Adobe Lightroom 5 is a must-have application for any aspiring digital photographer. Ben Pitt shows you how to manage, edit and improve your snaps.
WE’VE BEEN SINGING Lightroom’s praises since it first appeared in 2007, so it’s about time we showed you what all the fuss is about. Lightroom integrates library management, editing and sharing into a seamless workflow. Its editing facilities are specifically designed to make photos look their best: there are no photo-montage or graphic design facilities, just tools for optimising colours and details and minimising noise. All edits are non-destructive, which means the original file isn’t altered, so it’s easy to tweak or undo adjustments at any time.
It’s not exactly an impulse purchase, but it’s a shrewd investment for anyone with more than a passing interest in photography. It’s also available as a 30-day free trial. Head to www.adobe.com to download and install it, and we’ll get started.
Lightroom is divided into seven modules – Library, Develop, Map and so on – accessed via the buttons at the top-right of the screen. The first job is to import your photos, so select the Library module and click the Import button towards the bottom- right of the screen.
Use the file browser on the left to locate your photos. To import multiple folders, select one, hold down the Shift or Ctrl key and then select others. Lightroom can import directly from cameras and card readers, copying to the hard disk at the same time. Specify where you want to copy to using the Destination panel on the right. Alternatively, you can import photos that are already on the hard disk. You’ll then get options at the top to copy them to a new location or simply to add them to the library without copying them – that’s usually better, as it avoids needlessly duplicating files.
Once you’ve selected your photos, click Import in the bottom-right corner. As the library fills up with thumbnails, double-click a thumbnail to show a larger view of a particular photo, click again to zoom in and out, and double-click to return to the thumbnail view.
By default, Lightroom shows everything in the last import, but on the left you’ll find buttons to show all photographs or a specific folder. A Collection Is a virtual folder where you can group photos, regardless of the original file location. Click the ‘+’ symbol beside Collections, select Create Collection, give it a name and click Create. Add photos to the Collection simply by dragging thumbnails on to the Collection name, using the Shift and Ctrl keys to select multiple photos. Click on the Collection name to view its contents.
Keywords are useful for locating photos, particularly when you’ve got many thousands in your library. On the right, click to open the Keyword panel. Select a photo and then type some relevant keywords into the box – people’s names, an activity and so on. As you proceed to the next photo, recent keywords will appear as buttons, saving you from typing them repeatedly. You can select multiple photos and add keywords to them as a group.
To search by keyword, click the Text button just above the thumbnails and type in one or more keywords. Alternatively, expand the Keyword List panel on the right to see all the used keywords. Hover over a keyword and click the arrow that appears to the right to see the matching photos. This opens the Metadata panel, which also lets you filter the library (or a particular folder or collection) by a wide range of criteria such as date, camera, shutter speed and file type.
Another way to browse your library is to view photos on a world map. Photos taken with a GPS-enabled camera are plotted automatically, but it’s easy to add them manually, too. Click the Map button at the top of the screen, and then the arrow at the bottom-centre to reveal a strip of photo thumbnails. Use the Search facility to jump to a map location, and zoom in and out with the mouse wheel. Drag photos on to the map, either one by one or in batches.
As you do so, you’ll see a pop-up message about reverse geocoding; enabling this not only plots the photos on the map but also adds place names to the photos’ keywords. You can then browse photo locations using the keyword search facility, or by navigating the map and clicking the pins.
It’s unlikely that you’ll want to share every photo you take. Lightroom’s star-rating system makes it easy to whittle down a large collection to find the best photos. Select a photo and use the number keys 0 to 5 to apply a star rating. Click the Attribute button above the thumbnails and click on a star rating to show only those photos that match or exceed that rating.
A useful technique is to apply one star to any half-decent photos, then use the Attribute control to show only those photos. Upgrade the best of these to two stars, hide the others, and repeat as necessary until you have a small set of the very best photos.
Once you’ve picked out your favourite shots, it’s time to spruce them up. Choose a photo to work on and click the Develop button at the top of the screen. The photo will fill the work area and the panels on either side will change. On the left, you’ll find a History panel – this is the undo history – plus various effects presets. On the right are the various tools for editing the image.
You can approach these in any order, but the one we tend to use first is the Crop tool. Click the left button just below the histogram, or type R. Drag the corners of the box to find the best composition for your photo. Click to lock the padlock below the histogram if you want to maintain the aspect ratio, and click on As Shot to view various other aspect ratio options. Drag just outside the corners to rotate the photo. Click the Crop tool icon (or type R) again when you’re done.
