Lightroom 2

In the bad old days, I used to use three programs to import, process and catalog my growing collection of digital pictures. I didn’t really want to use all three, but I did for two reasons. First, each program in the set did its job better than the other two. Second, each program was barely adequate at doing its job at a reasonable level of usability.

Photo Mechanic was good at importing and really nothing else. Photoshop was good at processing and editing and really nothing else. And iView was OK at cataloging. I only used it because it was better than nothing.

These days things are easier. First, computers have gotten fast enough and big enough that a laptop of recent vintage can work with “RAW” images at full size and at full speed. No more databases of thumbnails for me. Second, there is now a single program that can replace the three above in almost all circumstances. Well, really there are two, but I only use one of them: Lightroom from Adobe. If you take more than 100 digital pictures a month or you routinely use RAW formats, you owe it to yourself to look into this application.

If you are not familiar with Lightroom, here is what it does. Lightroom does three things:

1. Import. Lightroom lets you copy your pictures from a card or disk into whatever file hierarchy you choose. It then keeps track of the location and metadata for each picture in its catalog.

2. Edit. Lightroom has all of the picture adjustment tools that are in the Camera RAW module of Photoshop and lets you make non-destructive adjustments to your pictures. This works with either JPEG or RAW files, but you have more latitude with RAW files.

3. Catalog. Lightroom keeps a catalog of picture data and metadata and has rudimentary search and destroy^H^H^H^H^H^H capabilities. This, by the way, is by far the worst part of the application.

In the past I would find myself still using other tools for either stage 1 or 2 of this process. I’m not much of a cataloger. So LR does the job I need there, even if its not too good at it. However, I used to find that Photomechanic was stil faster at import and tagging, and that I needed Photoshop for complicated local adjustments.

Well, not anymore. The import and tagging in Lightroom has improved, and performance is not as critical now that we have 2Ghz dual core laptops with 4GB of memory.

But the big news is that Lightroom 2 now has local adjustment tools. You can have your healing brush, local dodge and burn adjustments, gradient masks, and a lot of other toys that you used to need adjustment layers for, but now you can do it without leaving the Lightroom workflow.

Take this picture as an example.

It has a few huge spots because I never dust my sensor. The color saturation is too weak, the foregorund is too light and the sky is too bright. No matter. A few passes with the healing brush and a local burn on the sky along with the normal global adjustments for contrast and color and you get this:

psu_20090227-00977

No Photoshop needed. Lightroom 1 could do about 80% of the adjustments that I ever do to a picture. With these new tools, Lightroom 2 is probably up to 97%. If I really need a precisely shaped mask for some adjustment, I might fire up Photoshop. But more likely I’m too lazy to do the work for that picture anyway.

It’s good to only have to use one program for this. Recommended.