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Scott's Column
Lightroom

May 3, 2013
By Scott Lewis

This month is all about Lightroom. I am really getting into it and trying to pay more attention to my photography.

Last month I told you I bought Lightroom. A friend turned me onto it. You can find all kinds of information about Lightroom on the web. There are lots of people saying how great it is, and it is a very good program, but it is intimidating as well.

Overall I like it. There is a lot to do and there is a learning curve. Keeping in mind that it is a catalog system for photos is a big concept to take in. If you let it do its thing it removes some of the burden of keeping track of your photos. You should be able to use Lightroom to import your photos from your memory cards or your camera itself, and then you just concentrate on working with the photos.

For me I have always had pretty good organization to my photos. I have all the photos from my Canon EOS Rebel T2i. I have a "parent" folder called Photo Projects. In this folder I have a sub-folder for each "event." I name these folders YYYY - Event Name. For example, I went to the Grand Canyon back in March, so I have a folder called 2013 - Grand Canyon.

Lightroom makes it easy to import existing photos, and keep them in this file organization. In fact, it is quite good using this design. When importing new photos I still put them into a folder using this same naming convention. This makes it easy for me to find them when I am not in Lightroom.

All was not perfect when I started actually importing photos into Lightroom directly from my Camera. I built an Import Preset. You can do many things at the time you import photos, such as apply a default develop preset, or process, to photos. I don't know if I will do that, but I might. As of now I just add basic copyright info to my photos when I import them.

Where I had trouble was in establishing a naming convention for the photos as they come over from my camera. I could just use the camera's naming... IMG_0001, IMG_0002, etc. However, I have already rolled this number over in my camera. Meaning I have taken more than 9999 pictures. I wanted to prevent (or at least minimize) this since Lightroom makes it easy to rename files on import. I saw that Lightroom allows up to 5 digits in its numbering. With a prefix of "pic_" I was trying to get pic_00001, pic_00002... pic_99999.

It took some experimenting. I do not remember exactly what I did, but the first attempt showed me a preview (of the filename) as pic_00001.cr2 (cr2 being my camera's filename extension, which I did not want to change). However, when I imported the photos I got pic_00001.cr2, pic_00001-2.cr2, pic_00001-3.cr2, etc for all the photos I imported. Yuck!

Like I said, I did not know what options I picked to get this, but eventually I settled on the filename template {Custom Text}{Image # (00001)>>}, which gave me the results I wanted. I practiced with the same 5 photos over and over. I eventually added folder info to the Import Preset to defaulted to a folder "LR Import," but with a sub-folder of RAW (more later). Once all this was done I imported a bunch of crap photos and deleted them to get the number up to the number of photos I imported with my first import.

The driving force for getting into Lightroom was really about standardizing the way I process my photos. I read an article that showed what Canon does to its photos when it stores JPGs on the camera. It adds some processing to them. All manufactures do this. The article was trying to show you how you can improve on what Canon is trying to accomplish. But I took it as a chance to create a Preset that matched what Canon did. I did this in Bridge and Camera RAW (part of Photoshop). It is a cumbersome effort to try and create presets for Bridge, by modifying an image in Camera RAW, and then finding the "Previous" setting file and moving it to a particular folder so Bridge will see it as a preset.

Also, there are very few Bridge/Camera RAW presets out there. However, there are lots of Lightroom presets. So my initial goal with Lightroom was to be able to import RAW images and apply a Canon Default process to them as a starting point. This is much easier in Lightroom than in Bridge.

I found an article that showed me how to "import" a Camera RAW Preset into Lightroom. OK, so you can't actually do it. What you can do is go into Camera RAW and modify a photo (in this case with my Canon Default preset). Then exit Camera RAW and go into Lightroom. Import that photo. Lightroom will read the XMP "sidecar" file (that Camera RAW creates to store the changes it makes to the photo). Now look at the imported photo in the Develop module, and save a new preset. Lightroom will save the changes in that photo as a Lightroom preset. I took this one step further... I changed the photo to use the 2012 process (instead of the 2010 process that my version of Camera RAW uses... part of Photoshop CS5). Lightroom 4 has new sliders for the Basic section of the Develop module. It is what is referred to as 2012 process. So I select that which looking at this photo, and now I save a new preset again, this time naming it Canon Default - LR4, so I know it is specific to Lightroom 4's presets.

So... with importing and applying some defaults to photos out of the way... what don't I like? Initially I had a bit of trouble importing my collection. I was getting errors on a couple of photos, and I didn't know how to get the detail information. It took a while, and in doing so I also discovered that Lightroom does not import duplicates. Yet I have folders where I have extra copies of photos... such as if I want to have a folder full of images to be used by a Mosaic application.

So it took me a while to straighten out all this duplicate nonsense. I would have preferred Lightroom just import the duplicates... or at least tell me about them. It just ignored them and I wondered for a long time why the import was not working.

The next problem I touched on last month. I would keep my RAW photos in one folder, and create sub folders for JPG and PSD files. When you select a folder in Lightroom it shows you everything in it and its subfolders. This made it very hard to tell quickly which were RAW images, and which were previously exported JPG or PSD images.

