I really don’t often use this space to blather on about how good some piece of commercial client-side closed-source software is, but, well... Adobe Lightroom is a truly great piece of work. Not only is it just the thing for the serious photographer, I think it may have advanced the state of the GUI art.

Adobe Lightroom Screenshot

What It Does · I’ve noticed that the descriptions of what Lightroom does are kind of vague and not that helpful, so here’s a short list.

First of all, Speed is a Feature. Everything I’ve used Lightroom for so far, it’s fast, as in amazingly fast.

  • It’ll import the pictures from your camera or memory card. I haven’t checked this out much yet since I’ve been happy with the Mac’s built-in “Digital Capture” utility, but I will.

  • It has a nice library manager for scanning through your pix. You can label ’em and rate ’em and colour-code ’em and sort ’em into collections, and then pull selections out based on any of these.

  • Its module for touching up photo is called “Develop” and it lets you crop, wrangle the histogram, white balance, tone, brightness, contrast, saturation, vibrance (what’s that?), tone curve, sharpness, lens correction, and a bunch of other stuff I haven’t figured out yet.

    All this editing is done as deltas, thus is non-destructive.

  • It’s got a super-nice Export screen that meets my needs exactly.

  • It also has subsystems called “Slideshow”, “Print”, and “Web”, but I haven’t really tried these out much yet. My first pass through the Slideshow screen was a little disappointing; for slideshows on my Mac I find the built-in Graphic Converter program to be really super. We have a lovely Canon photo-printer so I’ll check out the Print facility and report back. As for Web presentations, I’ve got all the machinery I need for that.

What It Doesn’t Do · The question is whether I still need Photoshop Elements. The answer is yes, but not very often. Lightroom has a “Sharpen” slider, but it doesn’t seem as sophisticated as what Unsharp Mask does. Also there’s something that advertises itself as being like Clone Stamp (what you use to remove things from pictures), but it’s a little tricky to operate and I haven’t been getting good results with it yet.

It’s good that I don’t need Elements very often because after a few days with Lightroom, it feels agonizingly slow.

GUI Wow · First of all, did I mention it’s fast?

Second, there’s no Save button. It just takes care of that. And remember, all the edits are deltas, as in non-destructive. It occurs to me to wonder why all software that edits any data in any way whatsoever doesn’t work like this.

The crop function is immensely better than Elements, because it remembers what you did and you can keep going back and changing your mind and making slight deltas.

I had become pretty accomplished with Elements’ mighty Levels control, but the combination of Lightroom’s Histogram and Tone Curve tools seems to get me results that are about as good with a little less work, and I go off the rails less often.

Your working area is in the middle, and there’s a library photo-strip across the bottom, then there are tabs full of controls on the left and right. You can make the tabs go away (they reappear on mouse-over, like the Dock’s auto-hide) and I usually do.

Getting into full-screen mode is a single keystroke. There’s another keystroke, “L” which turns the lights out; that is to say, in a couple of strokes all of the GUI is greyed then blacked out, leaving only your picture. Mmm, tasty. And hey, keystroke controls with no command- or control- or anything.

There’s a nice side-by-side compare-two-pictures mode.

It’s really good at remembering what you just did, so you very rarely have to type in something more than once when you want to do it again.

It looks just amazingly wonderful on my big 25" Sun monitor.

It’s easy to learn. I keep meaning to get around to looking at the Getting Started material, but haven’t yet.

Did I mention it’s really fast?


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Keith Fahlgren (Apr 13 2007, at 18:10)

"I really don’t often use this space to blather on about how good some piece of commercial client-side closed-source software is"

Yeah, I understand completely. Lightroom is the first piece of commercial software I've bought for myself in nearly 3 years and has been worth every penny. Adobe's decision to release it as a free beta was a good one, as I never would have tried it out (and liked it) otherwise.


From: Russ (Apr 13 2007, at 18:38)

Did you see much of the UI is written in Lua:



Lua seems like it'll be the next big thing once the Ruby hype dies down. I started messing with it not too long ago when I started using the Scite editor, and discovered the World of Warcraft uses it internally as well...



From: Jeremy Zawodny (Apr 13 2007, at 19:44)

Hmm. You're the second person who takes way better pictures than I do who has raved about Lightroom. Perhaps it's time I played with it a bit...

BTW, 25" monitor? Thanks. Now I feel inferior with my 24" You Sun people are always pulling out better and better hardware, aren't you? :-)


From: ramin (Apr 14 2007, at 00:01)

I'm another Lightroom fanboy that also bought it as his first commercial software application in, umm, years...

Vibrance is saturation done right. I can't remember how it was described exactly, but the idea is to increase the impact of the colors with more control than saturation and less side effects.

At least with the limited playing around I've done, it works a lot better than using saturation.

Now, as a Linux user I'm justing waiting and hoping to Lightroom come out for Linux.


From: Nik (Apr 14 2007, at 04:32)

Have you tried really using Lightroom to organize and edit your photos? I tried the little trick of giving it 100gb worth of my photos (about 27.000) and it choked and died. So I'm not jumping aboard just yet. But yes, for a few 100 pictures it looks nice and has quite a good set of features. Just nothing I can use for a year of photo work


From: Aristotle Pagaltzis (Apr 14 2007, at 09:34)

> And hey, keystroke controls with no command- or control- or anything.

Great, ain’t it? More people need to learn from vi… :-)


From: ramin (Apr 15 2007, at 14:54)

Nik: I've imported (in their original locations) about 36 000 shots into Lightroom on a three year old PC without any problems.

In fact, I've notices that storing metadata and searching through the shots based on the metadata is a lot faster than Bridge or any other application I've tried so far.

And don't let me get started with inheritance and synonyms in the keywords.


From: Gordon Haff (Apr 16 2007, at 08:28)

As someone else commented, the idea of vibrance is a better saturation control. One of the videos I watched suggested that it did something along the lines of increasing the saturation of colors that weren't already saturated. So, basically, you can increase overall saturation without getting some really cartoonish colors in the process.

I'm less thrilled with the overall performance. Much better than when it was in beta but still sorta sluggish on my Athlon64 3200+ system--not state of the art I know but not that old.

But great program overall. I like it more all the time.


From: Andrew (Apr 16 2007, at 10:44)

Seems pretty spendy at $200 though. Google's Picasa photo software has much of the feature list you mention including, critically, speed and non-destructive editing. It's also completely free. I do 95% of my photo edits in Picasa (the usual basic crop, levels, sharpen stuff), dropping to Elements (which is a right-click away) for the occasional healing brush/clone stamp type of deep edit.

Picasa isn't available on the Mac yet, but I'm sure plenty of your readers are Windows users.


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