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Top 10 Reasons Lightroom Rocks!

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There are several different software options on the market for photography image processing. Some are free, others mid range and some are quite pricey. There are basic ones aimed at home users and people with point and shoot cameras, while others are more involved, complicated and more for those that want a higher quality result and more control over the final look of their images. My main software of choice is Lightroom! In this article I’m going to go over the Top Ten reasons why it’s my top pick and what I recommend, even for beginners. Without further ado, let’s get right to it!

What options are available for image processing software?

Here’s a list of a few of the most popular options you can choose for image processing software. This is not an exhaustive list, if I’ve missed any let me know and I’ll add them:

So how do you choose? That’s why I wrote this article to help you decide. If you don’t end up choosing Lightroom I won’t be offended, I just want to give you what you need to check out the options and make an informed decision.

Top Ten Reasons I choose Lightroom

Lightroom was created for photographers!
lightroom 4Photoshop was created for the graphics industry and photographers adapted it as we moved more and more into the digital realm. But, Lightroom was designed specifically FOR photographers from the ground up and people like Scott Kelby and the guys over at NAPP regular test new products and give Adobe feedback as to what photographers need it to do in the real world and build that stuff in for us. I still use Photoshop, but less and less and only for things that require extensive masking, layers or compositing of multiple images together. About 90% of what I do with my image is done using Lightroom.
It is easy to use and has a user friendly interface.
Many photographers consider Photoshop Creative Suite (CS) the must have software for image processing, but it can be overwhelming and confusing, especially if you are just starting out using an image editor. Photoshop Elements is like CS’s little brother, a scaled down version that supposed to be simplified. But many of my students and clients find that even Elements is a bit hard to get a grasp on and stumble around using it. If you shoot RAW files how they are handled in Photoshop is that you have to “open” it, process it, and then save it. Inside Lightroom (LR) you just go right into processing and it’s automatically saved for you. The workflow for JPG and RAW is exactly the same inside LR. That’s huge if you are considering moving over to RAW but find it a bit scary. Learn LR and you only need to learn one method for both file types.
Lightroom has great sorting and flagging tools
Tools for labeling your images and making it easy to find your faves quickly. In LR you can use a “flag”, a 1-5 star rating system and color coding to label your images. You can then sort and filter by any one of those labels, or a combination of a couple of them. You can also create collections, which are virtual groups of images, where an image can reside in more than one collection. This is useful for things like: sorting a photography session into your favorites and your clients'; creating image sets like “birds”, “ocean”, “cityscapes”, etc.; which images are to be used for for different things like “to make a print”, “for website”, “in a photobook”. The image below shows an example of an unsorted gallery of images inside LR and one with flags and labels to sort more quickly.

LR has tools for labeling your images
LR gallery of images unflagged and unsorted. Notice you can see all the images numbered in order, with no gaps. Showing 259 of 259 images in the entire folder.
lightroom tools allow you to flag, rate and color code images
LR gallery sorted and flagged. Notice you can see flags, star ratings, and color coded images.
It is better for cataloging and archiving your images.
Lightroom has a powerful feature which allows you to see all your images, even if they are currently offline or on a retired or archived hard drive. What that means is that you can quickly and easily find your images even after they’ve been filed away, or reside on a hard drive that’s full and has been put in the shelf. With a couple clicks you can easily locate where the image file is located, plug that hard drive in and be able to access your file again. Some people use a complex cataloguing system or other pieces of software such as ACDSee, or Photo Mechanic, but I prefer to keep my life simpler and use less tools and have it all on one place. The photo below shows a screen capture of some images that are on an older hard drive, filed away and archived. Notice the “?”s which means only that LR currently can’t see the originals. But by making right click on any image in the gallery, and choosing “Go to folder in Library” it will show you what device they are on and I can simply plug it in and access them quickly and easily.

quickly and easily find your images with lightroom image processing software
Notice you can see ?’s on the images. On the left column is a path to where they live. See the hard drive in question is greyed out, which means it’s currently not attached to the computer. Plug it in and away you go.
Powerful developing tools and ease of processing raw files.
I already mentioned this but it’s worth bringing up again because it’s such a great feature of LR. The workflow for processing a JPG and a RAW file is exactly the same! If you’ve already learned LR using JPGs it’ll be a breeze to start shooting RAW for you. If you currently use Photoshop CS or Elements for RAW processing, you can easily use LR as it it has the same RAW processing engine, the same sliders and adjustments.For newcomers to RAW shooting, inside Lightroom’s Develop module you can do global adjustments (applies to the whole image) such as: exposure adjustment, white balance correction, curves, b/w conversion, clarity, contrast, blacks, sharpness, noise reduction, vignetting (edge darkening or lightening), and remove chromatic aberration. You can also do many of the same adjustments locally (to only part of the image) using the adjustment brush to paint the effect wherever you want. You can see a quick before and after and even make “virtual copies” (copy thumbnails without making a copy of your actual file) of your images to process each in a different style. The latest version, LR4.1 can do so much with an image, you can “save” images that may otherwise end up in the reject pile. Here’s just one example of a before and after, just a taste of what’s possible for image processing in LR4.

