Lightroom: My Most Influential Tool
By PF Staff in Influential Photo Gear on Dec 6, 2012
I am a definite amateur in the area of photography, which means that I'm still learning a lot about photography. It is an exciting place to be in that I'm still on a relatively rapid learning curve and it can be a frustrating place to be when I realize how much more this is to learn and sometimes also when the photos I end up with fall short of the photo II thought I was taking. Still, I can take pride in how far I've come. In one sense the biggest influence has been my Pentax K-x DSLR and my kit lenses (the 18-55 mm and the 55-300 mm), which take photos that are head and shoulders above what I was able to capture on my Panasonic DMC LZ5 (a digital point and shoot camera). But what has made an even bigger difference in my work is Adobe Lightroom (first version 3, and now 4.2). I have had experience with Photoshop Elements from roughly version 3 to 8, with PaintShop Pro back when it was JASC PSP 3 and with a number of other home graphics programs.
So why has Lightroom made a bigger difference than any of the others?
Lightroom does a better job with helping organize, group, and preview groups of photos and in developing a workflow for adding and processing new photos, Sure I can do this with PSP or with Elements but those programs manage these tasks more slowly than Lightroom. Second, Lightroom allows me to adjust photos without having to either lose the original or copy the original since it only applies the changes upon actual processing of the photo (on the monitor, at the printer, when exporting). You can do the same with PSP or Elements but only by either tediously doing and undoing various actions or else by creating copies and working on them. This is a messier and slower process.
These are important features but the biggest and most inspiring feature of Lightroom are the many ways it allows me to adjust and improve the quality of my photos. To illustrate this I offer the following 3 examples:
1. The Dandelion Bokeh photos demonstrate the use of Lightroom to enhance the original photo by cropping out the distracting white area in the upper middle-right of the bokeh, applying a gradient that (imo) enhances the feeling of the grass stem near the dandelion being behind a translucent glass, and some vignetting. These are some of the routine tweaks that Lightroom allows.
2. The Pelican series reflects the first example of the really big difference that such tweaks can make. The original was taken during a roughly 2 hour session of trying to catch pelicans flying/gliding by a condo on a Florida beach. The original was taken with the 55-300mm kit lens set at 55 (to assure that I could catch the pelican in frame), and the second shows the same photo after the initial cropping. This indeed represents pretty much how the pelican looked to my naked eye. The third shows how the pelican "cleaned up" after adjusting the various tone adjustments (fill light, highlight recovery, contrast, brightness, vibrance, clarity, and saturation). This example was a real eye-opener for me.
3. Lightroom has the reputation for being good at making relative minor changes to photos and certainly it does not begin to compare with PhotoShop or PaintShop Pro regarding transformation of images. And there are many things that Lightroom is not able to do. On the other hand, the Radical Dandelion series shows that Lightroom can be used to accomplish some very radical transformations. The series shows the original photo and then the final photo (which transformation was accomplished by a first crop, and then applying a preset - onOne Perfect Preset vol. 2 - Edge 09). This type of radical transformation will not be to everyone's taste, but this example does provide a clear demonstration of the ability to use Lightroom to radically transform images beyond mere tweaking.
I am still learning to make the most of out Lightroom and I have learned much from the members of this forum. As you can see, I still have things to learn. I realize that Lightroom will not make me the next Ansel Adams, Edward Steichen, or Henri Cartier Bresson, but it does inspire me in my photography, more so than any of the other photographic tools in my arsenal. And best of all, Lightroom is rather affordable, with the latest version selling for just over $100.