Advanced Lightroom Techniques

by Oct 7, 2023

Many of you relatively new to image editing will have gone straight to Lightroom for your editing needs believing Photoshop to be too difficult to learn. You may not know much about how Lightroom came into being so I thought I would fill you in with some of its history.

In early versions of Photoshop, the RAW file converter (Camera RAW) was very basic. In 2005, a Dutch company called Pixmantec released a RAW converter called ‘RawShooter’. It was so much better than Camera RAW that it sold well – I bought a copy myself. It included some clever innovations. They introduced the idea of non-destructive editing of RAW files now familiar to all Lightroom users. They also improved the user-interface so that colour controls were easy to perform. They introduced a Vibrance slider that allowed subtle increases in colour saturation without the crude Photoshop version that turned your prized landscapes into picture postcards.

I can only imagine the expletives from the Adobe board room when they looked at RawShooter for the first time. But Rawshooter was a victim of its own success. In 2006, Adobe bought out Pixmantec and knocked Rawshooter on the head. To their credit, Adobe gave employment to the now redundant programmers who, with their expertise and knowledge, helped bring Lightroom into being. Lightroom was released a year later in 2007.

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Photoshop user and have become familiar with many of its features over a couple of decades. My synapses have become longer with age so the time and effort needed to learn new ways of doing things can be time-consuming. I never use Lightroom. Photography is something I do for enjoyment. I don’t think of it as work, so unless Lightroom can promise to improve my ‘funflow’, I’m not really interested.

So what I was looking for in this evening’s presentations was good reason for me to spend the time learning Lightroom. I won’t give a blow-by-blow account of everything we saw demonstrated (even if I was able to) so this is a summary of what was discussed.

Brian began by saying that his presentation would not be restricted to Lightroom as he would be touching on other software that is free to download. For those new to photo editing, they would be a good entry point to learn about what image-editing can do for your pictures.

First, he demonstrated Faststone Image Viewer which is available free from https://www.faststone.org/. Faststone is a very versatile program that does a lot more than allow you to view image files in any format. You can, for example batch-convert image files from one format to another, and batch-rename files, if required.

If you open a RAW file, moving the cursor up, down or sideways to the edge of the screen opens a filmstrip view or menus giving access to the metadata or to a range of editing adjustments. It’s very good for a quick look at your pictures and to try out different adjustments to give you an idea of where you might go with an image. Click OK to accept your changes, or Undo to lose them. Click Esc to go back to your image folder. The image remains a RAW file which can be imported into Lightroom or Photoshop (after conversion) for further editing.

Later in the evening, Brian demonstrated another free imaging app, Snapseed, available from the App Store. Installed on your smartphone or tablet, it is easy to use and includes simplified versions of the main image adjustments available in high-end processing software. Your finger is the cursor and, once you have selected a tool, just slide it to the right to increase an effect or to the left to reduce it. There is a simple healing tool. To reduce the size of this tool just expand the image size.

There are lots of things to try including presets and double exposures. I use it all the time to improve pictures on my iPad and it’s fun to use. The edited picture can then be saved to your Images folder.

As for Lightroom, here are some of the advanced features Brian talked to us about.

Colour versus Linear profiles

It appears that the file that opens in RAW Converters like Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW are not as raw as I had thought. As I understand it, a camera’s sensor responds linearly to light intensity, but the human retina is non-linear.  Thus, if the Converter opened the truly RAW image as recorded by the camera, the image would look very dull and flat to us.

So, what Adobe do is apply a Colour Profile to the image to make it look more like the way we see. The default Profile applied by Lightroom is Adobe Colour. However, other colour profiles more suited to a particular style of photo can be selected, such as Adobe Landscape, Adobe Portrait, Adobe Standard, Adobe Vivid etc. The Profile can be changed in the Basics panel.

Brian emphasised that these Profiles are not the same as Presets – the adjustment sliders do not move when a new Profile is applied. The Profiles apply colour adjustments that the boffins at Adobe have decided upon. The fact that a number are available suggests they believe our colour perception is different when we look at a face from when we look at a tree. The point of them over presets was lost on me, I’m afraid – a need for Occam’s Razor here I suspect.

An American, Tony Kuyper must have thought the same. He argues that there are advantages to stripping off the Adobe profile and using, as a starting point, the RAW image with a linear profile that the camera records. To read more, visit his website at    https://goodlight.us/linear-profiles.html .

Presets

A new feature is the ability to scale back on the effects of a preset. It works like reducing the opacity of an adjustment layer in Photoshop.

Colour grading

It is now possible to adjust the highlights, shadows and mid-tones of the red, green and blue channels individually as well as globally.

Denoising

Lightroom now uses AI to help in reducing noise levels.

Masking

Applying a mask allows alterations to be made to a selected part of an image. The mask can be applied with a brush, or as a gradient (linear or elliptical), or using a tool that automatically selects a major feature such as the sky or subject. A new feature allows refinement of the mask to, say, just the darker or lighter tones in the selected areas.

Brian also mentioned that there is a way to get access to the up-to-date versions of Photoshop and Lightroom for less than the tenner a month it normally costs. He said watch out for Black Friday deals on Amazon where he was able to subscribe to a swatch of Adobe products for the bargain price of £47/year.

Collections

Chris gave us a short talk on the use of Collections and Smart Collections in Lightroom. He said that there was a trend away from storing images in folders in favour of using Smart Collections instead. Both these features are also available in Adobe Bridge where I assume they work the same way.

A Collection is simply a way of getting easy access to the images you want. You first name a new Collection such as ‘Windmills’ or ‘Prints for club competitions, unused’, then drag and drop the thumbnail into the Collection. The file is not duplicated into the Collection so takes up no more memory. The thumbnail in the collection is simply a link to where the file is, and its location can be found easily by a right click and Find File.

A Smart Collection is what it says on the tin, but you need to work out a system you find convenient. Chris gave an example. Say you label all image files for club competitions with 3 stars, plus a green flash if you haven’t yet used it. Set the Smart Collection to search for all files thus marked; they will all go into the Collection you have called ‘Club comp unused’. Then you might want one called ‘Club comp used’ with the criteria 3 stars plus blue flash. If you use one in a competition, just change its colour flash from green to blue and that image will disappear from one Collection and appear in the other. Smart, eh?

Not being a Lightroom user, I thought most of this evening’s talks would go over my head and felt apprehensive about trying to write a blog about it. In the event, the demonstrations were clear and well-prepared, and I learnt a great deal more than I thought I would. A stimulating and informative evening so a big thank you to both Brian and Chris for their time.

What’s my verdict on it? Well, yeah. A part of me says I get it. The more power you have and the more choices there are available, it’s natural to suppose that your images will improve. But then, isn’t it a bit like an artist who believes their paintings will get better by using smaller and smaller brushes and more and more colours of paint? It might work. On the other hand, I can’t help feeling there’s an element of confusing means and ends in all this.

PS. If I have made any errors of omission or commission (quite likely!), please don’t keep it to yourself. I would hate to mislead anybody so please leave a comment. Or if you need to explain it in depth, that is what the Forum is for.

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2 Comments

  1. Brian Connolly

    Thanks very much David for an excellent blog as always. I had a slight concern that there were no images to put in this week’s blog, given that I didn’t demo anything on a “before and after” type edit, but that’s proven to be a pointless one as your words have done the job just as well! It’s always a pleasure to offer some insights into the wide range of editing software and I hope those present took something good away with them.

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