How can Lightroom fit into your workflow?

by Michael Clark

Digital "workflow" has been a buzz-word for a number of years now ever since digital took the photography world by storm. Photographers from all over the globe talk about it seemingly non-stop. They chat on forums, take digital workflow workshops and agonize about minute aspects of image quality. I started experimenting with digital about three years ago. Back then, it was 6 MP and while the image quality was good the motor drive speeds weren't fast enough for my adventure sports photography. Aside from the speed issue the outdoor industry was slow to accept digital images which curbed my enthusiasm for digital. Both the speed and image quality issues were quelled when Nikon introduced the D2x. With image quality rivaling medium format film the latest DSLR's were hard to ignore and I jumped in with both feet. I have only shot one roll of 35mm film in the last two years since and though I still shoot medium format film to create a certain look or when a client asks for it, I don't shoot nearly as much film as I used to.

The new reality is the job of processing our own images for output whether to our own ink jet printer or for print in magazines, brochures or the web has fallen on us, the photographer. For most of us, we've figured out a sensible workflow to process our images and changing that method isn't at the top of too many photographers "to do" lists. Even so, all of us can benefit from less time in front of the computer and more time behind the camera. On that note I would like to suggest a few ways in which Adobe's Lightroom can make your workflow a little more efficient.

First and foremost is the editing process. Once images are imported into Lightroom and the previews have been rendered, editing your images becomes a simple process. As I said in my previous blog post rendering the 1:1 Previews is a critical step. The ability to compare images side by side and even zoom to 100% on both images simultaneously is another sweet feature that streamlines the editing process. Add to that the stacking and versions features, the ability to sort and filter your images six ways to Sunday and the editing process that used to be a major hassle is now relatively painless. Once your images are edited moving into the Develop module presents a seamless workflow. Using Lightroom isn't rocket science and that is part of it's beauty.

One of my favorite Lightroom features is creating black and white images. Once in the develop module choose the before/after mode, then choose grayscale. You will now be able to see your original color image and the black and white counterpart just next to it. Lightroom allows you to enhance your grayscale image's brightness, contrast, color balance and everything else just as with color images but you can also work on the image with the grayscale sliders affecting each color channel individually. All the while you can see how your grayscale image compares to the original color image and tweak the sliders accordingly. I've never seen a black and white conversion method this intuitive. This is worth a serious look for anyone who wants to create fabulous black and white images with their digital camera.

Beyond the editing and image processing features, Lightroom offers very powerful slideshow, printing and web gallery options - all of which can work with your RAW images directly. It is easy to see that Adobe's programmers have gone to great lengths to simplify the digital workflow process with Lightroom.

How Lightroom fits into your current workflow depends on many factors. For myself, I'm not currently using Lightroom as a Digital Asset Management (DAM) tool but just as an image processor. I import images from photo shoots into Lightroom in groups so that I can maximize the keywording done on import. I sort and edit images, process the selects and export them as 16-bit ProPhoto RGB Tiff files. Once I have processed and exported the selects I continue working them up in Photoshop if they need extra attention. I generally leave the images in Lightroom for about a month then I delete them so the Lightroom cache doesn't get too big. If at a later date I need to rework an image I can import it into Lightroom again and since I have my preferences set to export XMP sidecar files I can start working up the image as it was previously processed.

Because I don't do a lot of in-house printing I seldom use the Print module in Lightroom but have found it to be a great asset for creating contact sheets for submissions to clients or punching out a batch of images for an athlete or model. These days most of my image submissions are low resolution jpeg's sent via FTP or online lightboxes. Lightroom's Web module gives you quite a few options for creating custom web galleries which can help differentiate yourself from other photographers, plus you can even upload web galleries to your website without leaving Lightroom. I have been using the Slideshow module in Lightroom for all of my workshop slideshows since Lightroom became a beta download last year. All of the modes are useful, it is up to the photographer to pick and choose what works for them. I'm sure my workflow will change as Lightroom improves but for now it is what it is. Adobe has left the door wide open for after market plug-ins and I am sure we'll be seeing quite a few very useful plug-ins in the near future, many of which will certainly alter my workflow.

Adios, Michael Clark