Photoshop Lightroom 2: For Nature Photographers

The new version of the popular Adobe software melds traditional darkroom controls with the digital world

In the Library module, you can edit and organize images quickly.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 is an amazing program. I’ve been working with it throughout its development process, and I feel like I’m back in the world of the traditional darkroom, now for color images. Lightroom was designed to help the photographer gain more control over his or her images while maintaining an efficient and effective workflow. It’s about organizing digital images to make them more accessible, processing them quickly and then getting them to an audience through slideshows, prints or web galleries (and, of course, image files).

Designed For Speed And Efficient Processing
Lightroom takes a different approach to handling digital image files compared to an image-processing program like Photoshop. It allows you to work with your images right from the start of importing them into the computer from your memory card. You can edit the good and the bad, group them into categories and process or develop as many photos as you want.

Simply having the ability to do those things in one program makes your workflow faster and more efficient, but Lightroom goes further. The tools that you need for a specific type of work are all in one place, such as having everything you need to adjust an image sitting right by the image—you don’t have to search through multiple menus or palettes. If you’ve spent any time doing those things in other programs, you know how much time that can take, even if you know the program very well.

Lightroom 2 Lightroom 2
In the Develop module, you can get into image processing. These capabilities have been improved and expanded in Lightroom 2.0. Batch processing is efficient and powerful.

Lightroom even gives you the ability to work with multiple images. You can look carefully at a group of images and compare details in them so you can better pick a particular image. You can apply multiple adjustments to a photograph and then copy and immediately apply those same adjustments to a whole group of similar photographs.

Speed and efficiency show up in how Lightroom works with specific formats. For example, Lightroom was designed to make RAW processing an easy, integrated part of image work in the computer. Even if Lightroom only did RAW files quickly and efficiently, the program would be a success, but it goes further. Lightroom also does its magic with well-crafted JPEG files, which makes organizing, processing and using them more efficient and more effective than ever.

Nondestructive Processing
All processing in Lightroom is nondestructive, meaning you can adjust a file without damaging its original data. The look of the image changes, but no pixels are harmed. The program creates a set of instructions on how to process an image, saves those instructions, but doesn’t permanently apply those instructions until a new file is created when the image is exported out of Lightroom.

There’s another advantage to nondestructive processing in Lightroom that’s often missed—it reduces the number of image files you have to keep. For example, you don’t need multiple files at different resolutions for printing; simply print directly from the Lightroom file. You don’t need a whole new set of image files for a slideshow; just work on the slideshow in Lightroom. And you don’t need to make up a whole series of file sizes for clients; you always can get exactly what you need from the Lightroom file.

Lightroom 2 Lightroom 2
OP readers will be particularly interested in using tools like the new Graduated Filter. The new Adjustment Brush lets you “paint” an adjustment onto an image. These two points mark where multiple adjustments are set to begin.

What’s New In Lightroom 2
There are many new features in Lightroom 2, but to me, the biggest is nondestructive dodging and burning. You can work just like Ansel Adams used to work in his darkroom, controlling the brightness and darkness of different parts of a photo, but now in the computer and with color.

The programmers at Adobe have created two new tools for this purpose: the Graduated Filter and the Adjustment Brush. Both appear in a new toolbar on the right-side panel in the Develop module of Lightroom. They offer a variety of controls within their adjustment space: Exposure, Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Clarity, Sharpness and a Color Overlay.

The Graduated Filter control acts like a graduated filter used over your lens, but it includes more controls. After you select the type of control to be applied (Exposure, Brightness, etc.), simply click and drag on the photo and the effect immediately appears. Move your cursor farther away from your original point and the gradient gets larger, and rotate your movement of the cursor and the gradient also rotates.

This is an incredible feature. You’re not guessing what to use—you choose the control and see exactly what happens. And you don’t need to understand layers or layer masks. Plus, nothing is permanent! White control points appear to show you where an adjustment begins (hover over the point and you’ll see where the adjustment actually occurs in the photo). You can revise your adjustments as much as needed, plus you can add or delete them without any effect on the quality of the image. You can even set up multiple gradients across the photo to adjust all sorts of specific areas.

The Adjustment Brush uses the same controls as the Graduated Filter, but you literally brush the effects onto the picture rather than dragging a gradient across it. This is a fun tool to use. You can go over your picture and darken bright spots, brighten dark spots, give a line more contrast, paint in a bit of color and more. You set it up similarly to the Graduated Filter, although some additional parameters can be set. You can apply as many adjustment brush points as you need.

