In today’s professional photography, post-processing is an unavoidable and integral part of the process, whether in photojournalism or fashion. A good camera and lens combination is just as important as the software tool you use for post-processing your work efficiently. It should come as no surprise that there is a strong market for flexible and powerful software. Adobe, a software development company best known for its powerful graphics tool Photoshop, is one of these contenders. In the present day, Photoshop is widely used by photographers (hence the term “to photoshop” applied to almost any type of image editing), but it is not only aimed at photographers – it appeals to a much broader audience. Adobe has created a new piece of software specifically for photographers called Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. However, despite the fact that the family name implies that Photoshop runs through the veins, Lightroom is a very different animal. What is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, and why is it a great choice for aspiring photographers? I will explain in this article.
1) The RAW File Format
To begin, Lightroom is nothing more than a RAW to JPEG converter. This isn’t very helpful for someone who isn’t familiar with Lightroom or other photography software, or even digital cameras in general. For this reason it’s best to talk about RAW files first, and then we can discuss what a RAW converter is. Don’t be alarmed; despite the fact that it appears to be complex, understanding it is a piece of cake.
1.1) What Is A RAW File?
The term “digital negative” is another name for a RAW image file, and it gives you a good idea of what it is. RAW files are photographs taken with a camera’s image sensor straight from the camera. No digital adjustments are made to the images in a RAW file. This can only be done by setting your camera’s settings to “RAW” (even some point-and-shoot compact cameras have such a feature). You’ll typically find it in the camera’s menu under the image quality section.
There are no *.raw files because RAW is not an actual file extension. The file extensions used by various manufacturers vary. Nikon uses the *.nef file format, Canon uses the *.cr2, cr3 file format, Fujifilm uses the *.raf file format, and Adobe makes use of the widely used *.dng file format. As far as file formats go, DNG is the most versatile.
RAW files are descriptions, not images. Information is the key word here. To see a RAW file as a photograph, special software or codecs must decode it. What’s with the complication? Instead of a JPEG image file, why not use something simpler?
RAW images are more flexible than JPEG images because they contain a lot more information. More data equates to a slightly higher resolution and a significantly wider dynamic range (color information and detail hidden in dark and light portions of an image). Having a wide range of options means being able to take charge of your own destiny. How? In other words, instead of letting your camera decide how much sharpening, noise reduction, contrast, saturation, and so on it should apply to a photograph that you just took, you’ll be in control of those settings yourself. It’s easy – all you have to do is manipulate those lifeless RAW files to your heart’s content before converting them to JPEGs.
1.2) What Is A RAW File Converter?
The first thing a RAW converter does is decode the information stored in the file so that you can see it as an image. This is something you may have already figured out. You can also modify and save a RAW file as a simple graphical image file like a JPEG without having to deal with the data it contains.
You should also know that even after switching your camera to RAW file format, you will be able to view your photos just fine on your camera’s display. It’s also far from “flat,” with vibrant colors and respectable contrast. That’s because a JPEG preview is frequently included in a RAW file so you can quickly check it out on your camera’s back.
2) What Is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom?
Simply put, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (which I will refer to as LR from now on) is a converter. Even though it’s a basic RAW converter, Adobe has designed Lightroom to be the only application many photographers will need nine times out of ten for post-processing (tenth being extensive and complex manipulation). Lightroom’s feature set grows by leaps and bounds with each new release. Photographers can use it from beginning to end with these features. You can create photo albums in Lightroom, so that’s something to keep in mind. In one environment, Lightroom organizes, post-processes, prints and shares photographs with all its tools and straightforward user interface. When working with a large number of images, the highlight of Lightroom is its emphasis on speed (think hundreds or even thousands). Copying and pasting all of the available adjustments simplifies things. There’s also non-destructive editing, which is pretty cool. It aids in preserving the integrity of original files while allowing you to make adjustments and then go back and change them if necessary. For aspiring photographers, this level of sophistication sets it apart.
Lightroom is designed for whom? If you take a lot of photos, especially in RAW format, but not exclusively, Lightroom may be the right choice for you. It’s a great resource for aspiring professional photographers. It’s also useful if you simply want more control over the appearance of your images in general. Lightroom is a professional tool for photographers, so it doesn’t matter if all you photograph are your close family and friends. As a result, the learning curve is quite steep. Mind you, it’s well worth it in the end. The lack of brushes and pencils in Lightroom makes it unsuitable for any type of graphical work.
The fact that LR supports both regular image formats like TIFF and JPEG and RAW files should not be overlooked. Many of the RAW settings won’t work or won’t work as well as they could because of this. Even so, it has the potential to be extremely useful for both JPEG and RAW photographers, particularly for those who need to process a large number of images quickly.
3) Compared To Photoshop And Photoshop Elements
Lightroom’s primary purpose is to assist you in improving the visual appeal of your images. Another two Adobe products serve a similar purpose. What distinguishes Lightroom from Photoshop and Photoshop Elements’ siblings?
Just to get the ball rolling, I’ll say that these three programs are strikingly similar in their functionality. Lightroom, for example, is built on Photoshop’s RAW converter plug-in (called Adobe Camera RAW). Its capabilities, on the other hand, go far beyond what you’d expect from a camera. In terms of graphic editing, Photoshop is a powerful tool with virtually unlimited capabilities. Photoshop. It’s likely that photographers make up only a small percentage of the total number of Photoshop users who use the program for both business and personal purposes. Although Photoshop’s flexibility has many advantages, it also has some drawbacks. As a result of the sheer number of options and tools, regular post-processing is impractical. It’s also a pain when trying to work with multiple images at once. Additionally, Photoshop lacks Lightroom’s organizational capabilities.
In some ways, Photoshop Elements resembles Lightroom more closely. Essentially, it’s a mashup of the two, but one that’s “crippled” in light of that. Photoshop Elements is a powerful tool in and of itself. PSE is easier to use because it has an organizer and is geared toward photographers rather than graphic designers. A lot of the features Photoshop lacks, such as an album designer, are included in this program. As a result, it’s there from beginning to end, much like Lightroom. In contrast, it works much better with regular JPEG images than RAW files and is just as limited when it comes to processing a large number of images at once, much less hundreds of thousands of images. Brushes are available in PSE, just like in Photoshop, and the program can be used for simple graphic editing tasks. If anything, Adobe Photoshop Elements doesn’t lack capability – it’s easy enough for the majority of newbies and hobbyists, and even some professionals will find it enough. It’s not Photoshop or Lightroom, so don’t expect it to be perfect.
4) Main Alternatives
There are numerous RAW converters to choose from, not just Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Aperture, which is similar to Lightroom but only available on Mac OS X, is available to Apple Mac users. Phase One’s Capture One software is available for Windows users. The reviews say it’s great for studio photographers, but I haven’t used it myself to verify this. DxO Optics Pro is another option. DxO is a developer that prides itself on being highly scientific. Since their software can correct lens flaws, for example, it’s probably extremely precise and capable. Silkypix rounds out the group. When using Fujifilm X-Trans sensor cameras, such as the X-Pro1, a Silkypix converter is provided as an extra accessory. Silkypix should provide excellent X-Trans sensor RAW file support, as this is a reasonable expectation (these RAW files are slightly different to RAW files from other cameras due to different image sensor structure and decoding algorithms).
These are the most popular RAW converters, along with Adobe’s Lightroom. Each has positives and negatives to offer. As for me, I started with Photoshop Elements and haven’t looked back; Lightroom has become an essential part of my workflow now. For the time being, I will be writing about Lightroom as my go-to RAW converter, even if it does not have all the features of its competitors.