LR integrates with Photoshop and many other plug-ins
for seamless back and forth. Yes I use Lightroom for most of my processing needs, with a few exceptions. I do a lot of HDR photography and use the Photomatix for doing the tone mapping portion of that process. LR allows me to grab my images, take them over to Photomatix, do my thing there, and then automatically brings the resulting image back into LR and makes a thumbnail for it. So it allows me to keep all my images in one place once again. It works the same way for going over to Photoshop for things like: using layers, masking, removing distracting objects in the background, performing a head swap on a portrait – all things that LR cannot do. It also allows me to open multiple images as layers inside PS, and it stacks them for me, or as a Smart Object. It also works with other plug-ins such as: Topaz, On One, Nik filters, and AlienSkin to name just a few.

adobe lightroom integrates with plugins
LR right click and “edit in” feature to integrate with plug-ins
LR makes it easy to upload photos to social media and online sites.
Using either the Publish feature, or dedicated plug-ins like one I have for Zenfolio, all sorts of options are available:

  • Lightroom makes it easy to send images to your portfolio site
  • Lightroom makes it easy to send to various social media sites like Google Plus and Facebook
  • It will size them correctly
  • Add a watermark if you desire
  • Save the settings as a “preset” so you can use the same settings over and over again without having to redo it each time.
Lightroom has the power of PRESETS!
Photoshop users may be familiar with “actions” which is a prerecorded set of steps that you can apply to your image with one click. LR uses something slightly different, called “presets” which are basically saved settings for all your sliders and adjustments that you can also apply with one click. There are literally thousands of FREE Lightroom presets available – most of which apply in the develop module (changing the look of your image). Do a quick Google search for “free Lightroom plugins” and see what I mean (remember to put in your LR version number in the search too, if you have 4.1 for example make sure to put “4” in your search). I did a search just now and got about 1.2 million results! What’s even more powerful is that inside LR you can save presets for SO many areas other than the develop module, such as: import, export, print settings, slideshows, web settings, adjustment brushes, meta data like keywords and copyright, and much more. The example below uses the same image and 7 different presets. The first one is how I processed it and was happy with it, the other seven are all Develop Presets that I simply just clicked on once and voila!

Example of how you can use Lightroom presets to get drastically different looks for your image with one click.
New in LR4 you can make a Blurb book right inside Lightroom!
Check out my blurb books AND they will give you 20% off your first book ordered that way. What is a Blurb book you might ask? It’s a great way to actually do something with all your fabulous images. With the advent of digital photography I find that more and more of us are guilty of having all our images live only “virtually” on our computer or social media sites and we seem to have lost the art of actually printing them. Blurb.com is an on-demand printer of very high quality photo books, which means you can order just one, or many. You can share them with friends, sell them in their bookstore, and even make a version for your Smart Phone or iPad. They also have the option of using their software or designing your album online but using Lightroom is SOOOO much easier! You can go right from your raw files, to exporting and sending the book right too them all sized and formatted correctly for their printing specs. It’s quite brilliant. In fact I just got one in the mail two days ago that I created from photos I took of my husband’s elderly uncles on their farm. “The Uncles” is special because they are both in permanent care (and hospital) now so this book is the last record of their lives on the farm.blurb photo book of the UnclesYou can see a full preview of “The Uncles” on the Blurb site. Please ignore the spelling errors, a perfect example of why you want to order just ONE book the first time around as a proof, (which is what I did)! I have grandiose plans to make one book for each trip we have taken, so being about 4 years behind on my processing leaves me a lot of work to do. Trust me, I am working on it!

blurb photo book of McKenna TaylorI’ve also created several other Blurb photo books including; when my niece was born, a special book called Visions of Peru, books for clients, and am currently working on recently completed a Day in the Life book of my nephew at age 3.

