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Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Introduction - It Might Be Right For You

written by: Brian Nelson•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 9/19/2008

Unless you've just recently seen a camera for the first time, you've probably heard of Photoshop. Adobe actually makes three versions of Photoshop. Photoshop CS3 is the flagship editing product and Photoshop Elements is an easier to use version of CS3. Lightroom, though, is something else.

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    A New Photographer

    When someone makes the move from "person who owns a camera" to photographer, the impulse is to just simply duplicate what "the pros" use. Assuming money is no object, this isn't really a bad thing. I doubt anyone's photography has ever been hurt by owning a top-of-the-line Nikon or Canon.

    But, the one place where a lot of photographers might be better served to not jump on "the pros" bandwagon is when it comes to Adobe Photoshop CS3. Not long ago, Photoshop was the only option. There was only one Photoshop and that was what anyone who was serious about photography used. Along the way, different types of photographers emerged, and it became clear that even the home snapshot hound wanted to be able to manage and edit all of those pictures cluttering up the hard drive. So, Adobe has responded with three versions of Photoshop.

    I'm a professional writer. That is how I pay the bills and buy toys like, well, camera equipment. Now, technically, I am also a professional photographer in that I have been paid for my services as a photographer, as well as for my photographs. But, what I make as a photographer wouldn't pay the bills for a poor college student sharing an apartment far from campus with three roommates. That doesn't mean I don't take my photography seriously. What it does mean is that I don't spend 22 hours tweaking a picture from a photo shoot with a $10,000 a day model for the cover of Vogue. So, while I own and frequently use Photoshop CS3, it isn't necessarily my go to product.

    In addition to being a writer and photographer, I'm also a father. She is our first, and her second birthday is still a month away, but I freely claim pro status as a dad. My payment comes in the form of adorable smiles, giggles, and the heart melting realization that my daughter stopping mid-action to wave and say "Hi, Dadda," is her way of saying, "I love you." That won't pay the mortgage, but it is more valuable than my house. For those of you who had children before the digital camera became commonplace, or for those of you who don't have kids, let me break down for you what it means to be a dad and a photographer today.

    A couple of weeks ago, we went up into the mountains to ride the Georgetown Loop, an old train route that has been restored and brought back into service as an overpriced mountain train ride. There was the picture of my wife and daughter in the train waving out the window, the pictures in the train, the pictures of the train, the pictures of me and my daughter in and around the train, and the pictures of my daughter discovering that no matter how slowly she moved or at what angle, that she just wouldn't be able to touch that chipmunk that caught her attention, and many others. All told, our memory card came back with somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 pictures on it.

    That's no big deal. But, I am also a freelance professional which means I spend a lot of time working. Add to that the time I spend with family, friends, and so on, and it adds up to putting the memory card into the reader, and letting Photoshop pull off the images and put them automatically into directories named for the date with the intention of getting back to those pictures "later."

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    When Will Then Be Now? Soon.

    Fast forward a few weeks and there are several more directories on the hard drive. There was the trip to the Royal Gorge, the nephew's birthdays (two), and the day my daughter decided to wear her pajamas, gloves, her baseball cap, and her Tevas (did I mention they were footed pajamas?), so now there are well over 100 pictures that I need to "go through." We aren't even talking about editing or ordering or printing yet. We are still talking about deleting the junk, labeling the keepers, and tagging everything else. As you can see, Photoshop CS3 is not the tool for a busy dad to keep up with his family photographs.

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    Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

    Which brings us to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, a product that may actually be more useful for most photographers than its bigger, more expensive, cousin. Unlike Adobe Photoshop CS3, which is dedicated to allowing you to tweak anything and everything in your photos, Photoshop Lightroom (simply known as "Lightroom" to pretty much everyone) is focused on what the photography guys call "workflow." That's a fancy way of saying how you go through, sort, tweak, and categorize your photos.

    Or, as the guys at Adobe put it:

    Photoshop Lightroom 2 provides a single environment that has all of the functions photographers most commonly need to perform on their images, in the cleanest, least cluttered, easiest to use package. Lightroom contains a focused set of features that are intuitive, powerful, and easy to learn. It is an image-editing tool and a workflow productivity tool. Photographers who require extensive painting and compositing tools and need to edit their images at the pixel level will still use Photoshop CS3 to achieve their additional goals.

    Lightroom also takes a little less power than the full CS3 product. Requirements on the Windows side are XP SP2 or Vista, 1 GB of RAM, 1 GB Hard disk space, and a 1024 x 768 screen. Lightroom also works on Apple OS X. Lightroom supports the 64-bit versions of both operating systems. So, if you have the power, Lightroom will use it.

    The Lightroom interface is broken into five sections: Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print, and Web. Each section is accessed by a tab at the top and has a wealth of features crammed into each. You'll be happiest with a widescreen monitor or even two monitors (which is fully supported in Lightroom 2.0)

    Most useful for photography buffs will be the Library section, where you can categorize, flag, compare (side by side and more), and sort your photos as well as make elementary adjustments. The Develop section gives you all the standard editing features you'll need, everything from taking out red eye to erasing a pimple. The Slideshow section gives you, you guessed it, features for making a variety of slideshow types, including one that can be burned to a DVD and played on your TV. The Print section is for those who have their own photo printers and provides you with a wide amount of adjustments, including sizing and more. Even better, in 2.0 you can print contact sheets of the same photo with different sizes, so you can print a 5x7 with a couple of wallets to maximize the use of that expensive 8.5 x 11 paper. The Web section has everything you need to turn those giant 10MB picture files into formats appropriate for your website (and also for email).

    Best of all, all this functionality comes in the form of non-destructive edits. In other words, if you make 50 changes to a photo and decide you really wish you could start back at square one, you can, without having to keep that hard drive-filling "backup copy".

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    Overall Impression

    In all, Lightroom makes a compelling choice for many photographers, parents and aspiring studio pros alike.

    Check back soon for in-depth articles and detailed how-tos of the recently released Lightroom 2.0.

    You can find Adobe's Photoshop Lightroom Page here.

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    Images

    Lightroom Screenshot