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Adobe Lightroom

Updated on September 19, 2009
Image by Rachelle Fox. Copyright Protected.
Image by Rachelle Fox. Copyright Protected.

A Digital Photographers Dream

When Adobe first released Lightroom, it promised to be the 'light' at the end of a long, dark tunnel of disorganization. Two years (and many upgrades later) Adobe has furnished photographers with a powerful workflow tool that does much more than just catalogue and manage files.

Like most photographers I bought Lightroom originally to help crawl out of file purgatory. Photoshop's Bridge was suppose to help sort the thousands upon thousands of digital files I created, but it's non-intuitive and seemingly clunky interface caused endless hours of frustration. In the end I gave up on proper organization, then my previous computer almost died from file-icide (too many files on too little memory) and I decided it was time to take action.

The incredible power Lightroom wields (and the major difference between it and Bridge) comes from the fact that it is a true 'library' and data management program as opposed to a simple file browser. It uses metadata to keep track of file changes, edits and copies and because of the small amount of memory used in a metadata file, it can provide ultimate sorting flexibility.

The analogy of a 'library' is the best way to describe how Lightroom functions.

Unlike a file browser that can only 'see' files stored on the local hard drive, Lightroom can show previews and collections of images that are on remote hard drives. It keeps track of these files (and the changes made to them) by using catalogues.

Lightroom Is A Library

Lightroom operates like an old fashioned library. All the books (files) are brought in and then catalogued and placed on the physical shelves (hard drives). In a small library only one catalogue would be needed in order to look up and locate a book (file) but in a large multi-leveled library more than one catalogue would be needed to maintain efficiency and organization.

The catalogue/catalogues then show a preview of every book (file) brought into the library and where the physical copy of that book (file) can be found.

Just like an old fashioned library though, sometimes those books (files) have been checked out and are unavailable to use. Their preview and location, however, can still be seen. This is an extremely useful feature when you have thousands of files on multiple external hard drives.

Metadata Madness

Metadata is "data about data". In regards to images, metadata is stored and attached in what is called an xmp sidecar file. This file keeps track of any changes made to the image and tells each program how to render the image properly.

In Photoshop when you make changes to your photo you are either working on the pixels themselves (and risking permanent degradation of the image) or in adjustment layers that float above the background image. These layers are created by copying the file underneath, which is why Photoshop files can become extremely large and memory consuming.

In Lightroom when you make changes to your photo only the metadata file is updated. You never work directly on the pixels and you never create large, layered files. It is a truly non-destructive work space that uses little extra memory. Everything you do in Lightroom (even cropping) can be undone with the click of a mouse, whether you change your mind today or two years from now.

This new way to sort and process images has created a much better workflow for the digital photographer.


With metadata using such small amounts of hard drive space, Lightroom is able to offer superior organizational tools. One of these time saving tools is called collections.

When you import your images through Lightroom it saves the original file onto your hard drive (and back-up drive simultaneously if this is your preference) and then renders a preview of your image that it stores inside the Lightroom Catalogue. (It can also rename, apply develop presets, keywords and copyright metadata, among other preferences, automatically on import to every image selected.)

These previews allow you to choose visually what photos should be imported to your computer. These images can then be copied and placed in numerous different groupings called 'collections'. (And remember, you are not copying the actual file, only the metadata.)

So why are collections so amazing?

Many photographers have images that can be used in different ways. Maybe you have an image that is sold as a fine art print but is also licensed for commercial stock. Maybe you want to put this image in a web gallery or slideshow presentation.

In Lightroom you can create a fine art collection, commercial stock collection, web gallery collection and slideshow collection, with this one image being present in all collections.

You can have as many collections as you want and in theory one image could exist in 20, 30, 40 or 1000 different collections. If you then alter this photo in the Develop Module, Lightroom automatically updates the appearance of the image across all the collections.

This simple and intuitive way of working gives back valuable time to your day.

When you are ready to upload your web gallery you simply select the web collection and with two clicks of the mouse your images are renamed, resized, converted to jpeg, converted to sRGB and placed in the website folder of your hard drive.

Time to send the commercial stock images to the agency? Select the stock collection, convert to TIFF files (leaving the images full size) and export to your stock agency folder ready for the FTP upload.

Work directly from the 20 images in your pre-selected fine art collection, rather than scrolling through your innumerable RAW files.

The choices are endless.

And just how much memory is taken up for all this flexibility? Well, I have about 12,000 RAW files plus some PSD file collections in the Lightroom Catalogue. With all of this plus the Catalogue and Database Backup files my total memory used is 406.6 MB's.

Not Just An Organizational Tool

In addition to being an incredibly powerful organizational system, Lightroom is also a superior RAW file processor. The Develop Module in Lightroom is far better than the current Camera RAW dialogue box in Photoshop CS3.

Why is this so?

While the dialogue boxes have the same options available for RAW processing, the way CS3 and Lightroom function is completely different and this is what propels Lightroom to the lead in the RAW processing area.

The Develop Module

Lightroom's Develop Module is an easy to navigate, intuitive system. With all of your options available in the one window and some added benefits such as the targeted adjustment tools, the crop and straighten tool, the ability to do dust spot corrections in precise locations, the ability to render develop presets on multiple files and the handy before and after views, it blows away the RAW processing competition.

Add to this the fact that you can create virtual copies of your image, apply different develop settings to each and then compare the results to determine the best RAW conversion and there's no reason to use CS3's Camera RAW dialogue box ever again.