Lightroom has great options for backing up and even reminds me to do it!
LR works as a database and stores all the recipes you’ve cooked up with your image in a catalog. The jury is still out on whether to have one large catalog or break it into smaller ones, but whichever you choose it’s easy to remember to back up the catalog because you can set up LR to remind you every time you exit the program. You can also choose to copy all your originals to a second hard drive at the time you import them into Lightroom. This is very handy in the instance of a hard drive crash or failure (don’t kid yourself, it’s not a case of IF your hard drive will fail it’s WHEN!) Some very handy features built right into Lightroom for those of us that might be a bit slacker in this department (you know who you are, I used to be until I lost some files).
BONUS reason: Lightroom keeps your image processing (develop module) history forever!
If you’re used to working in Photoshop or Elements when you work on a file the program tracks everything you do to that image in the History. You can go back and review an earlier version, revert to it, or undo. However . . . once you save and close the file, the next time you open it up (even layered PSD and TIF files) all that history is gone and you’re back to the start. In LR, whatever you do to your file, or any Virtual Copies, is recorded and kept! You can close LR, come back tomorrow and your history is still there. This is huge when you’re just learning to process your images or learning Lightroom itself. As your knowledge and experience increase you may have new tricks up your sleeve a few months from now and want to revisit a few images. You can start right where you left off and makes tweaks or go back to any place in the history and start there. Or reset the whole thing and start over. In Photoshop you don’t have all those options, you can only start from the last point.

The irony of shooting RAW for new DSLR shooters

Previously I wrote an article about the pros and cons of shooting RAW versus JPG format files. This is fairly typical of how it goes when you buy a new DSLR for the first time

  1. buy your first DSLR
  2. start by using it on the factory settings and mostly auto everything
  3. shoot in JPG because it’s easy to get from camera to share with friends, social media, email, etc.
  4. maybe take a class on how to shoot in Manual mode and learn more about your camera and how it works
  5. start thinking about shooting in RAW but it’s too much work and you need a software to “process” them
  6. take another class or two maybe one on image processing
  7. get some software and start shooting RAW and JPG

Can you relate to that scenario?

Why I find that ironic is this – because the RAW files carry so much more data and image information, it’s easier to “fix” the images that are exposed incorrectly, or have a funny color tint (wrong white balance). So basically you can fix it if you screw up and that is very helpful if you are just beginning. If you are shooting JPG however, that file format has less image information and such corrections are not possible, or come at a consequence of image degradation in a bad way. So you really need to get it just right, darn near perfect – right out of the camera.

Do you see the irony or is it just me?!

How to get started with Lightroom?

If you haven’t picked an image editing program yet, I urge you to take a look at Lightroom. Download the trial version (good for 30 days) and check under the hood. Give it a go and see if you like it. It’s not an expensive program, at $149, and because it’s made by Adobe you know it’s up to the industry standard for photography and image making.

What next, how do I learn Lightroom?

Once you’ve got Lightroom, there are many resources online and local courses (depending on where you live) available to learn how to use it. There are quite a few online tutorials covering all aspects of the program, some paid and some free. Do a search and see what you can find, there’s a lot!

Or Coming soon . . .

Lightroom classes with Her View Photography

Another new service coming soon will be Lightroom classes, with a twist! This is how it will work:

  • There will be one class each week
  • Maximum 9 students per class
  • Each class will include a lesson portion where I teach the topic for that week (30-60 min)
  • The next part of the class will be for you to practice the content of the lesson LIVE! The format of the class will be done using Google Hangouts so that you can see my screen, and I can see yours and help you when you have trouble (30-60 min)
  • Lastly it will also include a live Q&A portion where you can ask anything you want, on topic or off topic. Anything goes! Photography related of course though please.
  • The entire course will run about 10 weeks cost $50 per week
  • You can join one class or all of them, it’s up to you. There will be a discount for booking the entire 10 classes.
The real benefits of this for you are:
  1. You don’t have to go anywhere except to your computer, you can wear your slippers or even your pyjamas if you want! Perfect if you live out of town or away from a major centre where classes are offered
  2. No need to get childcare you’ll be right there!
  3. Each lesson will all be recorded so if you paid for one class you will have access to watch that class over and over again, in case you missed something, or have to go to the bathroom or attend a child emergency in the other room
  4. You will have LIVE help! watching free tutorials online is great but what if you just aren’t getting it or something goes wrong? I’m here to help you for the entire class and am available by email afterwards.
  5. The ten week course will be repeated again and again so if you miss week 4, catch the next one! This is not like a live in person class where you miss one, too bad. If you’ve paid for 10 lessons – you GET 10 lessons!
  6. You and the spouse, friend, sibling, etc. both learning photography? No problem! Pay for one seat in the class and both of you get to sit at your computer, together, for the same price!
  7. Affordable! Can’t afford a big class right now? Pay as you go! Pick up with us whenever you can.

