Lightroom Advances

When you understand how Lightroom works, you can envision how the platform might change in the future. Lightroom is Adobe's answer to photo-management challenges. It allows users to edit, manage, and showcase photos. It uses catalogs, which cause the program to produce a catalog file that includes information about the photos, including metadata. Everything you can do in your computer's Finder or Explorer, you can do in your Lightroom interface. That includes moving files from folder to folder and adding and deleting folders.

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Figure 8.2

Thumbnails of computer contents as shown in Lightroom 3.

Figure 8.2

Thumbnails of computer contents as shown in Lightroom 3.

Lightroom allows you to both tweak and manage your photographs. The Adobe website describes Lightroom 3, the latest version of Lightroom, as software that "helps you bring out the best in your photographs, whether you're perfecting one image, searching for ten, processing hundreds, or organizing thousands."1

Lightroom has five modules you can work in: Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print, and Web. Each of these modules comes with dozens of options to help you manage images, edit images, make a slideshow, print images, and put them on the web.


Advances in technology show up in many of Lightroom's options. Technology has progressed at lightning speed when it comes to reducing noise in photographs, and Lightroom is at the forefront of this technology.

Noise is sometimes called pixilation. It's when you see tiny multicolored dots in the frame of an image in a color photo. The dots can also be shades of gray, which is black-and-white noise or luminance (grain) noise. An example of luminance noise would be when you see tiny dots (or blobs) of different tones of gray in a night photo.

There is an assault on noise on two fronts. The first is in-camera. Cameras are being programmed to shoot at higher and higher ISO speeds. The amount of noise you get when taking a picture with a high ISO varies with the model of camera you are using. However, each generation of camera seems to be able to shoot noiseless photos at higher ISO speeds.

The assault on noise is also occurring in software programs, such as Lightroom 3. Lightroom provides image editing in a nondestructive environment, meaning that when you edit your image, you don't get as much deterioration as you do when using many Photoshop options. Although total nondestruction is not a reality in this or any other image-processing software, deterioration of photos from manipulation in the most recent version of Lightroom is less than it used to be in earlier versions.

Figure 8.3 (left) shows an image taken at 1000 ISO with noise. The image on the right in the same figure shows the photo after applying Lightroom's noise reduction. You can see that little deterioration of the photo occurred after I applied noise reduction.

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Figure 8.3

The Wigwam Motel before (left) and after (right) noise reduction.

Figure 8.3

The Wigwam Motel before (left) and after (right) noise reduction.

Note that software used to increase sharpness in Lightroom 3 and similar programs ultimately ends up increasing noise, which can be corrected to a great degree using the Detail and Contrast sliders in Lightroom.

Lightroom 3 allows you to reduce noise from your photos using sliders for a number of parameters, including reducing color and luminance (grain) noise (see Figure 8.4). The results are good for images that have been shot at high ISO in low light. Noted improvements in the picture quality in this noise-elimination platform are comparable to those in other noise-reduction programs, such as Noise Ninja, which is a Photoshop plug-in that reduces noise.

Figure 8.4

This photo has lots of graininess, which is luminance noise.

Figure 8.4

This photo has lots of graininess, which is luminance noise.

The program isn't perfect, though. When you tweak the sliders so most of the noise is gone, you get a soft photo like the one shown in Figure 8.5. If this occurs, you might want to experiment with moving the sliders some more. You should note that in reducing noise, image sharpness is degraded, so you have to add back that sharpness by using the Detail and Contrast sliders. That starts to bring back the noise. It's a constant tug-of-war between noise and sharpness; Lightroom has made that war a little easier to win. In the future, though, Lightroom should be able to keep even more of the details in an image after eliminating noise.

To be sure, you could do more work on the photo. Most of the noise is in the sky. By using layers and isolating the sky, which isn't affected by the softening, you can clean up the noise, but that is a job for Photoshop.

With each new version of Lightroom, there are more options—specifically, more sliders with which to tweak various aspects of your image. For example, Lightroom 3 added Detail and Contrast sliders to its noise-reduction options.

Figure 8.5

Lightroom will eliminate luminance noise, but if it's severe, your photo will become soft after noise reduction.

Figure 8.5

Lightroom will eliminate luminance noise, but if it's severe, your photo will become soft after noise reduction.


Lightroom offers a scaled-down version of Adobe Camera Raw or Photoshop's editing tools, where you can adjust noise, use camera profiles, and make a bazillion other image tweaks. Lightroom also has a huge advantage in that you can shoot tethered—that is, connect your camera to your computer using a USB cable (obviously, the camera has to have such a connection)—and Lightroom will suck the image directly from the camera onto the computer and display it on the monitor at a size that's actually usable compared to the tiny LCD screen on the back of the camera. On a Nikon, that process bypasses the memory card, dumping the image directly to the hard drive; Canon copies it to the memory card and then processes it to the computer Canon's advantage is that you have that extra measure of security as a backup until the shoot's over Tethering alone is worth the price of the program!

