Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom 1.0; Should Photo Enthusiasts Embrace Adobe’s Lightroom?

When a photo product is designated as "professional" by the manufacturer many serious photo enthusiasts are immediately attracted, assuming the product will provide superior performance for them as well as professional photographers. This assumption has for much of photography's recent history been a truism backed up by reality. However, Adobe's reference to Lightroom as an application designed for professionals isn't so much a matter of higher performance as it is with specific functions that allow professional photographers to operate their businesses more efficiently. Does that preclude it from consideration by serious photo enthusiasts using a digital camera and saving in raw format? Not at all--indeed, any photographer who is prolific will also benefit from Lightroom's functions and capabilities.

This approach is probably best understood by describing a couple of Lightroom's key attributes and functions. Anyone familiar with dealing with raw digital camera files knows that there is an essential and to some extent time-consuming process of conversion from the proprietary raw camera file to a format that can be edited in an application like Photoshop. Lightroom provides much faster access to a useful image by nondestructively sampling the file. This provides both a thumbnail as well as a large-screen resolution preview that can be edited and adjusted; those changes are recorded in a data file that is linked to the original raw format file, but does not alter its content.

The other initial function of Lightroom is actually supported by a database engine. This provides several different functions that allow sorting and rating or classifying the content of a shoot. This is a virtual, digital simulation of the old analog film process of getting boxes of processed slides from the lab and spreading them out on a light table to go through them with a loupe in hand, tossing the culls in the round file and picking the keepers.

This sorting and culling process is very efficient. It can be done as "stacks," different images made within a short time span that's set by the user. It has a rating number that can be applied to the thumbnail frames. And you can easily delete the thumbnail of a cull or even the original raw file. Of course, each shoot can be further and arbitrarily divided and easily put into named folders within the Lightroom Library.

One of the efficiencies and beauties of Adobe's Lightroom is that the application's work space screen contains all of the features and tools needed to complete all the steps of the process of working with digital camera raw image files. Screen content and organization, set on Library here, takes a user seamlessly and logically through the process with the specific tools needed at each step readily at hand. It's just like driving an ideally designed sports car.
All Photos © 2007, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

After sorting a photographer can click on the Develop tab at the top of the screen. At this point color corrections and adjustments to any image selected from the thumbnails can be made using a largely familiar set of adjustment sliders, which closely parallel those of Camera Raw in Photoshop CS2 or Elements. Develop is made easier and more effective by providing graphic feedback in the form of histograms and a new Curves dialog that is easier to control. The interactive sliders and a more refined feedback graph, which indicates the range of adjustment possible while preserving image integrity, are both welcome additions. Develop even has a black and white/monochrome conversion utility, providing selective color control quite similar to what is in the recent release of Photoshop CS3. Any set of adjustments can be saved and then easily applied to a selection of thumbnails, a very efficient form of batch processing.