Digital photo management comes of age with Photoshop Lightroom 3, writes Hugh John
You've bought the new digital cameras, taken the students on a field trip and come back with more than 100 images. No problem. With hard drive storage so capacious and such good value it’s plain sailing... Isn't it?
No. Once a photo collection gets into the thousands – it doesn’t take long – you need digital asset management (DAM) software. Better yet if this software allows you to edit your image collection, either individually or in batch format. Adobe's Photoshop Lightroom is such an application.
Now in version 3, Lightroom was designed specifically for digital photographers who need to collate and catalogue their images and to locate each one when required, and who want to correct and enhance them.
The Develop module contains editing tools and runs down the right hand side of the screen in a series of collapsible panes. These will be familiar to users of Photoshop CS5 (to be reviewed here soon), which is hardly unexpected as both programs are from the same software stable. Both applications, incidentally, now run considerably faster on Windows and Mac as they have been engineered to take full advantage of multi-core processing and 64-bit architecture.
'Profile maker' allows specific cameras and lenses to be catered for
Newcomers to Lightroom may be surprised, however, by the variety of functions available. These include Histogram, Tone Curve, Vignetting, Redeye, Spot Removal, Crop, Lens Correction and Camera Calibration. The last two are camera-specific tools which can automatically adjust images according to the profiles of particular lenses and cameras. Adobe has released a free, downloadable 'profile maker' and expects many current lenses and cameras to be represented. This could be the beginning of the end for unwanted vignetting and straight-line convergence attributable to less than perfect lens design.
There's also a large selection of preset filters – cyanotype, high contrast, infrared, antique etc. These can be selected and applied to an image in a matter of seconds. A secondary pane displays the current image, as you mouse over the filters the image changes. Chose the effect you want and click. It's that simple. There is also a facility for to create and store user presets.
Other features worth mentioning are full editing support for RAW files, tethered shooting (plug your camera straight into the PC or laptop and shoot and view images directly in Lightroom – ideal for studio work where users want to review work on a large screen), film grain simulation and enhanced noise reduction.
Cataloguing is considerably quicker and more intuitive in version 3 and is accessed by the Library tab on the top right of the screen. Images can be imported directly into Lightroom or linked to a specific hard drive location. Once catalogued, pictures are represented by scalable thumbnails, the smallest size allowing for almost 100 on-screen previews, the largest, just two.
Images also run in ‘filmstrip’ mode across the bottom of the screen, and can be accessed and manipulated by a single click. Indexing is a doddle and offers infinite choice. Catalogues can be sliced and diced by date, social group or any number of parameters. Lightroom will be able to tell you what camera has been used and what lens and when the image was captured. Additionally, you can filter by flag, rating, colour tag or metadata. And if you're looking for an exceptionally quick way to 'tag' a collection the Paint option allows the user to ‘spray’ each image with a chosen keyword. Teachers trying to keep track of photography projects by year group, subject matter, individual or any other criteria will find these tools a godsend.
'Make no mistake, this is a major upgrade'
The two other principal Lightroom functions have also been overhauled. The Print Tool now has the capability to print different images in different sizes on the same page and the Web Tool boasts much easier upload functionality and a direct upload facility to Flickr.
Make no mistake, this is a major upgrade. Version 3 sees Photoshop Lightroom come of age, marrying the twin functions of editing and cataloguing into a workflow that encourages both creativity and efficiency. It's a triumph of clear objectives and first class software design that would come highly recommended at the regular street price. With Adobe's generous education discount, Lightroom is an essential purchase for advanced photographers, even in these lean and mean times.
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 3.5
Value for money 4
Photoshop Lightroom 3.0 – Student/Teacher version
Digital asset management software with editing facilities, (for Windows/Mac – review was carried out on PC), education price from £64.39 (Pugh), £68.99 (Amazon). (Download free trial version of Lightroom 3 here.)