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Technical

December 2008

In the first two parts of our in-depth exploration of Lightroom 2 we discovered just how effective the package is at managing an ever-growing collection of digital assets. We discovered how the Lightroom 2’s Library module enables you to assign keywords to your shots with the minimum of effort and gather files from multiple locations into easy to access collections. In this final look at Lightroom 2 we’ll leave the comparative comfort zone of the Library module and look at ways to edit and share your shots using the sophisticated tools found in the remaining Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web modules.

The consumer-oriented Photoshop Elements has an Organize mode to keep photos in order, while its Edit mode lets you fix common problems with colour and tone. You can tell that Lightroom 2 is aimed at the more serious photographer due to the professional labels it applies to its modules. Lightroom’s Library module sounds more advanced than the Element’s Organize mode (and indeed it is). Lightroom’s Develop module is the equivalent of Element’s Edit mode, though the term Develop has connotations of professional darkroom tools and techniques. So is Lightroom’s labelling all hype or can we expect a range of high-end image editing tools in the Develop module’s digital darkroom? Let’s find out…

Develop module

Using one click presets to spruce up a photograph’s global colour and tone is all very well if you’re in a rush, but for more precise and localised editing you need to take a shot into the Develop module. It’s here that some of Lightroom 2’s most exciting and powerful tools dwell. Click on a shot’s thumbnail in the Library module and then click the Develop pane to take it into Lightroom’s digital darkroom. New panels packed with image editing tools will appear at the left and right of the interface. You can make these panels retreat off screen and summon them when required by moving the mouse to the left or right of the monitor, enabling you to work in an uncluttered interface.

© George Cairns

The Develop module’s powerful palette’s can be told to wait in the wings and be summoned by moving the cursor to the left or right of the screen. This creates a lean and efficient looking workspace while keeping the relevant tools close to hand.

A common photographic challenge is to capture detail in a scene with a bright sky and a dark foreground. By increasing the value of Lightroom’s Exposure slider you can add detail to the shadows, but this will cause the brighter highlights to become blown out and clipped. Lightroom 2 has the many of the tone tweaking tools that you’ll find in the standard Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) editor, so you could use the Fill light slider to lighten the levels of the mid-tones without over-exposing the highlights. The Recovery slider will claw back highlight detail without changing the shadows or the mid-tones. By turning on the clipping warning icons you can see over-exposed areas as patches of red and under-exposed clipped shadows as patches of blue.

Graduated Filter

Lightroom 2 also boasts alternative ways to adjust an image’s exposure selectively. The versatile Graduated Filter tool’s icon sits just below the histogram window. By clicking on the tool’s icon a new panel appears featuring a variety of editable attributes. For example, you can use a gradient to edit the image’s exposure, brightness and contrast. Take a shot with a blown out over-exposed sky for example. You can click and drag the Graduated Filter down over the sky section to draw a gradient. Click the Show Effect slider icon to reduce the exposure setting by a couple of stops. The sky will darken at the top and lighten gently towards the middle of the shot, leaving the ground correctly exposed.

You can add other attributes to an existing gradient by dragging other sliders to new settings. Boosting the Saturation slider helps create a more vivid blue sky at the top of the frame without changing the colours at the bottom of the shot. See our Venetian screen grab for an example of the effective Graduated Filter in action. It’s always worth clicking on the Before & After icons so you can see how your edited shot compares to the original source file.

© George Cairns

The Graduated Filter enables you to target and change tones and colours in problem areas and gently blend the changes with the shot's original correctly exposed sections. You can even rotate or stretch the gradient after you've drawn it to fine-tune its effect on the photo.

Non-destructive edits

The beauty of tools like the Graduated Filter is the fact that you can fine-tune their settings with ease. Lightroom 2 records the changes that you make to a shot so you can come back to it at a later date and tinker with settings like Exposure, Saturation or Clarity. As Lightroom’s changes are non-destructive you can even reset the file to its original camera settings and start editing from scratch with no quality loss. This gives you the freedom to experiment without making things look worse (which gives you much more control than you’d have in a traditional darkroom).

Selective adjustments

One of the most exciting and powerful additions to Lightroom 2’s Develop module is the Adjustment Brush. Previous adjustments in Lightroom 1 were applied to the image as a whole (as they are in the Adobe Camera RAW editor.) You can now use the Adjustment Brush to target specific areas and adjust their exposure, colour and sharpness without changing the image as a whole.

Let’s say you had a shot that needed some detail to be dodged into the shadows. When you select the Adjustment Brush a panel of editable attributes appears (as it does with the Graduated Filter). You can choose an attribute like Exposure from a drop down menu and tweak the change in Exposure using the Amount slider. You can then modify typical brush tip attributes like Size, Feather and Flow to produce a gentle blend between the edited areas and their surroundings. By spraying on specific pixels you can brighten then up (or selectively tweak a host of other attributes like Saturation).

© George Cairns

The localised Adjustment Brush enables you to dodge and burn specific areas on your RAW files. The grey control point reveals the areas that are altered and allows you to fine-tune the strength of the changes. Change a host of attributes using editable brush tips, like Sharpness and Saturation, for example.

