Lightroom For Nature Photographers

Adobe's newest entry in digital imaging is a powerful tool for outdoor shooters
Lightroom Figure 1 Figure 1

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom has gained well-deserved attention in the short time it has been on the market, and it’s the true photographer-centric way the program has been designed that makes it so inviting.

If you haven’t tried it, forget what you know about Photoshop (it’s not much like Photoshop, even though Adobe gave it the name Photoshop Lightroom)—this is a program that’s far more photographer-friendly.

A Program Built With Modules

Lightroom is designed around a set of five modules: Library for editing and cataloging images, Develop for processing photos, Slide show for making a basic slideshow, Print for printing and web for creating a web photo gallery. The modules ensure the program is focused on what’s needed for a specific task.

Lightroom Figure 2
Figure 2

I find the Library module excellent for editing and cataloging photos. How a photographer edits and files photos is a personal thing, and Library fits my needs. It offers outstanding controls to help most photographers better manage their images. I give it a grade of A.

Develop is a place where magic occurs. This module mimics Camera Raw in some ways, but it makes working on an image so much easier, effective and faster than Camera Raw. The right panel of adjustments includes the necessary controls to allow you to get the most from your core image processing.

Develop doesn’t include local adjustments, however, which are changes you make to one part of an image without affecting any other part. For local adjustments, use Photoshop or another image-processing program that includes selections and layers. I export images from Develop to Photoshop for this reason. I give the Develop module an A.

Lightroom Figure 3
Figure 3

The Slideshow module offers a limited slideshow; if you export the show, you have no sound capabilities at all. For nature photographers, the Slideshow module earns a C-.

The Print module gives you all of the controls you need for printing in a single place. You can add borders, text, create multiple prints and more. I give it a B+.

The web module is a simple and easy way to get your photographs onto the web. You can make either HTML or Flash galleries, and Lightroom does all the tough work in prepping your photos, backgrounds, text and so on for publishing on the web. I give this module a B+.

Lightroom Workflow

Mostly, I use Library and Develop, and go to Print as needed. I occasionally use Web and rarely use Slideshow. Here’s an overview of one way of working in Library and Develop.

Library Workflow:
1. Import
2. Add copyright in metadata
3. Edit your photos
4. Delete the ju

Lightroom has to be able to see where your images are, so you must import them. Then you can add important metadata, such as copyright information.

Edit your images in the Grid mode (use the letter G); G takes you back to the Grid no matter where you are in Lightroom. I hide all of the panels except the center one so I get what’s essentially a light table (Fig. 1). Double-clicking the far edge of any panel closes and opens it. Basically, I go through my shots and remove the junk by hitting X to flag them for deletion. Lightroom offers rating capabilities that photographers may find helpful.

I use Loupe (E) or the Spacebar to see one photo and the Compare (C) function to look at two of them (Fig. 2). Pressing the Spacebar in the Loupe mode enlarges the photo to 100-percent size so you can examine details, and the cursor changes to a hand so you can move the view. Once I go through all the images, I press Ctrl/Cmd + Backspace/Delete to remove the junk completely.

I don’t use the Quick Develop part of Library. Develop is so easy to use that these controls seem like child’s toys and not worth using.

You can use Collections and Keywords to organize your photos and Metadata to add information to one or more.

Develop Workflow:
1. Open photo in Develop
2. Adjust the blacks and whites
3. Adjust the detail tones
4. Work the colors
5. Sharpen

All processing in Develop is non-destructive, regardless of whether you work on a RAW, JPEG or TIFF file. Only instructions are saved with the photo and aren’t applied until you export the image out of Lightroom.

Select a photo in the Library and press D, or if you’re in Develop, select a photo from the Filmstrip at the bottom of the interface (Fig. 3). I often hide the left and bottom panels (F6 and F7) when working in Develop to create more working room for a photo (you always can see it instantly by moving your cursor to that side).


