Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Tuesday Lovin': Adobe Lightroom

Starting Project Life in 2012 changed my photography process significantly:

  • I took many more photos, deliberately, because I knew I needed stuff for the album
  • I went through those photos EVERY WEEK, because I need to print them
  • I used my phone camera a lot more, because it's handy. So I needed to coordinate two sources of photos - phone and the "big" camera.

Prior to Sept 2009, I only took photos at special occasions and on trips when I remembered to bring the camera. When T was born, I was excited to capture her rapid changes, so I ramped up, even remembering to get a photo of her on most days of her first year. 

In 2010 and 2011, I just dumped all those photos onto our hard drive. I went through some of them to make photo books for the grandparents, but still have loads of unprocessed photos from those years.

2012 and Project Life made me realize that my current process or "workflow" as fancy photographers call it, was really cumbersome. It worked, but it was a PAIN:

1. Dump photos from phone and camera into a folder called "import"
2. Sort those photos manually into folders based on subject matter - crafts, family/date, house, etc
3. Using the painfully slow Windows Photo Viewer, go through and delete unusable shots
4. Open the remaining photos in a photo editor like Photoscape or Adobe Photoshop Elements and go through each one to make edits: crop, adjust exposure/white balance, apply filters and actions as desired.
5. Save copies of the photos to their "final homes" on our server.
6. Upload those photos to our Smugmug site.

After several months of this, I was ready for a change.  Someone suggested that Adobe Lightroom might help. I was skeptical that another expensive software package was going to HELP matters, but bit the bullet during the Black Friday sale on Amazon.

I'm not a "click it and see what happens" kind of person, so I did a lot of reading online and watched some videos on the Adobe site to learn the software before using it.  (More on those resources in another post.)

At first it seemed overly complicated. But then I realized I don't need to use *all* the features of the software and I can grow into it over time. 

A few editing sessions later I fell in love, because it made my biweekly photo sorting process *much* easier and faster:

1. Dump photos from phone and DSLR memory card into monthly folder via Lightroom .(Settings saved so all I need to do is choose a different folder each month)
2. Quickly review imported photos and mark the rejects. One click deletes the rejects forever.
3. Crop and edit photos, still in Lightroom. Easily do more extensive editing in external programs, without leaving Lightroom.
4. With just a few clicks, save the final JPGs to our monthly/category folders *and* send to Smugmug *and* Facebook as desired, all at once.

Lightroom is really fast at displaying photos and moving to the next one. There are lots of options for flagging and marking images as you go through them, but I just mark the ones I'm not keeping because there's a beautiful menu option called "Delete Rejected Photos". 

It also can process multiple jobs at once, as in my Step 4 above - I can start all of those items and still work in Lightroom while those are being completed. Much faster than uploading at each site, or manually copying files to the hard drive.

The one thing I needed to get used to is that Lightroom doesn't actually edit the original files. It's a nondestructive editor, so it just saves those edits separately from the photos. If you want an edited version, you have to "export" a JPG file with those edits. But this way I don't shoot myself in the foot by irreversibly editing a file beyond repair. 

Lightroom is also superfantastic at cataloging large numbers of photos.  We have 16000+ and growing, and I haven't yet tackled the aspect of sorting through and categorizing all of them, but I know that Lightroom will be able to handle it, as many professional photographers use it for their hundreds of thousands of photos.

I'm making my way through Scott Kelby's excellent Lightroom 4 book (slowly).  I love that I can pick and choose what features I need, and slowly get better at processing photos and storing them in a way that makes sense for us.

So if you're serious about taking pictures and keeping them organized, even if you never intend to do it professionally, I highly recommend using Adobe Lightroom. You can get by without it, but it makes life so much easier.

I love, love, love it. (And no one is paying me to write this. Though if you buy something on Amazon after clicking through my links, I may get a few cents to spend on chai.)


  1. I think I need to bribe you to come to my house and show me Lightroom. I took a class on it and it just seems to complicated to me.

  2. Reading this post makes me wonder if it will be useful for me or not. All of the things you mentioned that you like are part of iphoto. So perhaps I'm already in the program that is good enough for me...

    1. OK, apparently Blogger ate my reply to you! I use a PC so don't know much about iPhoto, but it sounds like that might be enough for you? Can you edit within iPhoto as well?

  3. Great post! Sounds like it was a big timesaver. I need to find good PS presets but it doesn't help my workflow at all. Just adds another step. I definitely need to delete more photos like you do, I just lack the courage.

    1. Yeah, I'm not a digital packrat so I delete everything I won't print for PL or wouldn't put in a photobook. I still end up with about 80ish photos a month counting Instagrams (and not counting trips, birthdays, etc.)

  4. Thanks for your thoughts on Lightroom. I've used the 30 day trial and might bite the bullet one day. And I'll definitely pick up Kelby's book on the subject when I do.

  5. Never heard of Lightroom before, definitely need to check it out. Thanks for sharing!

  6. So glad you're lovin' an organizing/editing program. I've yet to love anything, but I think it's because I have a mental block as far as figuring this stuff out. I need a class, because I don't think Kelby is going to be able to do it for me (not that I've tried, but I don't think that book-learning stuff is going to work for something like this).

    1. My friend Jenn (above) took the online class at Texas Chicks and said it was pretty good. I'd like to do it someday. Kelby's book is pretty fantastic if you look at it as a reference manual - I keep it handy so I can look stuff up.

  7. I have wanted to use this program too thanks for the review :)

  8. Does it replace Photoshop Elements? I could surely find this out by doing some research, but it's easier to ask you. :) I'm using a super-old version of Elements, and should probably either upgrade or switch...

    1. For me it does, but it's because I'm not into heavy edits. You can't use actions in Lightroom, and I miss those a bit. But PSE has a lot more hardcore editing features, plus more ways to *create* and design stuff - adding text, etc. So I think they complement each other, but for the simple editing I do, LR is enough.

    2. Thanks! I haven't really used Elements more substantial features, so maybe I should check out Lightroom.

  9. Hm, it sounds great - I'm like you, I have tons of photos every month and my process is a lot like your original one, with multiple steps and software involved. I'll check out Lightroom - thanks!

  10. I got lightroom for my birthday and am SLOWLY learning how to use it...right now I can only import and edit phots and export them back out...still trying to figure it out! :)


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