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Adobe Lightroom 2: My favorite features

Image management tool has a host of cool features By Robert Jensen

Adobe Lightroom should be first on the list of tools for every photographer. Here is my list of the best new features in Lightroom 2 that make an already great program even more powerful.

You've probably heard the news, Adobe came out with version 2 of Lightroom last year. If you haven't heard then you must be a hermit living in a cave in Timbuktu. Actually, as of this writing Lightroom is sitting at version 2.2 and Adobe Labs has a release candidate of 2.3 available for testing. This latest update fixes a few bugs and supports the new Nikon D3X and Olympus E-30. If you're sitting on the fence deciding if spending $299 for the full version, or $99 for the upgrade is worth it, let me tell you - it is.

For the photographer, Lightroom has been a godsend. At least it has been for me. I can't think of one other program that speeds up the importing, sorting, editing and outputting to file, print or web site the hundreds or thousands of images a photographer has to deal with on a daily basis better than Lightroom does. It has saved me hours worth of work, no probably more like days, since I started using the first version of Lightroom in 2007.

Adjustment Brush
The #1 feature that I love about Lightroom 2 is the Adjustment Brush. For me this feature alone is worth buying or upgrading to Lightroom 2. This tool lets me do 95% of any retouching right inside Lightroom. Now I only have to hop over to Photoshop if I want to get really fancy or add some special effects that I can't do in Lightroom (and Lightroom can do a lot of special effects). Using the Adjustment Brush you can vary one, or all, of the following attributes and if you change your mind later you can go back, click on the brush's button on your image, and edit adjustments to your heart's content since this tool is non-destructive.

  • Exposure - Try to use Brightness first.
  • Brightness - Use to bring back shadow detail. Bring out highlights in very dark hair/eyes.
  • Contrast - Nice to make clouds pop a bit more.
  • Saturation -Careful with this, don't over do it.
  • Clarity - Try using slight negative values for a nice effect with portraits.
  • Sharpness - Use on the eyes in a portrait.
  • Color - Does a really good job enhancing the color of eyes and lips.
  • Soften Skin - This basically just paints in -100 Clarity which doesn't give the best results at the default setting. Try smaller amounts of - Clarity and maybe a touch of + brightness.

Retouching is sped up by having the choice of using one of two brushes, A or B. There's an Eraser brush tool for cleaning up edges, etc. You can save your favorite settings as a brush preset to keep handy.

Tools. Click image for full view

Graduated Filter tool
Besides the Adjustment Brush, the other BIG new feature that I use a lot is the new Graduated Filter tool. I use this to do things like add neutral density to the sky or water, make the sky bluer or the grass greener. You can even do multiple graduated filters on an image, for example color the sky from red to yellow and deepen the blue of the ocean. All the same adjustments are there, just like for the Adjustment Brush, except for the Soften Skin setting. Would anyone really need to use a graduated filter to soften skin?

Before and after - I created two Gradients here, one to add some blue to the sky and just below that a yellow one to give some punch to the sunset.

Library Filter
This feature is a bit of a sleeper but you should try it out because it comes in really handy for me when I'm trying to find a particular photo or set of photos. With the Library filter you can easily find photos with a few clicks on a list showing metadata of all your photos. Being a reviewer I handle a lot of cameras and lenses, with one click in the metadata browser I can select every photograph I took with a Canon 50D, or any particular lens, date or label. You have to be in Grid mode to use the Library Filter (hit the letter 'G' on your keyboard to switch)

You can also search by Text or Attribute. I use Attribute to find all my 5 star rated photos, or ones I tagged Green (Print) or shots I flagged to go back and have a second look at. Using the Text search I can do a speed search for all my shots having the word 'Beach' in and search-able field like file name, title, caption, keywords or metadata. Now this last feature can come up with a lot of results you don't need, so think a second before you try searching by just 'Beach' and try something like 'Huntington Beach' or 'Amy' and 'Beach' or 'Sunset' and 'Beach.'