Just below the Crop tool, the controls listed under the Basic heading are for colour correction, and they’re far more capable than the heading suggests. The white balance controls come first, with two sliders for temperature and tint. Adjust these manually or choose a preset to achieve a pleasing colour palette. Alternatively, select the eye-dropper tool and click on a part of the image that should be grey.
Exposure and Contrast controls will be familiar to most people. The four controls below these let you adjust the brightness of highlights, shadows, whites and blacks. If your photos are in Raw format, the Whites control is useful for rescuing over-exposed highlights. The Clarity control boosts the contrast relative to nearby pixels, giving punchy details without clipping highlights and shadows. Vibrance and Saturation are two different approaches to adjusting the richness of colours. There’s no right or wrong way to adjust these settings; it’s simply a matter of finding something that works for the photo.
Sometimes blanket settings don’t work for the entire image, in which case it’s time to use the local editing tools. The Graduated Filter applies its settings to one side of the image, with a gradual fade to the unaffected colours on the other side. The Radial Filter is the same but for circles and ellipses, while the Adjustment Brush is applied using brush strokes. You’ll find all three just below the histogram, beside the Crop tool. Select Graduated Filter and click and drag across the image to set the transition from processed to clean. Adjust the sliders on the right to set the type of effect you want. For example, on a picture of a sky, you could tweak the white balance, lower the exposure and boost the contrast and saturation to bring out the texture in the clouds. Click the tool’s icon again when you’ve finished.
Lightroom can also zone in on specific colours to adjust. On the right panel, scroll down to locate the HSL/Color/B&W controls. HSL stands for Hue, Saturation, Luminance. We had a photo where the grass in the foreground looked slightly orange, so we used the Hue control to make orange tones more yellow. We also dragged the Aqua control towards green to give the sky some extra pop, and used the Saturation controls to make orange and yellow colours less vivid. These controls can be adjusted directly using the sliders, but a more intuitive method is to click the small circle beside these controls and then drag colours directly in the image itself.
If you’re working with Raw files, it’s worth checking the Details settings. Click the image to zoom in so you can see the results of your adjustments. Lightroom’s default settings do a decent job of applying digital sharpening and noise reduction, but boosting the Sharpening Amount from its default 25 to around 60 tends to give better results without the details looking too obviously processed.
Doing this also increases noise levels, though. Raising the Luminance setting to 20 helps to smooth over minor speckles, but photos taken at fast ISO speeds may warrant higher settings. The other sharpening and noise reduction settings should be approached with caution. It’s sometimes possible to eke out small improvements, but it’s also easy to mess things up and end up with weird halos and smeary textures.
The Lens Corrections controls tackle problems caused by common lens defects. One is distortion, whereby photos have a bulbous or pinched appearance that makes straight lines appear curved. Vignetting is when the edges of the photo are darker than the centre. Chromatic aberrations are when the red, green and blue components of the image don’t line up perfectly, resulting in coloured halos around high-contrast lines.
Lightroom’s distortion and vignette correction is based on profiles of the lens’s characteristics at various focal lengths and apertures. Lightroom comes with almost 500 profiles, although most are for SLR and compact system camera (CSC) lenses and are available only for Raw files. Under Lens Corrections, click the Profile tab and tick the box marked Enable Profile Corrections, If there’s a profile for the lens you used, it’ll be applied automatically.
Chromatic aberration removal is automatic, based on analysis of the image rather than a profile. Click the Color tab and tick the box below. For particularly stubborn chromatic aberrations, click on the eyedropper and then the offending area to recalibrate the correction.
Once you’ve got a group of photos edited to perfection, it’s time to share them. Lightroom has lots of export options, including printers, animated slideshows, book creation and web publishing, although you must make your own web-hosting arrangements.
A more popular option is to upload photos to Facebook and Flickr. Click the Library button and locate Publish Services on the left. Click the Set Up button beside Facebook or Flickr to configure Lightroom for uploads. Under Description, enter a meaningful name, such as your Flickr name. Click Authorize and follow the instructions to give Lightroom permission to upload directly to the service. There are various other options, including one to resize before upload. The default 960 pixels along the long edge is a tad small – we’d recommend going for 1,200 or 1,600 pixels. Click Save when you’re done. To upload photos, drag them on to the Publish Service you created, right-click it and select Publish Now.