5 HOT Lightroom Features

26 Nov

A Guest post by Christopher HC Brown

lightroom_3.jpgFirst off I should come right out and say that I think Lightroom is an amazing tool for photographers. Before I got my first copy of this application I was using Photoshop to do all of my image editing.

Don’t get me wrong, I know Photoshop is also a great application and is used by probably millions of photographers and graphic designers as the de rigueur standard. Unfortunately it is the comprehensive scope and vast number of features that is what makes it a problem for many photographers. Photoshop contains many features that are rarely or never used by photographers.

As a result the menu structure and basic interface is quite cluttered. Furthermore, the need to use layers to perform non-destructive editing is for many of us tedious. I must admit that prior to switching to Lightroom, I so much wanted to avoid having to create and manage layers that I created a copy of each raw image I created, then performed destructive edits on the copy. If I made a change that I could not undo, or that I decided I did not like after I had applied other edits, I had to create another copy and start all over again. Certainly not an efficient approach!

Fortunately somebody suggested that I might like to try Lightroom or Aperture as both of these applications are designed with the photographer in mind. This was in my “pre-Mac” days so Aperture was out; I got Lightroom 2.7, and recently upgraded to version 3. Since then I have become a devoted convert to this application, and now I need Photoshop only on the rare occasions that I want to perform some complex Cloneing, or if I want to do some kind of graphic editing that Lightroom, by definition, does not support.

So now that you know how I came to be be a fervent fan of Lightroom, here is the list of my 5 favorite features that make it such a great tool for photographers.

1. Non-Destructive Editing Without Layers

I hate layers! I don’t like creating them. I don’t like setting their properties. I don’t like merging them, flattening them, deleting them or moving them. When I am editing a digital image there are a lot of other things I would rather do than mess around with layers. The problem for me, before I started using Lightroom, was that using layers was the only robust method for making non-destructive edits to a digital image.

As I described above I had way of avoiding using layers, but it was not very efficient. Well fear no more. Lightroom lets us edit our RAW image files (or JPEG if you are not shooting RAW yet), preserves a history of every change we have made, and allows us to move forward and backward in the history. We can even save a snapshot of our images at any time and in this way preserve the edits performed, then make more edits. If we decide we don’t like subsequent changes, we can go back to the snapshot and start again.

If you are like me, your aesthetic is constantly changing and as a result you are re-editing images months after your initial attempt. For us this really is a paradigm change in digital image manipulation.

2. Library Integration


Prior to Lightroom we had to switch between separate applications to manage our ever expanding photo libraries and our editing software. Now we have a scrolling library across the left side of the window, and at the bottom a scrolling screen that allows us to quickly navigate between images.

The navigation bar on the left of the window, by default, includes all of the folders in our library, and the collections of our images. I find this really useful when I am publishing images to my Flickr page (which is supported by version 3), putting together slide shows, and publishing Flash or HTML galleries of my collections.

3. Graduated Filter


The Graduated Filter tool is excellent for adjusting exposure to bring life back to an overexposed sky or for darkening a foreground to place greater emphasis on the subject, as in the picture to the left. Simply click and drag the filter down over the region in the image that you wish to adjust.

Then, if you wish to tilt or change the size of the area covered by the filter, you can drag the area around with your mouse. You can use the graduated filter to apply heavy or light adjustments, and it always provides a smooth transition from the adjusted to the non-a dusted regions in your image. I use it mostly for exposure adjustments, but it can be used to adjust a number of properties such as contrast, brightness, clarity and sharpness.

Also, you can use it to apply a graduated colour effect just like we used to do with glass or plastic filters when shooting film.

4. Crop Overlay Tool


When clicked, the Crop Overlay Tool displays a grid overlaying your image. To change the region to be preserved after your crop, simply adjust the sides of the area by clicking and dragging. There are a couple of features that make cropping in Lightroom a breeze. First, you can choose from a number of standard formats (called the ‘aspect’) such as 8×10, 8.5×11, 1×1, 5×7, 4×6, etc…

This makes changing the format of your image quick and easy. Changes to the aspect is something that photographers should experiment with when processing their images as changing the format has the power to improve final product. Now it is very easy to do.

Furthermore, there is a little padlock symbol that when clicked toggles between locked aspect, and freeform cropping. The second cool feature is very simple, but really improves working with cropping; a preview. Provided that you have the Navigator at the top left of your Lightroom window expanded, the changes you make to the crop of the image will appear there. This makes trying different crops really easy and cuts down on a lot of the clicking through menus that some other applications make us go through.

Finally, if you make a crop, and later think you might like the image cropped differently, or not at all, all you have to do is click the Crop Overlay Tool and you can adjust or remove the crop at your whim!

5. Web Export

This is a feature that I have only recently started to use. Prior to building this website the export functions I used were to local disk, Flickr and Slide shows. I actually built a website using an on-line web tool that included HTML based galleries for my images. It lasted about two days once I figured out that I could use the built in functionality in Lightroom 3 to create slick Flash galleries!

There are something like 30 templates included with Lightroom. None of them are terribly fancy, but they provide a very simple and elegant presentation of your images. There is even a “Postcard” gallery included that spreads thumbnails of your images across the screen that enlarge for viewing when the user clicks on them. You can change the look and feel of the galleries by changing colour schemes, image and thumbnail sizes, and which metadata to display. Finally, publishing is a ‘one click’ excercise after you enter the address of the FTP server and sub-folder of your website.

Well there you have it, my favorite 5. Get to know Lightroom and I am sure you will find many more useful features for the top of your list.

See more from Chris at Christopher HC Brown Photography

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