The advantages don't stop there though. Say you complete your RAW conversion and export into Photoshop. As you work on your layers you suddenly realise you should have had a slightly different white balance or maybe more recovery slider. Starting over again to fix this in CS3's Camera RAW is so frustrating that usually no-one wants to do it and compensates instead in Photoshop causing undue image degradation in the process.

With Lightroom you simply switch back to the Develop Module where everything is open and ready to go, adjust a few sliders and re-export to Photoshop. It is simple and takes a fraction of the time.

Everything in Lightroom is designed to be easily undone, redone or applied to multiple files with a click of the mouse.

Lightroom or Photoshop CS3 or Both?

If you're starting to get the feeling that I'm in love with Lightroom, you are correct. Does this mean I have abandoned Photoshop?

Of course not.

Photoshop CS3 is a large, complex program that is capable of incredible image manipulation and finite, detailed work. As a professional I cannot live without it.

However, being a professional my time is extremely valuable and producing the best quality images I can is paramount. That is why I use both programs in my digital workflow.

Lightroom's Library Module is far superior to Bridge, the Develop Module is far superior to Camera RAW, the Web and Slideshow Modules outperform Photoshop CS3 also, however the Print Module falls far short of the kind of control I need to produce gallery standard fine art prints. (Lightroom does not possess a soft proofing option and without this the print quality and consistency is simply not good enough.)

So my integrated digital workflow now looks like this:

Shoot RAW: import files through Lightroom: sort, organize and process the RAW files in Lightroom: export converted RAW files to Photoshop CS3 for further detailed processing: save as seperate PSD files and print from Photoshop CS3's print dialogue box.

When I am ready to to upload images to the web or send to clients as a slideshow I re-import the PSD files into Lightroom and create my web and slideshow collections.


For beginner DSLR photographers I would recommend buying Lightroom first. It is a lot cheaper than Photoshop CS3 and is an incredibly powerful, easy to use tool that will more than satisfy your photography needs. (The Print Module may not offer the kind of precision I need but for most other areas of photography it works wonderfully well and does produce beautiful prints.)

The great advantage to buying Lightroom first is that you are not laying out large sums of money for a program that in the beginning you won't have a clue how to use properly. Most beginning photographers only use tools in Photoshop that are also available in Lightroom.

And because Lightroom is an Adobe product and fully integrated with Photoshop you will learn all the different names and tools that are the same in both platforms.

Once photography becomes more than just a hobby you will then be ready to invest in the awesome power of Photoshop. With all of your files properly organized and developed in Lightroom you will be ahead of the digital photography workflow game.

For professionals Lightroom is simply a smart investment. Time is money, and I cannot stress enough just how much time Lightroom will save you, especially if you are a busy commercial photographer.

As a strictly fine art photographer I don't produce large volumes of images but even with my small collection I am amazed at how Lightroom has simplified my workflow and freed up my time for other important aspects of my business, like marketing.

The initial investment of money and time to learn the program are very quickly offset by the results Lightroom produces.

(By the way I do not work for Adobe's marketing department but I am a self- confessed Lightroom addict who also teaches others.)


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    • jabyrd82 profile image

      jabyrd82 8 years ago from Farmington,New Mexico

      Excellent article thnx for info have been looking into doing this!!!

    • RFox profile image

      RFox 9 years ago

      Peggy W: Thank you so much for your kind comments. Strangely enough I am in the middle of teaching my Lightroom 2 Workshop this weekend. I do love the program. My friends say I should try to get a commission from Adobe , the amount of people I turn into Lightroom fans.

      Lol. Have a great weekend!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Your photos are beautiful and your love of travel obvious. I am just an amateur photographer but will save this hub if I ever decide to get serious about photography. Thanks for the information.

    • RFox profile image

      RFox 9 years ago

      Paraglider: Thanks for stopping by! Yes, digital images grow exponentially if you let them. Lol.

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Excellent hub. Digital images very quickly get out of hand. I'm purely a hobbyist and rely on Picasa to track everything but it's not a metadata manager.

    • Karen Ellis profile image

      Karen Ellis 9 years ago from Central Oregon

      I had looked at this program on line, a bit. Now, I think I'll take another look - it sounds great. Thanks for the information.

    • RyanRE profile image

      RyanRE 9 years ago from Bellingham, WA

      I should look into Lightroom. I have actually been looking for a decent free RAW photo editor. I am sure Lightroom is far from free, but it might be a good option. Do know of any good RAW photo editors that are free?

    • RFox profile image

      RFox 9 years ago

      Chef Jeff: Glad to help! It is an excellent program so it's easy for me to recommend it. I just love the easy to use interface. Makes my job so much better, especially when I have to batch process a bunch of images for my website etc. Would love to see some photos some time! ;)

    • Chef Jeff profile image

      Chef Jeff 9 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

      I'll have to check this out! I am thinking about getting back into photography. Thanks so much!

    • RFox profile image

      RFox 9 years ago

      Zsuzsy Bee: Thanks for stopping by! I hope it was helpful to you. :)

      donnaleemason: Yep, it is a lot of info and that's just a very small portion of what I have to know for digital. No wonder my brain hurts sometimes! Lol. Thanks for commenting. :D

    • donnaleemason profile image

      donnaleemason 9 years ago from North Dakota, USA

      Wow, all that for a photo. It is a lot of info. Thanks.

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 9 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Wow! Thanks for all this great information. I sure learned a lot.

      regards Zsuzsy