Keeping track of your photos across multiple drives
You've probably shot so many photos that they don't all fit on one drive anymore. Lightroom now gives you much more information when dealing with this kind of situation. The Folders tab shows the drives you are using, how many images are on each drive, picture count for folder and sub-folders. Colored icons tell you if the drive is online or not and draws your attention to any problems with missing files. You might have moved a folder from your operating system and Lightroom can't find it now. The fix is not to do that (joke) but if you did then just point Lightroom to where you moved the folder and all is well again.

Camera matching profiles
For your RAW files you can at last come close to matching your in camera Picture settings like Standard, Landscape, Portrait, Vivid from within Lightroom. Its not a perfect match to what Nikon Capture NX2 or Canon DPP have but its close and another big step in the right direction for Adobe. Go on over to your Develop module and at the bottom right choose the 'Camera Calibration' tab. In the drop down window click on Profile: and you'll see a list of available profiles. Lightroom now has camera profiles for Nikon, Canon, etc. Again, this is only for your RAW files, not Jpegs or Tiffs. For older Nikon cameras, pre-Picture settings, I'd recommend starting our with one of the DX2 modes. (The DX2 doesn't mean the Nikon DX2, its just a moniker Adobe decided to use.  Would have been easier on us if they'd used something like 'old color mode 1, 2, 3'.

Plug-in support - This is another great new feature of Lightroom 2, plug-ins! As of January 2009, Adobe has 43 plug-ins for Lightroom on its website. Most are free for the taking, a few are shareware or trialware. Just go to =en_us or search online for a number of cool features you can add to Lightroom. Featured right now on the Adobe site is a very handy plug-in to export your photos to what I think is the best slide presentation software out there for Windows, Photodex's ProShow. (See my review of ProShow Gold 3.0 here.

Friendly Print Packaging
As it was in Photoshop, thus will it be in Lightroom. A feature that's been improved over the original Lightroom, and this is something a lot of you portrait and wedding photographers out there will like, is the flexible print templates inside the Print module. Not just for the professional but the hobbyist will like print packages to make the most efficient use of space when they print multiple sizes of photos. Just grab your photos and drag them over to the layout screen. Nice and easy.

Print Package

Works better with Photoshop CS4
Select your images and transfer them into Photoshop CS4 as Smart Objects, or multiple Layers. You can also import them into Photoshop's Merge tool to create panoramas or HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos. As in the previous version your edits are saved along with your original image(s) and automatically updated in Lightroom.
Enhanced sharpening
Adobe did some small improvements in the algorithms used to sharpen your images before outputting to your printer or screen. Results of sharpening could show some artifacts before and now its much better.

Multiple monitor support
If you have a second monitor and a graphics card that supports using a second monitor then you can use both for your Lightroom processing. Anyone out there have a 3 monitor setup they use with Lightroom? Let's hear from you.

64-bit support - access more memory
Not many people are using 64-bit Operating Systems (OS) right now but that's the way things will be moving in the near enough future that Adobe is prepared for you early adopters. The biggest advantage in using a 64-bit OS with Lightroom (and Photoshop) is that it lets you break the 32-bit OS limit of 4GB of memory. Its really more like 3.5GB in Windows XP. How much memory you can access with a 64-bit system depends on the OS you use but ranges from 8GB with Vista Basic to over 4TB (Terabytes) with OS-X Leopard. With Lightroom, Photoshop and other programs that have to handle huge amounts of data, the more memory - the better your computer's performance.

Find out more about Adobe Lightroom here -


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Robert Jensen has spent most of his 55 years in photography, from the age of 11 when he got his first camera (a Kodak Instamatic) to the present, shooting professionally. From 1971 to 1997 he worked in retail selling photographic equipment to people of all skill levels. For most of that period he was also a manager.
Related Keywords:digital imaging, image management, image editing, camera raw

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