The photographer’s companion to Photoshop, Lightroom is essentially a file management, pre-processing and outputting program. In this case, the output can be to print or web or straight to Photoshop for deep level image manipulation — like many of Adobe’s recent application and suites, it’s all about workflow.
You begin with the module picker, a menu at the top of what must be one of the best-looking interfaces in a while. It leads you more or less through a typical photographer’s workflow from importing images to delivering the final product. The work area is framed by two panels down the left and right hand side whose contents change according to the module you’re working in, hiding a lot of wasteful tools until you need them, and the filmstrip is a long palette at the bottom of the screen that lets you scroll through the photos in a collection or shoot.
When you import photos you can give them massive amounts of metadata — the key element in finding what you want when there’s so much of it, as any Google algorithm programmer will tell you. In this case, Lightroom metadata can include exposure and other photographic data as well as the usual names, dates and keywords
The Develop Module is where you make changes to your picture. The question that will inevitably come up is; if you have Photoshop, do you need Lightroom? The manipulation tools certainly aren’t as comprehensive. There’s a tone curve controller and plenty of sliders for contrast, toning and basic colour correction and others you’ll be familiar with from Photoshop. But while they’re not as detailed, they’re much more suited to a photographer’s know-how — setting the white balance give you choices like Tungsten, Fluoro and Flash, for example.
Lightroom seems to be more about preparing the broad strokes for an image than working on every pixel. There are plenty of presets for different contrast and colour styles like sepia and when you’re in the Develop Module the left hand panel shows you a small preview before you commit. If you need to work on it more, just select Edit in Photoshop from the Photo menu.
The Slideshow Module seems a little frivolous at first, letting you construct a slideshow complete with cheesy caption overlays and different backdrops, but it’s just the same thing you’d be doing using a combination of Photoshop batch processing and PowerPoint to deliver a slide show to a client for their review.
When you’re all done and it’s time to print, Lightroom is true to its name, giving you options of contact sheets and grouped images of every conceivable size and orientation. Or you can output the whole thing to a web gallery.
For $505, you’d expect a lot more than Google Picasa or iPhoto, and Lightroom is it. Unless you deal with dozens or hundreds of photos at a time Photoshop or Adobe Bridge can manage and process your images, but Lightroom is right in the midpoint between a heavy duty image manipulation tool and a robust image library application.