Friday, March 23, 2012

Getting Started In Lightroom—03/26/12

Patti Thompson Published in Tip Of The Week
Getting Started In Lightroom—03/26/12
This Article Features Photo Zoom

Lightroom is a powerful photographic tool. From organizing to editing, developing to output, I use Lightroom as the centerpiece in my workflow. I'm regularly helping other photographers incorporate the software into their own post-processing systems. The first question is usually simple: where do I begin? If you'd like to get started in Lightroom, here's what I think you need to know to get the ball rolling.

When you first start Lightroom you'll create a catalog. This is like the cabinet in which all of your files will be kept. You have the option to centralize your photos on import to one location, or simply direct Lightroom to find your files wherever you may have them scattered about. I prefer the former, but I won't order you away from the latter. Do what you're comfortable with, which may mean adapting Lightroom to your existing organizational system.

I create a new catalog every year, and at monthly intervals I move folders out of my catalog (which I organize by client subfolders, but you could also organize by subject, date or anything else that suits your fancy). The important thing to understand about your catalog is that this is the lens through which the software "sees" your files. So if a file isn't in your catalog, Lightroom doesn't know it exists. Import photos to your catalog—by moving them or simply referencing them—before you can begin organizing them.

In the top right corner of your Lightroom screen you'll find a list of five modules: Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web. Most of the time what I do in Lightroom happens in two of these—the Library and the Develop modules. Their names are pretty self-explanatory: in one you organize, in the other you process.

For cataloging, sorting, keywording and renaming, you want to be in Library. This lets your organize the photos where you want them, go through and flag the good ones, eliminate the bad ones, and generally index the images in a group of photos. The bottom right displays your Filters, which is where you can tell the software to show only images that are starred, flagged, rated, or that adhere to any number of requirements. The bottom left of the preview window is where you actually star or flag to rate an image. You can also do this with keystrokes; with an image selected if you hit number 1 through 5, you'll rate that image that number of stars. To reject an image, you don't delete it. Rather you hit the X key and Lightroom knows you consider that shot to be an outtake. This is my preferred method for refining selections quickly.

Once you've narrowed your choices by starring only the best, you can then filter (bottom right of the screen) to show only, say, those images with greater than 3 stars. Refine further until you've narrowed down to the best of the best—which is exactly what these filtering, flagging and starring options are built for. Then you're ready to go into Develop mode.

In Develop, you work on one image at a time. Select an image with a single click and that's the one you're working on. The right side of your screen shows all the developing controls. Under "basic" you'll find...well, all the basics: white balance, exposure, sharpness, contrast, and so on. Toggling those sliders will show you what's happening to an image, and that's how I recommend you learn about the effects of each and every one of these.

Because you're working with raw files, you're not actually changing the image itself but creating a file that Lightroom uses, almost like a filter through which to view the images. If you don't like a change and want to go back to the previous stage, there's a history panel over on the left of the screen so you can easily step backward. And if you really don't like what you've done, in the bottom right, below all those develop controls, is a reset button. That takes you back to the original, unmodified raw file. At any time you can right-click (ctrl-click) on a thumbnail and choose "create virtual copy" if you want to do a bunch of variations on an image but don't want to alter the current version.

You'll get the hang of developing fairly quickly if you click around and slide those various tools on the right side of the screen. Color, tone curve, detail… Almost everything I do to an image is found under Basic and Effects. The latter gives me a chance to add a subtle vignette, which in my humble opinion helps almost every photograph.

So lets say you've now made one image look absolutely perfect, and you want to apply all of those same settings across a bunch of other images in the take. You first make sure the image you want to copy settings from is selected in the thumbnails view. You then hold down the shift key, and click at the other end of the range of pictures you want (say, starting with #1, you click on #40, then all of those images between #1 and #40 will be selected and highlighted. You then right-click (ctrl-click) on any image in the range and choose Develop Settings > Sync Settings. A little window then pops up and you can check all the options or none of the options or anywhere in between. This is how you tell Lightroom "Apply x, y and z settings from the first image to all these other images." Click Okay and off it goes. There's a status bar in the top left that will tell you when a process is happening. You'll see thumbnails change slowly too. The quick key combination to synchronize settings is Command-Shift-S.

So now all your images look perfect. You can output them from any module by selecting the image(s) you want to output, then under the File menu you choose Export. Of course, I prefer the quick key shortcut of Command-Shift-E. This opens the Export dialogue box. You then choose where you want to put the exported file: maybe it should be a subfolder on the desktop, perhaps with a new file name, and so on. The key is the File Settings along with the Image Sizing, where you tell Lightroom you want to export a JPEG/TIFF/Whatever at this quality in this color space and at this specific resolution. I usually choose Resize to fit width and height, and then input a maximum pixel dimension—say 2100 if I want a 300dpi 5x7 image file (300dpi x 7 inches = 2100 total pixels).

You can then create presets for your most common output settings on the left of the window by clicking ADD to create a preset based on your current settings. I have, for instance, a preset for studio portrait proofs, so it's just a couple of clicks to create those web-ready index files each time. When you're ready with all the specific output settings simply click Export. Your folder and/or files are created wherever you told Lightroom to put them. I usually choose the desktop because, after all, these files are temporary. I'll burn them to disk or upload them to the web and then trash them.

The beauty of this approach is that you only need to concern yourself with creating a RAW library and keeping those RAW files in a single version. The files you output from those RAW "masters" are disposable. You deliver them as needed and then trash them off your computer. Simple. Everything's a descendant from the RAW masters in the Lightroom library.

The other thing you may want to learn fairly quickly is how to edit a Lightroom-organized file in Photoshop. By default Lightroom knows if you have CS5 installed. (If for some reason you wanted to use an additional external editor, you can set that in preferences too—along with the type of file Lightroom will send to Photoshop to be edited.) I like to use TIFFs just because I know it will be working on a large, lossless file type. (A PSD would be fine too.) When outputting to Photoshop I'm creating, in effect, a new master file that's no longer raw. Upon opening the photo in my external editor (Right-Click, "Edit In") or by selecting a photo and clicking Command-E, this will bring up a menu asking if you want to edit a copy with Lightroom adjustments, which is what you'll choose if you're clicking on a RAW file you've tweaked in Lightroom. This creates a copy of that file as a TIFF and opens it in Photoshop. Then within Photoshop after you've made your edits (which, by the way, are usually higher level adjustments to spotting and retouching and general image-specific edits) if you choose to save your file and don't change the location, you will save and add this TIFF alongside the original RAW within Lightroom. This is very handy, as the final file (a new master TIFF) will live within the Lightroom catalog too, right next to the raw. And you can always see this with your own eyes. What's especially nice is you can also output that TIFF file just as you would a RAW, and even convert it to other formats and file sizes right from the Lightroom Export panel.

I know that's a lot of information for a newbie, but it really does cover the majority of where I spend my time in Lightroom. I firmly believe that experimenting freely with develop settings (clarity, contrast, color balance, and so on) is the best way to learn by seeing what those changes do. And because you're learning in the safe and friendly confines of Lightroom, you don't have to worry about ruining a photo or accidentally saving it. That pristine raw file always remains.
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