders for various flowers under it, etc.) that structure is retained when those images are imported. Think of the import process as Lightroom simply making notes about your images. After initially starting to use Lightroom and importing my existing files from my hard drives, I found it easier with my new shoots to let Lightroom import by date shot, and later added an informative name after the date. Because you can assign keywords and then later sort by them, physically sorting images into named folders is no longer necessary. But you can do so during or after import if you wish.
Another key concept is that your images are not “in” Lightroom, just as they are not in Bridge or Photoshop or any other program. They are in folders on your hard drive, just where you choose to put them. But the information Lightroom needs to allow you to work on them and organize them is in its Catalog.
Before I talk about using Lightroom, there are some important things to know. They may seem dry and tedious but they will save you trouble later if you understand them up front. They are dealt with in the next three sections.
Setting Things Up, Preferences and Catalog Settings
Preferences are found in the Edit menu for PCs and the Lightroom menu for Macs. Many are personal choices and if you aren’t sure, the defaults are good. In the Presets tab, I strongly prefer to leave Apply Auto Tone Adjustments unchecked. I want to be able to see the differences in my images (such as exposure) without auto correction.
Catalog Settings are found in the same menu, just under Preferences. The choices are just that, choices. There is no major right or wrong here but there is one important thing to understand, and that is the checkbox for “Automatically write changes into XMP.” The safest option is to keep this setting consistent between the older and newer versions of Lightroom. Here’s why.
If the metadata was not written to an .xmp file (which is in the same folder as the parent image) it was stored in the Catalog. If you are updating from a previous version of Lightroom that had this option un-checked, all your develop settings, keywords, and rankings stored in the earlier Lightroom version’s Catalog will be brought into the Lightroom 3 Catalog. If you subsequently change this setting and begin writing the metadata to .xmp files, and you go back to work on an older image, it will then have older metadata in the Catalog and the newer settings you made will be in an .xmp file. (The older settings will have been read as a starting point.)
You can resolve this conflict by moving the metadata for your older images (that were worked up in the previous version of Lightroom) from the Catalog to .xmp files. Go to the Catalog panel and choose All Photographs.
Then go to the Edit menu and choose Select All and go to the Metadata menu and choose Save Metadata to File. This copies the metadata for each image from the Catalog into an .xmp file.
However, this should be done before you begin to work with the changed setting. If you have edited any of the older images in Lightroom 3 with the changed preference that the new metadata is written to .xmp files, you will now overwrite that data with the older data copied from the Catalog. So it is best to make this choice as you first begin using Lightroom 3.
Working With Both Camera Raw and the Lightroom Develop Module
If you aren’t careful, using Adobe Camera Raw in addition to Lightroom can lead to lost image settings. The safest thing is to do all of your editing in Lightroom. There is no need to use Camera Raw for images that are in the Lightroom Catalog.
If you are going to use both, you will need to update Camera Raw to the same version Lightroom 3 is using. And you will need Photoshop CS5 in order to use this latest version. Further, in order for Lightroom and Camera Raw to each see the changes made by the other, you need to be sure the develop settings are recorded in .xmp files, as discussed above in the section Setting Things Up.
Color Management and External Editors
Photoshop users who are savvy about color management (and you should be) will notice there are no options in Lightroom comparable to Photoshop’s Edit > Color Settings; they are not needed. As with Camera Raw, you only need to specify a color space in which to send out an image, either to an external editor such as Photoshop or in an export operation. For images going to Photoshop or other editors, this is done in Preferences, the External Editing tab. For images being exported, it is done in the Export dialog (see the Export section below).
The external editing color space is an important setting. It should match your working space in Photoshop, and Photoshop should be set up to warn you of a profile mismatch when you try to open an image that has a different profile than the Photoshop working space. That warning is turned off by default, which I think is a mistake. You turn it on by simply checking the three “Ask…” boxes in Photoshop’s Edit > Color Settings dialog, in the Color Management Policies section, as shown in the figure below.
If you get a profile mismatch warning and you are not sure of the right answer, the safest thing is to tell it to convert to the working space. The Working Spaces section of this same dialog is where you specify the Photoshop working space.
You should check occasionally to be sure these settings haven’t been changed. They can revert to the defaults, especially if Photoshop crashes, and sometimes they seem to revert without any obvious cause.