Other resources

Some other things I mentioned in this article, where to get them

Perfect layers free plug-in for Lightroom: allows you to use layers right inside Lightroom without having to fork out the dough for Photoshop

Photomatix for HDR photography

– link to stuff I recommend, books, software, gear, etc

– more info on my HDR class in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Action plan

Sign up for my newsletter to receive updates on when this class is available and other upcoming events!

Add your comments and tell me if you use Lightroom, do you like it, and why? If you disagree, tell me that too, I always want to hear what other people are doing that works for them. It’s all about finding a system that works and using it.

Cheers
Darlene

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  • Liza

    I am very new to Lightroom and glad to know I am using such a versatile tool. The courses sound fantastic and I am looking forward to taking them. Thanks for sharing your insight.

    • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene

      Good choice with Lightroom! I’ll have more details on the class shortly, thanks for your interest!

  • naomi

    Hi Darlene,
    I just checked out your blurb book (uncles). Thanks so much for sharing! I went there just to get a sense of a blurb book, but what I got was a flood of fond memories of my own paternal grandfather. There were sooo many things in your book that reminded me of him – 1. the way they held their hands (with fingers intertwind infront, behind his back clasped together and shoved deep into jacket pockets); 2.the stiffness in the shoulders (from hard manual farm labour) that makes it hard to get into the tractor. 3. the fact that one of the john deere tractors was cabless. 4. The patterned flannel hat and the lined denim jacket – it looked coool when you were there, but my grandpa wore those well into the spring. There was not very many days that he did not wear his long underwear too! 5. The kitchen that has had zero upgrades in the past couple of decades at minimum. Finally, but not least of all, it brought tears to my eyes to see the photo of Rob’s uncles walking amoung their black brockle faced cows (who are obviously very accustomed to the uncles being up close).

    The creation of a blurb book, yet another reason for me to get my butt in gear and upgrade to LR4!
    thanks!
    Naomi

    • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene

      Thanks Noami, I hope the Uncles enjoy the books as much as you did! We just ordered a set of books for them. I had fun doing the images, and it did remind me of my paternal grandparents on the farm too, they are both long since gone and I wish I had photos of them like this.

  • http://ronpalmerphotography.ca Ron

    You missed a very big competitor to LR, and that is Corel After Shot Pro, which in some ways is simpler to use with all the power many Presets and the ability to use presets as well. but for half the cost.

    I use it for processing in bulk as well as for individual shots and can apply hundreds of presets already built in to the program from filter presets to NIK software Presets.

    It might be interesting to see your comparison to LR.

    • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene

      Hi Ron, thanks for that. I only recently learned about Corel’s product. I am familiar with Corel Paint but I didn’t realize they had an editor that was similar. Do they have a trial version? Perhaps I can download it and do a comparison?

  • http://ronpalmerphotography.ca Ron

    Yes there is a download fro the trial, http://www.corel.com/corel/product/index.jsp?pid=prod4670071&cid=catalog50008&segid=6000006 currently if you own any adobe product it qualifies for the upgrade pricing.

    Have fun I know I did a comparison and the Corel product edged out LR, but I will let you decide.

    http://ronpalmerphotography.blogspot.ca/2012/01/raw-processors-comparison.html

  • Melissa Hall

    Thank you for the thorough unpacking of Lightroom. I had been limping along using Photoshop, and spending too much time. I received the free LightRoom trial and loved what I was able to do with my images, in less time. Now that my free trial has expired and I have read your review, I am even more excited about making this tool work for me. Thank you Darlene.

  • brenda corie

    I am a bit of a newbie, had used Picassa but then changed to i-photo when I went to a Mac. I am curious about your strong feelings about iphoto. Could you elaborate a bit to help me understand better? Thanks!

    • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene

      Hi Brenda

      Well I hate it for a few reasons.

      1 – it hides your files inside itself. I’ve looked for my files in iPhoto and cannot find them. They get hidden in a sub sub directory inside the application itself. Very hard to copy them, move them, do anything with them.

      2 – it launches itself whenever a memory card or USB stick with images on them are connected. I turned off the preference to tell it not to do that but it still did it.

      3 – it’s not a real calibrated photo editing program. If you want to get serious about your images it’s not the best choice. It’s easier to wreck your images beyond repair in iPhoto than fix them

      Does that help?

