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What is Lightroom?

From: Up and Running with Lightroom 3

Video: What is Lightroom?

To understand what Lightroom is, visualize this chain of events. A photographer imports photos from a shoot to his computer. He reviews the photos, flagging the pics, rejecting the duds, and organizing the photos into virtual collections. He does some photo-management tasks, adding keywords, and maybe copyright information. And then he corrects his pics from the shoot, adjusting color, lighting, and contrast. He works globally when he's correcting at first, making adjustments that affect each photo as a whole, and then he hones in on details, making local edits to individual parts of the photo.

What is Lightroom?

To understand what Lightroom is, visualize this chain of events. A photographer imports photos from a shoot to his computer. He reviews the photos, flagging the pics, rejecting the duds, and organizing the photos into virtual collections. He does some photo-management tasks, adding keywords, and maybe copyright information. And then he corrects his pics from the shoot, adjusting color, lighting, and contrast. He works globally when he's correcting at first, making adjustments that affect each photo as a whole, and then he hones in on details, making local edits to individual parts of the photo.

He crops and straightens some photos, he removes digital noise from others, and he sharpens all of them. He works efficiently, synchronizing corrections he's made on one photo to others. Next, he gets busy outputting. A client asks for a particular photo, which he finds by sifting through thousands of photos using Lightroom's filters. That photo happens to be a RAW file, so he exports a copy as a JPEG to email to his client. Then he fires up his photo printer to print contact sheets, individual photos for a gallery show he's entered, and some multi-photo layouts he'll use to advertise his studio.

He constructs a slideshow of some photos, and all of that, yes all of that, he does in Lightroom. Now once in a while, he may jump to Photoshop, Lightroom's sister program, for closer edits on individual photos, like fine-tuned retouching or manipulating content or combining photos into collages or adding elaborate text or graphics. All of that continues to be the domain of Photoshop. But all of those other tasks I just mentioned can be done in Lightroom. So that should give you some insight into what Lightroom does.

It was designed to be an A-to-Z workflow solution for photographers, to help them not only with photo processing, but also with photo import, organization, output, and sharing-- and the layout of the program reflects that. Lightroom is set up in modules, which track a typical photo workflow if you read the module headers from left to right on the module picker. The Library module is for importing and organizing photos, the Develop module for correcting photos and processing RAW photos from scratch, and the Slideshow, Print and Web modules are for outputting and showcasing your work.

Underlying these modules, Lightroom is really two programs in one: an image processor for photo editing, and a database for photo management. And that geeky fact has a couple of important consequences for understanding and using Lightroom. In a nutshell, when you import a photo into Lightroom, you're not physically moving it, you're just creating a record of it in a Lightroom database that's called a catalog. From then on, everything you do to that photo, from correcting its exposure in the Develop module to adding keywords to it in the Library module, is stored in that catalog as something called metadata, a fancy word for information.

And because everything is just information, nothing you do to the photo in Lightroom changes a single pixel in that photograph. All your photo corrections are nondestructive, and that's true whether you're working on a RAW file or a JPEG, a PSD or a TIFF format file. And it means there will be a step-by-step history of all your photo adjustments that's kept in the photos metadata indefinitely. So you can undo and redo to your heart's content, today or tomorrow or even a year from now.

One last thing, Lightroom excels at processing RAW photos, which are basically just ones and zeros, when they're imported to your computer from a digital camera. You process that RAW information from scratch using the controls in the Develop module, which are very similar to the controls in Adobe Camera RAW, Photoshop's RAW processing engine. But Lightroom isn't limited to processing RAW files. If you shoot JPEGs, you can still use the controls in the Develop module to adjust their appearance. And in Lightroom 3 you can also work with PSD files-- those are Photoshop document files--and TIFF files too.

So I hope that gives you a sense of what Lightroom is. It's a pretty broad program with features that touch every part of a photographer's workflow. Its breadth and its depth mean that a user like you could spend lots of time exploring everything it has to offer. But this course is not about examining every bell and every whistle in this program. Here you won't see every single Lightroom feature, you won't even hear about some of them, and I won't be asking you to memorize or even use lots of shortcuts. This course is a direct hit on the heart of Lightroom, focusing on the key features and techniques that you need to know to get up and running with this great program.

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Up and Running with Lightroom 3

29 video lessons · 10990 viewers

Jan Kabili
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