Lightroom 2 Lightroom 2
The Collections area has been enhanced with the new Smart Collections feature. Smart Collections are automatically created when you give Lightroom 2.0 some parameters of what to look for. This is handy when you’re cataloging projects. The Library Filter in the Library Module lets you search through image files quickly.

Here are some ideas for using the controls of these new tools:

Exposure. Exposure works very well for lightening a photograph and sometimes for darkening.

Brightness. My preference is to use Brightness for darkening. I like its effect because, for me, it better mimics the traditional darkroom technique of burning in. I use Exposure and Brightness constantly in photos now.

Contrast. Contrast allows you to increase or decrease contrast in specific areas.

Saturation. This control allows you to selectively change saturation within a photo. Often, that’s the best way to deal with color, rather than making a change overall, especially with the overall saturation adjustment (which is heavy-handed).

Clarity. Clarity is like a refined contrast adjustment and allows you to both enhance and reduce contrasts around fine detail in restricted areas.

Sharpness. Sharpness is exactly what it seems to be, a control that allows you to increase or decrease sharpness in specific areas based on the gradient.

Color. You can add color to an area or intensify a weak color with a gradient based on a specific Color Overlay, for example, building up the blue in a sky that recorded weakly.

There are many things you can do with these adjustments as you paint or drag them across your photo. One thing to look for in working on local adjustments is the balance within a picture. Often, the photograph isn’t captured by the camera in a balanced way. Look for some of these elements to adjust:

Tones can be out of balance, where one part of the picture is too bright proportionally compared to another. Brush in minus Brightness to darken an area or plus Exposure to lighten an area.

Colors can be out of balance, where certain colors have too much or too little saturation compared to others because of the way the camera captured them, the light or simply contrasts within the image. Brush in plus or minus Saturation as needed.

Individual pictorial elements can be out of balance. This can happen if something is lit unevenly, for example. The Adjustment Brush is ideal to correct that.

Emphasis is something that always has been important to photographers, but difficult to do with color photos. You can try making a subject darker or lighter, plus its surroundings, in the opposite manner to make a subject stand out. You also can do this with Saturation, Clarity and Sharpness.

If you want some inspiration on how to use such controls, check out Ansel Adams’ books, The Print and Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs. They’re still in print, or you probably can find them at the library. While you won’t find the discussion of chemicals and such things useful, Adams’ descriptions of how and why he adjusted photos are just as valid and thought-provoking today as when he wrote his text. He even has before and after images in The Print, along with notes on how he applied his “adjustments.”

Changes To Library
There are some significant changes to the Library module or organizing part of Lightroom, too. First, searches are a lot easier. There’s a Library Filter bar at the top of the center work area that you can use to quickly refine a search for everything from keywords to metadata.

Second, the Collections area is beefed up with the addition of Smart Collections. This is handy if you want to automatically create collections for your photos so that specific images can be grouped without a lot of extra effort on your part. With a Smart Collection, you can create “rules” that tell Lightroom to look for certain data in a photo; then, if it finds it, the program automatically references the photo with a Smart Collection. For example, you could tell it to always connect photos with a keyword of Clouds into a special Clouds collection. Every time you added a Clouds keyword to a photo, it automatically would appear in the Clouds collection.

Lightroom makes this easy to do, by the way, with the Painter (a paint can) tool. You can put a keyword “into” that tool, set your photos to the Grid layout, just click away on photos and the keyword is added. So if you set up “Clouds” for the Painter, you’d click on a photo, add Clouds as a keyword and have that photo immediately appear in the Clouds Smart Collection.

There’s much more to Lightroom 2, but it would take a book to cover it all. (I’ve been working on that book this past winter and spring, and it will be out early this fall.) Lightroom doesn’t replace Photoshop, but with version 2, most photographers won’t need Photoshop except for minor adjustments not possible in Lightroom. In fact, many photographers will find that Lightroom and Photoshop Elements will allow them to work faster, easier and with more intuitive control than most photographers can work with images in Photoshop.

I can’t tell you if Lightroom is right for you, but it’s certainly right for me. I now use it as my main digital-imaging program, and I’m loving photography more than ever.

Photoshop Lightroom 2.0 final pricing isn’t available as of press time.

Contact: Adobe,