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The Power of Adobe's Lightroom

12-29-2012 · By PF Staff in Influential Photo Gear

If I had to pick out a single piece of photography equipment or software that has made the biggest positive impact on photographic workflow, it would be Adobe Lightroom. The ability to perform edits on raw files provides the power and flexibility necessary to fix the inevitable exposure problems associated with landscape photography, where the photographer cannot control the light of his subject. Lightroom, when combined with the superb dynamic range of a camera like the Pentax K-5, provides the tools necessary to rectify those situations when the camera sees the light quite differently from the naked eye. It allows the boring, flat image on the left to be transformed into the image on the right:

Click to enlarge

The image on the right is a lot closer to what the scene looked like to the naked eye. The camera over-exposed the sky, turning it into a white mess. But with Lightroom I could bring the original color back the sky and spruce up the other colors in the photograph, bringing more life and snap to the image.  

I shot film for years. With color film, particularly color slide film, your ability to do post-processing work was virtually non-existent. Black and white provided a bit more PP wiggle room, but the various tools one's disposal, such as dodging and burning in the darkroom, were rather crude and required a great deal of skill and practice to master. Lightroom provides me with the tools I need to quite easily make changes that with film would have been mostly impossible. There's a Himalayan difference between what I was getting with film and what I can get with digital. While not all that difference can be attributed to Lightroom, it nonetheless deserves the lion's share of the credit.

Lightroom is a software package that combines file organization of images with the Adobe Raw Converter and several other modules.  The raw converter, contained in the "Develop" module, is the key component for me, although the Library, Map and Web modules also are powerful and useful. The Develop module gives you a place for your image along side a series of panels containing sliders that allow for various adjustments to exposure, white balance, color, sharpening, noise reduction, vignetting, lens correction, etc. Since these adjustments are made to the actual data contained in the raw file, there is a significantly wider latitude of adjustment that can be made to a given file — especially in comparison to, say, tiff files in Photoshop. Lightroom even allows for some localized editing through its Graduated Filter and Adjustment Brush options. And in Lightroom 4, these tools have become even more powerful. You can not only adjust exposure, contrast, and saturation, but also white balance, noise, and even moire. Below is a screenshot of the Graduated Filter being used in the Develop Module:

Click to enlarge

In the Develop module, I rely primarily on the various tools for adjusting and fine-tuning exposure. These include controls of exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks, and tone curve. There also powerful tools for adjusting color, including white balance and a series of sliders tuned to broad color groups, such as red, orange, yellow, green, aqua, blue, purple and magenta. I use these controls sparingly, as they can easily lead, when overused, to undesirable results. I rely on the quality of the light of the scene being photographed combined with the color rendition of the lens used to capture that scene to get the colors I want. Exposure edits are the primary means by which I draw out the colors I regard as critical to the aesthetic of the image.

Although a number of products help me make the images I want, none quite equals, let alone surpasses, what Lightroom has done for my photography.

- northcoastgreg

PF Staff's avatar
About the author: Various writers regularly contribute articles to the Pentax Forums homepage blog. More recent articles are published under each author's forum username. We hope you enjoy our guides and news coverage!

Tags: lightroom, adobe, photoshop, photography

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tessfully [Delete] Dec 31st, 2012 3:10PM

Great blog Greg! Very informative and nice examples.

@ a modest mouse... love what you said and how you said it!

SoonerCaniac [Delete] Dec 31st, 2012 10:27AM

Thanks for the post, however I think it would have been more useful if you had provided a tutorial on how you created the image on the right. I prefer ACDSee Pro personally, but I am still learning how to best manipulate all of the tools available to me. An explanation on how you fixed the shot would have been more helpful.

benie [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 1:59PM

Thanks for this post. One question: how did you modify the sky's color to blue with LR4?

rruntsch [Delete] Dec 30th, 2012 6:56AM

Well done. Perhaps it's time for me to switch to LR.

I enjoy editing images in Pixelmator on the Mac. But, since I use iPhoto to manage the photo catalog, it slows down workflow, since it takes a few seconds to open a photo to edit it in Pixelmator. Plus, even through the catalog is backed up, the weekly, or more frequent, crash of iPhoto and the recovery of its database worries and troubles me.

kadajawi [Delete] Dec 29th, 2012 11:20PM

@Piscator: The bloat is useful to some :P But yes, as a light and free alternative I guess there are options out there. I have tried some, but ended up with Lightroom. Those I tried just couldn't come close to the usability, performance, quality and functionality Lightroom offers. The noise reduction alone is brilliant, I even use it on my compact cameras and cell phone photos.

Lightroom is also relatively affordable for what it does and offers, and sometimes there are good offers. I'd say it is more important than a better body, i.e. better get a K-30 and Lightroom than a K-5 II without Lightroom.

Piscator [Delete] Dec 29th, 2012 8:59PM

I've got the trial version of Lightroom loaded on my computer but abandoned it for the open-source alternative, FastStone Image Viewer. It does everything I like from LR--RAW conversion, color post-processing, cropping, tilting, etc., but without the bloat.

F-Stop [Delete] Dec 29th, 2012 6:48PM

Lightroom has pulled dozens of my photos out of the abyss with results similar to this. My only gripe is that I hate endless hours of editing so the photo on the top left would be another in the pile of disappointment, for me, as it lacks clarity, depth of color and sharpness until you gave it life. It's unfortunate, but it's the reason I don't shoot anymore and the camera generally sits on the shelf replaced with those candid iPhone moments.

OrangeKx [Delete] Dec 29th, 2012 5:05PM

This is right on the ball for me. Of course the DSLR is the key piece of the puzzle, but LR4 has allowed me to turn absolute garbage photos into something worth throwing up on Facebook. And with the good pics it's something a layman photog can get excited about. It's amazing the power of software. I take everything in RAW after getting LR4.

zosxavius [Delete] Dec 29th, 2012 4:14PM

greg, I want to thank you for all the time that you've put into lens reviews. I've always enjoyed your assessments. Lightroom has been extremely influential to me and has dramatically transformed my images from often, frankly, boring pictures to something far more interesting. A lot of my photography focuses on everyday kind of scenes and I find working with tools like lightroom and silver efex total game changers in how you can affect the mood of a scene. A modest mouse: I agree 100%.

A Modest Mouse [Delete] Dec 29th, 2012 2:41PM

rjm: You've just stumbled across the 'secret' to photography ... MAKING images, instead of just TAKING them. LR makes RAW so accessible that creating images doesn't stop at the output of the camera; taking what the camera gives you is no longer a limitation on creativity.

LeRolls [Delete] Dec 29th, 2012 2:09PM


rjm [Delete] Dec 29th, 2012 12:43PM

I suppose you could say that Lightroom also allows someone to obtain the picture they wanted to take, rather than the one they did. It is ... a temptation, no?