Your options for noise reduction include reducing color and luminance noise. Color noise, often called chroma noise, is speckles of color distributed throughout areas of an image. Luminance noise consists of gray-tone speckles. (See the "Noiseless Photos of the Future" sidebar earlier in this chapter.) Both types of noise can occur anywhere in a picture and can happen at any ISO speed; however, they are more common when you shoot at high ISO speed.

The evolution of technology both within the software programs and in their integration with the Internet is bound to advance. Currently, photo management in Lightroom allows you to give multiple images the same keyword and use a wide variety of sort and search features for images you have on your computer.

And it won't be long before you'll be able to purchase massive amounts of space online so that all aspects of photo management will occur while you're online. No longer will you have to worry about losing your data, as giant servers that work instantaneously while in a version of Lightroom will handle large numbers of photos while you are online.

In the future, we could be looking at Adobe buying a site such as Flickr—an image and video hosting website, web services suite, and online community—and then implementing a more advanced photo management platform. Another possibility is that Adobe could create its own online image hosting, adding online access to its photo management program, much in the same way that Picasa and Picasa Web Albums work together. (See "The Future of Picasa" later in the chapter.) You'd be able to get large files online from Lightroom into more advanced photosharing sites that offer similar options to Flickr. Another possiblitiy is that Flickr will branch out and create a Flickr professional that includes Lightroom management and processing features.

Currently, there are relatively inexpensive online image-storage facilities (see Chapter 10, "Creating Longer Lives for Photographs"), but upload speeds are still slow, so the ability to upload and manipulate large photos online isn't available yet.

Currently, Lightroom lets you make a Web Photo Gallery using images that you have placed into a folder. You can chose from a variety of Flash galleries, which lets your photos fade in and out of a web page when you click on them. Lightroom uploads multiple images in a folder directly onto your server.

Finally, the one big obstacle for file management has been the incompatibility of many file types with the Internet. Photo-management programs such as Lightroom have come a long way to make the necessary file conversions automatically so you can get your files up on the Internet. This feature is spreading to other programs. Picasa also automatically converts your files and uploads them to the Internet, even at high resolutions. For more about Picasa, see the upcoming "The Future of Picasa" section.


One problem for photo-management programs is the number of different file types with which photos are produced and processed. For example, each digital camera model has its own type of Raw format, which can be stored as is or converted to the standard type of file used on the Internet (JPEG, which stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group). Often, photographers duplicate the same image two or three times because each file type serves a different purpose.

To get a feel for the different types of file formats in which photographs can be taken and stored, you can consider the life of one photo and its descendents.

A photo can start out in Raw format from a dSLR or a point-and-shoot camera. The Raw format of one camera can be different from that of another It can be a compressed file or an uncompressed file. If it is compressed, there is only a very slight degradation of the image.2 The following chart shows the different extensions for Raw photo files by camera type.

Camera Type Raw Photo File Extension

Canon .cr2

Nikon .nrw/.nef, depending on camera model

Kodak .kdc

Sony .arw/.sff/.sr2, depending on camera model

Pentax .ptx/.ptf, depending on camera model

Olympus .orf

Panasonic .raw/.rw2, depending on camera model

Leica .raw/.rwl/.dng, depending on camera model

Minolta .mrw

Fuji .raf

The photo can be stored in its original Raw form either on a hard drive or at many online storage sites, such as (see Chapter 10).

If you are going to upload your photo to the web, it has to be reduced to a smaller size and converted to JPEG. Many Internet sites and programs will convert files to JPEG automatically for the Internet. JPEG files are in lossy form—that is, if you open them, edit them, and save them over and over again, they will lose data and deteriorate over time.

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When a Raw photo is converted to JPEG, it isn't replaced by the JPEG. In other words, the original Raw file remains on your computer And many cameras can be set to take photos in two formats: Raw and JPEG. Because there are two photos, this uses more memory both on the camera's memory card and on the computer or Internet sites to which you upload the photos. If you're just archiving your photos, you wouldn't want to waste space with the JPEGs—the Raw file is much more valuable. If you're displaying the photos, you have to use something other than Raw (such as JPEG, PNG, or GIF).

You can also convert the Raw photos to TIFF (Tagged Image File Format).This format is less likely to deteriorate when it's opened, edited, and saved because the compression algorithm is much better than in JPEGs. If you are going to have your photos published in a magazine or book, they will ask you for TIFF images. The format occupies a large amount of space on hard drives and when you're using online storage.

Digital Cameras For Beginners

Digital Cameras For Beginners

Although we usually tend to think of the digital camera as the best thing since sliced bread, there are both pros and cons with its use. Nothing is available on the market that does not have both a good and a bad side, but the key is to weigh the good against the bad in order to come up with the best of both worlds.

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