  • Claudio

    Hi Darlene!
    What about Aperture? It seems very similar to Lightroom, and it’s less expensive, too. Did you try it?
    Thanks,
    Claudio

    • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene

      Hi Claudio

      I have only tried Aperture through my students. I’ve had at least 3 students come to me for help with it and we couldn’t figure it out. It seems less intuitive and the program makes it very hard to see where your images are and how to get them out again. One guy wanted to switch from Aperture to Lightroom and the only way we could see to get his raw files was to export them all out of Aperture again. All several 1000 of them. We tried googling for help and there just isn’t much for that program which is why I discourage my students from using it.

      So it’s less user friendly, does odd things hiding your files, and there is far less support and training available for it. You can go to the Apple store and get training but they’re just staff and not photographers so can’t really show you how to do specific things.

      Being less expensive isn’t always a good thing or the only factor I look at. Adobe is pretty much the industry standard for image editing. Ask any pro what they use and it will be either Photoshop or Lightroom or a combination of both.

  • http://www.raji-the-traveller.blogspot.com Raji Vathyam

    I have not read the entire article but 2 points that I very strongly identify with – 1. Lightroom Rocks and 2. iPhoto Sucks. Even I took off iPhoto from my computer, but it only resulted in more devastation than what I imagined. Nevertheless, I have been using LR for the past 2 years and I cannot imagine my photographs without being touched by the LR at least once!

    You have a lot of informative material in your site, thank you for sharing!

  • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene

    Raji, thanks for your comment. I’d love to see some of your photos if you’d like to share a link with us?

  • http://www.raji-the-traveller.blogspot.com Raji Vathyam

    Thank you for asking Darlene, I am open to suggestions and if you have some, please let me know. My link – http://www.flickr.com/photos/rvathyam/

    Regards,
    Raji

    • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene

      Raji you have some really great images, I love the one of Pittsburgh! Your images are very crisp, you have good editing skills I can see. I looked through your top 25 and a couple of your travel ones. I noticed you don’t have a lot of photos of people. Is that not something that interests you, or you didn’t have any you were happy to show? Do you find photographing people a bit intimidating?

      I just find when you include photos of people, it makes your travel images come alive. It gives the place a real sense of what it’s like to be there, live there.

  • http://www.raji-the-traveller.blogspot.com Raji Vathyam

    Hi Darlene,
    Thank you for the kind words on my editing skills, regarding photographing people – all you said is correct, I am intimidated photographing people, I am not really that interested and finally I do not even have any good shots for the public display! I am learning though. I feel when I am in India, it is easy for me to photograph people, but generally breaking ice is difficult for me!

    • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene

      My advice is just to interact with people and show them interest in them. If they are selling something, buy one. Compliment them. Make them feel like a real person. If you don’t speak the language it’s harder but you speak with your eyes too.

  • http://www.raji-the-traveller.blogspot.com Raji Vathyam

    I am surely opening up to people now a days, but it will take time I guess. Thank you for a valuable advice. Will keep all your words in mind the next time I go out.

    Raji

  • ColininOz

    Darlene – I use PSE 11 , purchased, and am contemplating Photoshop CS 6 but – at least here in Australia – they can no longer be bought outright and used thereafter at no further charge. They have been located on a ‘cloud’ and one accesses them by subscription and goes on paying Adobe for ever. . Does this now, or will it soon, apply also to LR ? If so they can put it wherever they like but I’m not interested.

    • http://www.digitalphotomentor.com/ Darlene Hildebrandt

      Yes that is true you cannot get it any more. If you have CS6 it will continue to work but if you want to upgrade you have to move to Creative Cloud (CC).

      Although there was a big uproar and push back when they first launched it most of that has settled down once they started offering the Photographer’s package. Originally they were priced at $19.99/month each for Lightroom and Photoshop. Now you can get BOTH for only $9.99/month. So that’s really not bad. For $120/year you are always current and it’s not a big hit financially.

      Used to be you had to buy PS outright and it was about $900. Upgrades were around $500. So even if you only upgraded every 4 years it’s still actually less now.

      You can get more info here
      https://creative.adobe.com/plans/photography?sdid=KKTGB&kw=semgeneric&ttsrccat=sem-ww-di-ps-brand&skwcid=AL!3085!3!48467181018!b!!g!!photoshop%20cloud%20for%20photographers&ef_id=U7zJJAAABYAmd6tw:20140816030559:s

      I’m on the cloud and it’s not so bad. I was against it at first too but because I teach this stuff I pretty much didn’t have a choice to be current. At least now it’s reasonably priced for most everyone.

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