The Lightroom Interface
There are five modules: Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print, and Web. They are accessed at the top right of the screen. The Library module is shown below.
Lightroom’s default preferences will launch the Import dialog when you put a camera card into your card reader (or connect a camera). You specify where you want the pictures copied to your hard drive, in whatever structure you wish, and it copies them there and adds them to its Catalog, which lets you see and work with them. You never need to use Bridge or the computer’s file management system. Lightroom does it all.
If the Import interface doesn’t come up automatically, click the Import button in the lower left of the Library module screen. The top of the Import screen shows the source, the action to be taken and the destination.
On the left of the screen the camera card will be shown as the source. In the center you will probably want to choose the default—Copy—which will copy the files to your hard drive. On the right, in the Destination panel, you will need to specify the desired destination drive and folder, as shown in the figure. I find it simplest to let Lightroom make a new folder (or folders) by the date(s) the images were shot and later append the filename with a description of the images. In the File Handling panel I check Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates.
I find it easiest to import all the new files and later delete the ones I don’t want. When you scroll down in the Destination panel, you will see the proposed new folder(s). I have shown a composite view to bring the bottom of the folder list into view. You can see the proposed new folder with 40 images to import.
If you had previously imported images that are still on the card, they will be grayed out. But if you have changed the folder name after import to a custom name, Lightroom will not recognize that they have been imported and will want to import these older images again. The same is true of any images you had deleted after the previous import.
The problem is easily fixed by looking at the proposed import folder(s) at the bottom of the list, and un-checking any that represents previously imported images.
To import files that are already on your hard drives, choose the drive and folder from the list on the left of the screen. This list shows all the folders on your drives(s). If you want to leave your images where they are and just catalog them, choose Add and the destination will be the Catalog.
For some higher-end cameras, you can connect the camera to a computer (including a laptop in the field) and import images as they are shot, using the camera-to-computer cable that came with your camera or wireless options. When the camera is turned on and connected, any images on the card will trigger a normal import operation. To begin tethered shooting, go to File > Tethered Capture > Start Tethered Capture. You will get a dialog that will prompt you to specify handling for the images.
When you hit OK, the camera will be detected, and as the shutter is fired the images will be imported. They will also be written to the card. There is a button in the capture dialog box that lets you fire the camera remotely, but as of this writing you can’t change camera settings from Lightroom, although they are displayed. To exit tethered capture mode, go to File > Tethered Capture > Stop Tethered Capture.
The Library Module
After importing, you will be in the Library module and will be looking at a special panel named Previous Import, which is in the Catalog panel on the left of the screen. In order to work with a newly imported folder you should open the Folders panel, below the Catalog panel, and go to that just-created folder. If you work with your images from the Previous Import panel and take an image to an external editor such as Photoshop, when it is returned to Lightroom it won’t show in that panel; it will be in the folder to which you copied the images, in the Folders panel.
The Library module is where you do all of your file management. There are two basic modes, Loupe and Grid View. Loupe View shows the selected image filling the center part of the screen, as shown in the first figure. In Loupe View you can see some basic information overlaying the image in the upper left by toggling the “I” key. It cycles between two information displays and none.
Grid View emulates a light box, as shown in the figure below. You can toggle between the Grid and Loupe views with the icons circled in red in the figure below.
On the right side of the screen are panels for the histogram, a Quick Develop panel that lets you make rough adjustments, and panels for keywording and metadata.
After importing folders of images, don’t make changes to image file names or folder structure using other applications or your computer’s file management system, because these changes won’t be seen automatically by Lightroom. You can and should do all file management in the Library module. It will make changes to your hard drives and will catalog the changes properly. You can move images between folders by selecting them from the Filmstrip or Grid and dragging and dropping them on top of a folder in the Folders panel. You can also move folders within the Folders panel.
If you move a folder outside of Lightroom, you will see a question mark on its name in the Folders panel. Right-click it to show Lightroom where to find it, or to delete it from the Catalog. If missing folders are on an external drive that is not connected, just connect it and they will be found.
If you move an image outside of Lightroom, you will see a question mark on the Filmstrip and Grid View thumbnails and a message on the Loupe View that the file is offline or missing, as shown in the figure below. Clicking on the question mark will give you a dialog that allows you to navigate to the image in its new location so it will be correctly cataloged. Or you can go to the relevant folder and go to Library > Synchronize Folder to remove missing images from the Catalog and add new ones.