Layer MasksThis Article Features Photo Zoom
I start with Blacks in Basic. Holding Alt/Option, I move Blacks until I see appropriate blacks appearing in the Threshold screen. Then I do the same with Exposure to affect whites, although I find this control sensitive in Lightroom (Fig. 4). When whites show in the Threshold screen, you often have too much of an adjustment, so I back off from it somewhat.

Lightroom Figure 4
Figure 4

Fill light brings out some detail in the dark areas, while Recovery brings back detail in the bright areas. Be careful not to overuse these controls or your photo lose contrast and look unnatural.

Next, the Tone Curve works the tones that have important detail (the midtones and more). This adjustment uses a parametric set of sliders that work four specific areas of tonality—Shadows, Darks, Lights and Highlights. You can adjust directly with the sliders or you can use the "magic button" I discussed in "Digital Horizons" (Outdoor Photographer, October 2007). Click on the little button at the top left of the adjustment area to activate your cursor. This targets your adjustments to whatever you click on in the photo, and then simply click and drag, click and drag until your detail tones look good (Fig. 5).

Lightroom Figure 5 Figure

Clarity is a new control in Basic that affects the contrast of midtones. I use it after working the Tone Curve.

Next, I go to color. Lightroom has a terrific white-balance eyedropper in Basic. If your image has an unwelcome colorcast, use the eyedropper to click on something that should be a neutral black, gray or white. You also can tweak the white-balance controls if needed.

One of my favorite controls is the HSL (Hue/Saturation/Luminance) adjustment section on the right panel. A lot of photographers go right to Saturation (not recommended for most photos) or Vibrance in the Basic section first. I use Vibrance, but almost never use Saturation. I find that I get the best results by going to HSL.

The magic button again (the little button at the top left of the section) activates the cursor so you can "target" color adjustments. If I have colors that are off in some way (this isn’t unusual because digital camera sensors don’t automatically make every color correct), I use the Hue segment first, move my cursor onto the offending color, then click and drag, up and down, until the color looks better. Lightroom finds the actual color to adjust for me.

In most photos, colors vary as to their need for adjustment. So I reset my cursor for Saturation and click and drag on the colors that need fixing, knowing that Lightroom finds the colors for me.

Luminance changes the brightness of individual colors. I was skeptical of this function at first because it worked so poorly in Photoshop; however, I now use it quite a lot, especially for skies. Again, the magic button activates the cursor so you can just click and drag the colors as needed.

Lightroom Figure 6
Figure 6

Finally, you can use Lightroom’s new Sharpening tools (Fig. 6). These weren’t in the original 1.0 version of the program, but appeared in v. 1.1. The Detail section includes both Noise Reductio and Sharpening tools. You need to enlarge your photo to 100 percent by clicking on it in order to see these effects (you receive a warning in the adjustment area if you don’t). Noise Reduction isn’t bad, but if you need strong noise reduction, use one of the dedicated noise-reduction programs, such as Imagenomic Noiseware or Nik Software Dfine.

When sharpening, hold Alt/Option as you make adjustments, and the screen changes to make it easier to see them. Amount acts a bit like Amount in Unsharp Mask, although the scale is different (the algorithms are different, too). Radius is similar to Radius in Unsharp Mask, but it’s more sensitive. Detail changes how much the halos created by Radius appear. I find that low settings look odd in the way they deal with detail, but high settings are too harsh. Finally, Masking blocks certain parts of the photo from being sharpened, limiting the sharpening to just certain edges (you can see this by holding Alt/Option).

There’s much more to Lightroom and its controls, but like any photographic tool, you learn its nuances best by using it repeatedly. As you work with Lightroom, don’t be afraid to experiment. You can’t hurt your images, since nothing is applied to a photo until you export it out of the program. Plus, a History section on the left panel of Develop remembers every adjustment you make.

Rob Sheppard is the author of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for Digital Photographers Only (Wiley, 2007).

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