I got around this by putting my RAW images into a RAW sub-folder (mentioned above in setting up my import preset), so I can look at the RAW sub-folder, or the PSD sub-folder, or the JPG sub-folder. The problem with this work around is that I cannot take advantage of the export feature to export images into a sub-folder for you. That would just create a JPG folder under the RAW folder, which I don't want. I have to setup my export presets to prompt me for a folder and then I have to manually create/select a JPG sub-folder. This makes exports a little more work.

I tend to export photos to store on my iPad. Since I do not need these exported JPG files in my Lightroom catalog, I created a specific folder for these photos, and created an Export Preset that exports to this folder and does not add the images to the Lightroom catalog. This makes it easy for me to later just go to that one folder and drag and drop the photos to the folder my iPad syncs with.

Then I got really pissed. It turns out that if you set your camera to take photos in RAW+JPG (where your camera saves both), Lightroom has an option to automatically STACK these photos when it imports them. So you will see a folder full of stacked photos, each stack is 2 images.. the RAW and the JPG.

This is exactly what I want... to automatically stack my RAW and JPG files and just keep them in the same folder. And here is where I got pissed... it doesn't work like that. It only works when you are importing RAW+JPG. You can't get it to stack anything else automatically. Crap! This has got to be my biggest gripe with Lightroom. And the problem is... they will probably fix it in the first version of the program that you have to get by way of a subscription. Crap!!! I just assume buy it once and use it for as long as possible.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel... I think. As it turns out you can develop plug-ins for Lightroom. They have an SDK (Software Development Kit) and an API (Application Program Interface). How hard can it be to get Lightroom to look at a single folder and stack all the RAW, JPG, PSD & TIF files with the same base name. I do not know yet... but I will find out. I think I can do it, I just need the time to read through their documentation and start working on it. I'll Keep you posted.

As I mentioned earlier... there are a lot of presets out there and I went preset crazy looking for free presets. Hey, I found two placed that have good quality and fairly inexpensive presets, but I figure I could start with free and go from there. Keep in mind... there is little you can do in a preset that is rocket science. Once you start working in the Develop module of Lightroom and start finding tweaks you like... just save that as a preset. If you see a preset out there you like, just apply it to a photo with no previous tweaking and examine the sections in the Develop module to see what was done. If you want to tweak it further... just do it and save it as another preset.

Well, I must have downloaded a few hundred presets. My next step is to put together a small collection of photos (a landscape, and person's portrait, a car, a nice scene, etc.) and use them to test presets and see if I like them. Since they are so easy to get/change/delete, I want to make it easy to evaluate them and get rid of all the crap. And settle on a couple dozen really good presets that can help me define a "look" for myself. I want to have a few "go to" presets that I use on most of my photos. But this is getting ahead of myself. I still haven't developed a photographic style yet.

I stumbled upon a weird thing with Lightroom's exports. I went to a Balloon Festival and exported a dozen photos to put on my iPad. When I did that in Lightroom the photos were between 8 and 15 MB. Wow, that is really large for a JPG which is a compressed format. So I did a little digging. I took one photo and had Lightroom save the Develop settings as an XMP sidecar. With the sidecar file Bridge & Camera RAW could see it. I opened the photo in Bridge, and used my export preset there to save a JPG for my iPad. Hmm, 2.6 MB. I exported that exact same file in Lightroom and it was 12.3 MB. WOW! I double checked... and both applications were set to save the image at full resolution and highest quality. So... I went back to Lightroom and changed that iPad Export preset to save at 80% quality and got file sizes about the same as Bridge. But why? What is Lightroom doing to that Bridge can't?

Before you think I might want to export at the highest quality in Lightroom (and deal with the large files) for better print quality... no. I will create a separate preset for exporting for printing. And that won't be needed much anyway. I plan to do as much of my printing in Lightroom itself, so I should not need to export a photo for printing unless I am sending it off to be printed by a service. Currently I am just printing for myself on my home printer.

Overall I like Lightroom. I can recommend it. It's full price is about $150, which is way below the full price of Photoshop. And you can do so much with Lightroom that it may be enough that you don't need Photoshop for the vast majority of your photography.

Conclusion

Sorry I only covered Lightroom this month. I have been spending the last few months taking my photography more seriously. I did a "senior" photo shoot with my son at the resort we stayed at for the Balloon Festival. I was very pleased with the number of really good pictures I got. A couple of people told me I should think about doing this as a side business.

I am thinking about doing just that. So I plan to spend a good deal of time in Lightroom over the coming weeks. I need to do some tweaking to my workflow. I spent way too many hours working on my son's senior pics. I need to improve that time, without sacrificing quality. If I am going to charge people, I need to be able to get as much quality work done in a timely manner as possible. I can't have paying clients waiting.

I also hate the way the iPad shows off photos. If you are using a Mac with iPhoto you are set. You can create photo albums and put photos into a specific order and they will display exactly as you want. However, I am not using a Mac or iPhoto. So I can't do that. All I can do is put photos into a folder and hope for the best. Basically the iPad is supposed to show pictures sorted by date... oldest to newest. But I have had trouble with that. I tried saving them one by one in the order I wanted them to display, and it still changed the order some. If I have time I want to look into photo "management" on the iPad. It will be more important if I have to use my iPad to show potential clients my work.

With all that said... I do not know what next month will bring. I do know that Iron Man 3 & Star Trek Into Darkness come out in May, and I am also taking my sons to Dallas Comic Con in May. May should be a fun month.

See you after that.
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