Lightroom: What we've been waiting for?

by Michael Clark

About five years ago, when I first started flirting with digital image capture I quickly realized that the cameras, while not perfect worked quite well. In comparison, it was the software side of the equation that needed a lot of help. And even though there were a few players in the software industry with viable products to process RAW images none of them were all that fast, powerful or intuitive. Hence, the lure to switch to digital wasn't very strong. There was poor resolution and painfully slow digital workflows to contend with. For those of us that had been shooting film our entire careers, we were waiting for software that would work like our light tables and a good loupe. We needed a digital workflow that allowed us to edit hundreds and sometime thousands of images produced on a shoot with the same efficiency we could on the light table. Well, it has been a much longer wait than I would have expected but we finally have what we've been waiting for and its name is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

While Lightroom may not work exactly like the old light table workflow it isn't far off and the control we now have over our images is far beyond anything we could have dreamed of even a decade ago. Photographers are rejoicing in the streets - or at least they should be. A large part of the wait is the fact that computers are far more powerful today than they were even a few years ago. With faster computers, efficient software and high-resolution digital cameras, we now have tools that far exceed the quality of 35mm film.

So is Lightroom what we've been waiting for? For many photographers the answer will be yes. There are many professional photographers; myself included that switched to a workflow using Adobe Lightroom even while it was in Beta stage. Some of the biggest struggles I had with other workflows are easily handled by Lightroom and save me significant amounts of time parked in front of the computer. Besides providing a more efficient workflow, Lightroom is also a known quantity and easily adapted for anyone who has used an Adobe Camera Raw and CS2 workflow - which is a large percentage of professional photographers. Because I don't have to learn a whole new piece of software and because I already have a good feel for a large percentage of the sliders in Lightroom it makes for an easy transition. That in itself is a huge time saver and is perhaps one of the biggest selling points for Lightroom. That isn't to say there is nothing new to learn about a Lightroom workflow or using it to process your digital images. There are some significant differences that will have to be learned but they are an evolution of the controls we are already familiar with and that only makes it easier to craft the final image.

As an example, one step in my workflow where Lightroom saves amazing amounts of time is figuring out which images are tack sharp and which aren't. With my old workflow this task could take ridiculous amounts of time no matter which software I used. With Lightroom, after importing my images, rendering the standard previews and the 1:1 previews I can zip through the images at 100% about as fast as I can push the arrow key. Taking the time to let Lightroom render the 1:1 previews is a key step in any workflow using this software. Once the 1:1 previews are built, the editing process can fly (with a decently fast computer - most of my critical work is done on a G5 tower and a calibrated and profiled Apple Cinema Display).

Is there room for improvement in Lightroom Version 1.0? Of course there is. But, because Adobe has used a public beta program to get feedback for almost a full year, Lightroom has been dialed in like few other Version1.0 software programs. Lightroom has allowed me to concentrate on photography again. It has simplified my workflow and provides a user interface that is intuitive and powerful. That is progress.

I'll get more specific on how I use Lightroom and how it has streamlined my workflow in future posts.

Adios, Michael Clark