These days there are two primary digital workflows for photographers: Adobe Bridge/Camera Raw/Photoshop (all packaged into the Photoshop product) and Adobe Lightroom, with Photoshop as a supplemental tool. Both routes are equally powerful, but I would say that the Lightroom route offers the potential for large efficiency gains. This of course is more important if you shoot large quantities of images and need to process them efficiently. If you are a fine art photographer and shoot and process few images at a time, then this won’t be so much of a consideration.
Lightroom’s efficiency gains come from these key features:
- It is a streamlined application — it only has what photographers need — you are not navigating through a complex program designed to be the be-all and end-all not only for photographers but also graphic designers, illustrators, and many others. In Photoshop there are also probably 15 ways to accomplish each task, because the program has been around for years and the old ways of doing things are not dropped as new ways are developed.
- Through the entire workflow, you never have to open up an image in an application (like Camera Raw and Photoshop). From initially importing the image from a memory card through keywording and otherwise managing, enhancing, printing, creating slideshows and creating and uploading web galleries you are working within Lightroom’s modules, where all images are accessible and essentially active. So you never wait for things to open and you don’t have to think about saving and closing them.
- Collections and smart collections offer dynamic ways to group images for specific purposes. And these don’t require multiple copies of the images to be floating around.
- Virtual copies allow you to have different versions of an image (for example color and a black and white versions, different crops) without having two actual file copies — so you are not doubling storage space or having to keep track of two files.
- Easy-to-create presets allow you to apply your commonly used image enhancement, print, export, web, slideshow and other settings to groups of images with one click.
- Lightroom can manage images on multiple drives, and you can actually perform a fair amount of work with the images even if its drive is not plugged in, because Lightroom stores information about the images in its central database. For this same reason, Lightroom can also find images from your database of thousands and thousands nearly instantaneously, whether they are on or offline.
- The ability to apply Photoshop actions to images as you export them from Lightroom.
In addition, because Lightroom was created just for photographers and is streamlined, learning it and using it is much more intuititive than Photoshop.
So where does Photoshop fit in with Lightroom?
There are still things Lightroom cannot do. I find myself taking about 5-10% of my keeper straight photography images into Photoshop for further enhancements, which include more sophisticated retouching than Lightroom can perform with its spot healing brush, local changes that require complicated selections and layer masks, and the use of 3rd party noise reduction and other plug ins. In addition, while I use the LR2 Print module for all my printing now, it does not have soft proofing, which allows you to see the image with the printer profile and rendering intent applied. So when soft proofing is critical, I take the image quickly into Photoshop to verify that I will get what I expect when I print.
In any case, with the release of LR 2 with its local adjustments, I find myself in Photoshop much less than with LR1, and I am sure I will even less so when LR 3 comes out, and so on. Of course I also have to go into Photoshop to do more creative work, like creating composites with multiple photographs and applying artistic filters. I would imagine that Adobe will always preserve some reasons for us to use Photoshop!
I would suggest that you base your decision on whether to start using Lightroom on your tolerance for learning a new product, your desire for a more efficient workflow, and your ability to absorb the $299 cost, realizing that you may still want Photoshop (though you may no longer feel the need to upgrade Photoshop each 18 months — more on that in another post.) If you want to test drive Lightroom, download a free 30 day trial version from www.adobe.com. I have been searching for a high level video introduction to Lightroom that demos LR 2, but haven’t found one yet. (There are plenty that show what is new in LR2.) If you know of one, please post a comment. Otherwise I may have to create one myself!