BitDepth 586 - July 24

One hundred days after first deciding to work with Lightroom as my primary RAW file manager, a report on how that went...
Lightroom, 100 days later

Lightroom Learning. Within days of the release of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, both Scott Kelby and Martin Evening weighed in with comprehensive manuals on the product. Kelby's is written in his jocular, how-to-do-it style with a very accessible layout. Evening's book is rich with detail and information; it took me a month to finish reading it. As an indicator of their relative focus, both authors issued online PDF updates of their books when Lightroom had a major update to 1.1. Kelby's PDF is 28 pages long and focuses on key changes, Evening's upate is 177 pages long, a rewrite of almost half the original book.

When it comes to software, I love to flirt madly with new code. Downloading intriguing new applications and messing around with them to see what they do is one of the things that makes computing such saucy fun.
Curiously, though, when it comes to the software that I work with, I'm more of a one codebase kind of guy. I pick an application, work with it through thick and thin and only give up and move on when clearly it's the only thing left to do.
Like almost anyone who works with a computer for long stretches, I grow used to having software that works in a particular way that responds predictably and dependably.

Working with Photoshop Lightroom, the new picture management software from Adobe, was a little of both. Over the last few years of shooting RAW digital files, I'd been continuously frustrated by immature products that claimed to handle RAW files (including the software that shipped with the cameras that created them) and emerged from the whole melee bloodied, somewhat wiser and completely unsatisfied.
I'd been working with Adobe's Bridge software when Lightroom came along with a real engine for managing RAW files, which are larger than the JPEG files that are most camera's other option for capturing images and call for a fair amount of background processing on a computer to be usable.

More image editing software to learn?
If you're a Photoshop user, you may be wondering what the big hoo hah about Lightroom and its market rival Aperture from Apple is all about.
Here's what it boils down to. Photoshop was designed to apply many transformations to a single picture during a work session, which is essentially what the retouching, print production and professional photofinishing industries use it for.
Aperture and Lighroom are designed to apply a few, critical transformations to many photos simultaneously.
That may not seem like a big thing to most folks, but for photographers working through hundreds of photos at a time, seeing someone work with Aperture or Lightroom at full speed like peering over Moses' shoulder while the Red Sea parts. You want to shout, "How can it be possible to do that?"

Both products have similarities; they are both built on a customised SQLite database and are equally adept at handling large photo collections. You can view images as virtual contact sheets, compare similar pictures side by side and zoom in to assess critical details.
After being slutty with both Aperture and Lightroom, I put virtual ring on finger with Adobe's product, even as I lamented the loss of Aperture's superior loupe for inspecting image details and the great book production tools it offers.
What Lightroom delivers is structure. In a surprisingly simplified interface, Adobe's product makes light work of moving through hundreds of images at a time, editing misses and labelling hits. Switch over to the develop module and you can do basic image editing that brings images to 90 percent of their potential in just a few minutes. Both applications write edits to RAW files as instructions and postpone the actual changes to when you export the files to TIFF or JPEG.

Turning the lights on
In my typical workflow, I dump pictures off a card into a folder and import them, referencing the originals instead of copying them into the Lightroom database.
I then flip through the collection in library mode, marking rejects and picks and embedding caption information (both products can add keywords and copyright metadata on import automatically).
If there are hiccups, such as color casts or exposure imbalances, I use the develop module to correct them in batches. Then I export low-resolution versions; watermark them using a shareware product called iWatermark (because Lightroom's watermarking is lame) and post them to a private website for client review. Contact sheets are so 20th Century now, aren't they?

I'll go out on a limb here and strongly suggest that you get either Aperture (Mac only) or Lightroom if you have a backlog of folders full of pictures awaiting your attention. If you shoot RAW files or plan to, go directly to one of these products, you won't regret it. Both companies offer 30 day demos of their software that you can try.
Photoshop still plays a big role in the process, since selects will often require a little more remedial work to fulfil the full subject potential, but I spend a lot less time with individual pictures from the shoot and more time refining the images that matter. And as much as I like fooling around with software, I'd rather be shooting than fixing photos one by one.
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