Once you’ve made a selective adjustment using the Adjustment Brush it leaves a grey control point on the image near the area you edited. If you let the mouse hover over this point for a second or so a red mask appears to indicate the range of the edited area. You can fine-tune the strength of the initial brush strokes by holding the cursor over the control point until a two-headed arrow appears. Click and drag the mouse to the left to decrease the change in the exposure amount or drag right to increase it. This is another example of the way Lightroom 2 enables you to fine-tune an edit at any time. Indeed this combination of a localised adjustment brush tool, masks and adjustable control points is so effective that Adobe has incorporated these features in CS4’s latest Camera Raw editor plug-in.

Creative mono

Lightroom’s develop module isn’t just there to help you fix problems with colour, tone, composition and sharpness. It also lets you take your work in a more creative direction.

© George Cairns

Mimic traditional monochrome techniques by using colour-based sliders to lighten or darken specific tones in a scene. Here we’ve darkened the green leaves and lightened the yellow statue to create a wider contrast range, which helps bring out the shape and texture of the main subject.

Traditional photographers can create striking monochrome prints by placing a black and white film into their SLR and putting coloured filters over the lens. Different filter colours produce dramatically different monochrome results, even when shooting the same scene. Using coloured filters you can accentuate the contrast between different objects in the scene more effectively in the mono version.

Lightroom 2 enables you to mimic these traditional techniques with precision to create effective mono prints from your RAW source files. The HSL/Color/Grayscale tab lets you remove the colour information and then use the colour sliders to lighten or darken specific tones to help bring out textures and shapes in the scene. You can also enjoy producing duotones using the Split Toning tab and tint shadows and highlights with different colours.

Share and enjoy

Once you’ve finished organising and editing your shots using the tools in the Library and Develop modules there’s a danger that your perfected pictures could languish unseen on your hard drive. Instead of letting your photos gather digital dust you can use Lightroom’s other three modules to share your shots with clients with the minimum of fuss.

© George Cairns

Present your work as a customized PDF slideshow using the Slideshow module’s wide range of palettes. Here a semi-transparent photo from the Library forms a subtle backdrop to the Venice themed slideshow. Text, borders and timing are fully customisable.

The Slideshow module enables you to stroke custom colour borders around the edge of your selected shots and use drop shadows to make them stand out from the neutral grey background. You can use the Backdrop palette to customize the background colour (or even use another shot from the filmstrip to produce a semi-transparent background image).

Identity plates from the Overlay palette enable you to brand the slideshow with useful details like your online portfolio’s address. The Playback palette lets you select the duration each slide will be visible for as well as choosing the timing for fades between slides. Once you’ve designed your slideshow’s contents you can present the images in a slick-looking, self-contained PDF document.

Perfect prints

The Print module’s Layout Engine can quickly create a contact sheet or a Picture Package. The latter option enables you to print differently sized copies of a shot onto several sheets. To print images at a specific size (like 7x5 inches, for example) you can choose from a wide range of sizes in the Cells pane.

© George Cairns

The Triptych template automatically pops the selected shots in the filmstrip into square boxes. You can drag each cropped shot around to improve the triptych’s balance and composition before clicking the Print button. The palettes at the right of the Print module have been minimized to create a cleaner interface.

To the left of the Print module’s interface you’ll find the Template Browser, which is packed full of layouts like the Triptych option featured in our illustration. You can use the options in the Print Job palette to manage the print’s colours (or assign that duty to the printer depending on how you like to colour manage your prints). You can even apply a little post-production sharpening to the shots by ticking a box to produce prints with more punch.

Get online

Thanks to the Web module you don't need to be a web designer to produce an attractive web gallery that showcases your carefully processed prints. Click on Web and choose a web gallery template from the Template Browser. You can create interactive Flash based galleries that display thumbnails on the left. When clicking on a thumbnail a larger version of the relevant shot fades in on the right. The default Flash template also adds slideshow buttons that enable the user to jump back and forth between images. Once you’ve chosen a template, and added captions and contact information, simply choose Web > Export Web Photo Gallery to produce HTML or Flash files that you can upload to your web server.

© George Cairns

Create slick-looking web galleries in seconds thanks to a wide selection of web page layouts in the Template Browser. Lightroom will generate all the HTML or Flash files you need to create an interactive web-friendly portfolio of your beautifully processed pictures.

Final comments

The recent release of CS4 has stolen Lightroom 2’s thunder a little, as Lightroom 2 is no longer the only Adobe product to allow you to perform selective non-destructive brush based edits on your RAW files. However Lightroom 2 still excels as a way to streamline your organising, editing and photo sharing workflow so you can spend more time taking shots and less time stuck in front of a computer.

Both Lightroom 2 and CS4 are fully integrated so you could combine the organisational skills of Lightroom with the extra retouching tool (like panoramic stitching, for example) in CS4. Any changes you make in CS4 will automatically be updated to the images in Lightroom’s Library. CS4 is a much more expensive package than Lightroom 2, though the cheaper package’s asset management, image editing and sharing tools will enable you to meet most of the challenges you face as a busy digital photographer.