After a set of images is imported, you can go to Loupe view to inspect them. Zoom in to by clicking the 1:1 icon above the Navigator panel, circled in the figure below. You can mark images for deletion with the “x” key or by clicking the black flag in the area above the filmstrip. You can also rank the images with a white flag, 0-5 stars or one of the 5 color codes.
If these options are not visible on your computer, click the triangle on the right end of the bar, just left of the Zoom slider, and choose the ones you want to see.
Keywording is powerful and flexible. You can add keywords to the list, rearrange them in a hierarchical structure and edit the names, as an ongoing task.
There are several ways to assign a keyword. You can highlight all the images in the filmstrip or Grid view that need a certain keyword and click the checkbox to the left of the word in the Keyword panel, as shown in the figure below. In order for the keyword to apply to all the selected images you need to be in Grid view. In Loupe view, it will apply to the “most selected” image. Or you can drag a selection of images from the Filmstrip or the Grid onto a keyword in the list.
I started out with a simple list with no hierarchy, but soon began grouping words. The list of flower names shown in the figure is under the keyword Flower, making them easier to find than if they were listed alphabetically. The Flower heading can be collapsed or expanded, making the list easier to navigate. If you find a word that belongs under another word, just drag and drop it.
The + and - symbols at the top of the Keyword list lets you add or delete words. When you add one you can choose to add it to a selected set of images, and if you want it to go in a hierarchical structure under another keyword, just highlight that word first. (Unlike checking an existing keyword to add it to a selected set of images, if you are adding a keyword to a selected set of images, you can be in either Loupe of Grid view and it will be applied to all the selected images.)
If multiple images are selected, one of them will be the “most selected.” This may sound odd, but it enables some very useful features, such as copying parameters from the most selected image to others.
You can find all the images that are tagged with a certain keyword by opening the Keyword panel on the right of the screen, finding the word you want and clicking the arrow that will appear to its right as you hover over it. The filmstrip will then display all the images that have this keyword. If you find some images are keyworded incorrectly, you can fix them easily. But here’s another gotcha: When you uncheck the incorrect keyword, the image will disappear from the filmstrip. So first check the correct keyword, then uncheck the wrong one.
You can filter images in a folder using the Filter shortcut below the view window, circled in red in the figure below, or you can hit the backslash key to toggle a filter bar above the image view window. If you click a folder and don’t see all the images, check to see if a filter is active.
The Collections feature is a wonderful way to make fluid groups of images. It is found at the bottom of the left-hand panel, below Folders.
Create a new Collection with the “+” sign to the right of the word Collections and add images by dragging from the Grid View or Filmstrip and dropping them on the Collection name. A Collection can contain images from as many folders as you wish.
You are not moving or changing your image, nor making a copy of it. It is just referenced as being in a Collection, and an image can belong to as many Collections as you wish. You can delete it from a Collection or move it from one to another. A collection or any of the images in it can be deleted at any time without disturbing the original images. To delete an entire Collection, click on it and click the “-” sign on the heading of the Collections panel.
If you make an edit in the Develop module to an image in a Collection, the edit will be made to the parent image and will be reflected in the Collection. But if you open an image in Photoshop or another external editor and create a new derivative image, it will appear in both the Collection and the parent folder only if you created it from the Collection folder.
Finding the Parent Image from a Collection
You can easily find the parent folder for an image in a Collection. In the Metadata panel (which is below the Keyword List) the fourth item down shows the folder. Click the arrow to its right to go to it.
The third portion of this series on Lightroom 3, to be published shortly, will show you how to use the Develop, Print, Slideshow and Web modules.
Although I have only given an overview here, it should get you off on the right foot. You can see from the wealth of features that Lightroom 3 is a wonderful tool. I have found I can’t live without Lightroom, and in my opinion, Lightroom 3 is a must-have upgrade.
Diane Miller is a widely exhibited freelance photographer who lives north of San Francisco in the Wine Country and specializes in fine-art nature photography. Her work, which can be found on her web site, has been published and exhibited throughout the Pacific Northwest. Many of her images are represented for stock by Monsoon Images and Photolibrary.