A few days back I was asked by a friend if I’d give them a bit of training in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, the most wonderful photo-processing software ever to have created for people who work with RAW images, or find Photoshop a bit OTT for their purposes.
It was an interesting experience, as it really demonstrated to me just what a fundamental shift the move to the use of image processing software such as Lightroom can mark.
Lightroom is the modern-day darkroom (in case you hadn’t guessed from the name!). Most people don’t need darkrooms these days as their cameras can do the processing for them. If your camera gives you JPEG images, it has taken the raw data that hit its sensor through the lens, and then interpreted that as it saw fit, enhancing colours and setting the contrast (etc) before throwing away the ‘unnecessary’ data and compressing the remainder into a JPEG.
For me, when I do shoot in JPEG with my little Sony Cybershot, I feel it’s a passive process (although one would not be able to tell this from looking at the images). All I do is chuck them straight into my photo library. There has been little by way of engagement with the images once they have been taken.
With my Nikon set to shoot in RAW, it just gives me the raw data (funny that), with no modifications. It’s then up to me to decide how that image is developed (by putting it through Lightroom).
Thankfully modern cameras are very good at processing images and creating JPEGs. All of my photos up until last summer were taken as JPEGs (including all those on my Trans-Siberian adventure), and to look at them you’d find it hard to tell the difference between them and those I’ve since shot in RAW. In fact you can’t.
I think for me though, photography is almost as much about the process as it is about the end result. I absolutely love processing my images, deciding for myself what the end result will look like. I also get great pleasure out of exporting these images direct from Lightroom to Flickr and into my iPhoto library for use in my projects, to share with other people.
You may have noticed that I have stopped watermarking my images. That was a conscious decision to not be so precious about them.
I’ve recently come to embrace keywording (tagging) too. I don’t just do it for the satisfaction of ‘being organised’ – with over 21,000 photos in my library now it’s vital that they have rich descriptions to enable me to find them at a later date. I tag them upon import, and these tags remain with the images all the way through to Flickr (or wherever else they go). If you are able to read the metadata attached to the image above, along with the details of what shutter speed I used / what lens I had on the camera, you’ll find all my tags (Flickr displays these by default).
I feel that this kind of engagement with my photos helps me to improve my technique. It gives me the opportunity to study them in detail, to get a feel for what worked, and what didn’t. It encourages me to take more photos, which will lead to more experiences, and a greater appreciation of what was in front of the lens.
If you would like to engage more with your images and are prepared to put in the few hours necessary to learn the Lightroom ropes, I would recommend you switch your camera to RAW (if it allows it), and download a free Beta version of Lightroom from www.adobe.com/products/photoshoplightroom/.
Next, grap yourself a free 7-day trial from the best software training company in the world, Lynda.com, and check out the Lightroom tutorial. You can get that by visiting www.lynda.com/deke (normally $25 per month).
Finally, enjoy. Oh, and consider subscribing to the (free) podcast from The Radiant Vista. (N.b. Anonymous: somehow I don’t think that podcast will be your cup of tea).