There are a number of post-production apps that can be used to edit your photos. However, it’s probably a fair bet that Adobe Lightroom is by far the most popular. (Certainly for editing Raw files, which require specialist apps like Lightroom. If you only shoot JPEG then Lightroom is probably overkill…) Lightroom is available for both PC and Mac, as well as tablets like the Apple iPod range. Just to keep things simple I’m just going to talk about the PC/Mac version of Lightroom only (now known as Lightroom Classic), as the tablet version is slightly (actually, very) different.
The first thing to do when starting with Lightroom is to create and save a Catalog. This is essentially a database of the images that you’ll eventually import into Lightroom. Any changes you make to an image are stored in the Catalog database, rather than applied and saved to the image itself. (This concept is known as non-destructive editing, which we’ll cover in more detail in a future article.) It’s only when you export an image, to another file format such as JPEG, that your edits are physically applied to a file and then only to the exported file.
There are two schools of thought about Catalogs. There are those photographers who use one Catalog, with every photo they’ve ever shot imported into it. Then there are those who have multiple Catalogs, which they swap between as and when they need to edit a particular image. There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches.
With one Catalog only you’ll be able to find a particular image with relative ease. After all, it will be in there somewhere. (There are ways to help you track down images, which we’ll come to next time.) If you use multiple Catalogs this will be trickier, unless you’re very strict with the reasons for creating new Catalogs. (Such as starting a new Catalog at the beginning of a year, naming it so that you know which year the Catalog relates to.)
Use one Catalog though and, once there are tens of thousands of images (both photos and videos) there, you may find Lightroom slowing down a bit. Using a few smaller Catalogs keeps Lightroom fleet of foot. Fortunately, Lightroom has options to import images from one catalog into another. This means you could use multiple libraries, which could then be merged at a later date if need be.
One way that Lightroom differs from other editing apps, such as Photoshop, is that it’s divided into different modules: Library; Develop; Map; Book; Slideshow; Print; and Web. Each module is designed for a specific task. Book, for example, is used to collate photos into a series of page designs to form a photobook. Once you’ve completed your photobook it can then be ordered directly from companies such as Blurb.
Today, and in part two next week, we’re going to concentrate on Library. It’s in Library module that you organise your images. Tools available in Library include sorting your images into a particular order onscreen – from a choice that includes by Filename, Rating, Capture Time, or File Type – as well as options to add keywords and other metadata to your photos.
Library is also where you create folders, referenced by the Catalog, so that you can divide photos between a series of folders rather than keeping them all in one ever-growing main folder. (This really isn’t recommended! Trust me on this.) Lightroom keeps track of all these folders, updating the Catalog as you move photos around. (Don’t ever be tempted to move photos referenced in the Catalog into different folders outside of Lightroom. Lightroom will get very confused if you do this and wonder where they’ve gone. You can synchronise your folders to track those photos down but it’s easier to move or even delete photos within Lightroom.)
Right, you’ve created your Catalog. Now you need to populate it with photos. This is done using the Import button after you’ve attached a memory card to your PC/Mac – either via a memory card reader or by plugging your camera into a USB port. (Lightroom will automatically display the Import dialogue box if you tick Show import dialog when memory card is detected in Preferences > General.)
The dialogue box is initially quite daunting but it does make logical sense if you read it from left to right. On the left is a list of places you can import images from – the Source (1). Generally this would be your memory card, but you can also import from your PC/Mac hard drive or other external hard drives currently attached.
In the middle, taking up most of the dialogue box, are the image thumbnails from the source memory card/hard drive (2). Above the thumbnails are four options: Copy as DNG, Copy, Move, and Add. The last three are fairly straightforward. Copy mirrors the images from the source to the destination. (The recommended option when importing from a memory card.) Move copies images from the source to the destination, and then deletes the images from the source afterwards. Add, doesn’t move images but adds a reference to the source of the files in the Catalog. (Adding a new folder to the list of folders in Library.) This option is fine if you’re adding extra folders of images to the Catalog from a hard drive, but not recommended if you’re importing from a memory card.
It’s the first option – Copy as DNG – that you really need to think carefully about. DNG (or Digital Negative) is an Raw format first developed by Adobe in 2003 (and which Adobe continues to develop to the present day). It came about because there is no one Raw standard; each manufacturer uses their own proprietary Raw format, such as NEF (Nikon), CR2 (Canon), or ARW (Sony). DNG was developed to bring order to chaos. It was hoped that manufacturers would drop their own Raw format and embrace DNG instead. With one or two exceptions that never happened. Copy as DNG converts your camera’s Raw format permanently into DNG.
Should you do this? It’s not an easy question to answer. DNG is not supported by every other Raw editing app, so if you migrate from Lightroom later you may not be able to edit those files easily. However, DNG is an open standard and theoretically more archival than a manufacturer’s Raw format. In fifty years’ time it may be that DNG is readily accessible, but proprietary formats may not have been supported for decades. Whether that bothers you or not is very much a personal decision…
You don’t have to import every image on a memory card. You can Check all/Uncheck all, as well selecting/deselecting images by ticking on the option next to an image’s thumbnail.
On the right are the panels describing what Lightroom does to images as they’re imported into the Catalog.
Build Previews on File Handling is one to take notice of (3). The pop-up menu on Build Previews gives you several options, such as Minimal and 1:1. Previews are thumbnail previews of your images, created and saved by Lightroom for display in the Library module. Minimal (and Embedded & Sidecar) results in the smallest possible thumbnails created at import, which helps speed up the import process. Standard and 1:1 generates larger thumbnails, with 1:1 generating full-size thumbnails at the same resolution as the original files. This means that import takes far longer – and increases the size of the catalog file – but will ultimately speed up browsing and viewing images in Library. (Minimal and Embedded & Sidecar forces Lightroom to generate large previews later, as and when needed, which slows Lightroom down. So the choice is speeding up import and slowing Lightroom later, or slowing import down and making Lightroom more efficient afterwards.)
Before you finally click on Import you need to specify a Destination folder (4). This is usually a folder – Photography say – you’ve previously created or created in Import, but it could also be a folder not previously used by the Catalog, in which case the folder is then referenced by Catalog from that point on. As a further refinement, you can also have Lightroom automatically create subfolders for your images based on their date of creation by ticking Into Subfolder and by choosing By date from the pop-up menu.
That’s it for now. Next time, more information about Library and how to view and organise your photos efficiently.