I have been asked “What is Lightroom? and Why do I need it?” SO here is my attempt to explain it.

Lightroom is a Photo Editing/Developing program from Adobe, the makers of Photoshop. It is actually part of the Photoshop Family.

Let’s start by taking a walk down memory lane. Back when we used film, it would come out of the camera and we would go in hide in rooms with no lights and turn the film in to negatives. We would use those negatives to develop our photos on to paper. Dodge, Burn, Tone, Filters, to adjust exposure, contrast, and color, etc… Nah be real, you took it to Walgreens and picked it up in an hour…. I know I did. But anyway, I digress.

The same thing happens with Digital Pictures, the image gets captured on film, gets processed in a dark room, and out comes a JPEG. Wait what? How can this be…. we don’t put film in our DSLRs…. and we don’t go to dark rooms with our memory cards…. what can I possibly mean?

Well WE don’t put film in our DSLRs, but the Manufacturers certainly do…. but they don’t call it film… they call it a sensor. The darkroom? well they call that a CPU/Processor (Canon DiG!C). You push the shutter button and instantly a negative is made, developed, and printed to a JPEG. Amazing isn’t it?

Will I ever get to the part where you need Lightroom? yes yes… getting there.

So basically how this works is that your Camera takes the image captured by the sensor (which is really just a bunch of 1’s and 0’s) and uses some fancy programming to say “The picture should look like XYZ”. You have some control over this via settings in your camera called Styles, as well as some other settings. But basically the camera is doing the darkroom process in the camera for you.

Now, most of the time it will make the right choices. But from time to time you will see that it missed the mark. Your picture is a little bit too dark, a little too bright, maybe it has a yellow tint to it or isn’t quite as sharp is you would like it to be. Well this is because the camera can’t actually see anything (it doesn’t have eyeballs!) so it is using some preprogrammed mathematics to make some choices… and it doesn’t always get it right. In particular it struggles with multiple light sources that could be different temperatures. A Fluorescent Light, and the Sun do not actually have the same color…. get both in the same picture and your camera is going to struggle.

With DSLR’s (and even some point and shoots) you have the ability to stop this process and develop the image by yourself. It starts by telling the camera you want the digital negative. This is called a RAW file. It is the “RAW” data coming off the sensor with really no adjustments made. Consult your user manual for how to have your camera produce RAW files. Sometimes they look ok, but generally they need to be developed. This is where Lightroom comes in….

Lightroom allows you to develop your images, in a non-destructive manner. Since you are working with the “Film” you can wildly adjust Exposure, White Balance, Contrast, Colors, etc…. Non-destructive means you aren’t actually editing the file, and thus can “Undo” your mistakes. It does this with adjustment layers that basically work like transparency sheets you place over the image…

Below we have “Before” which is basically the RAW file without any processing. Notice how it looks kind of hazy, brown, the contrast is weak at best, the color is lacking and there is no depth in the image. If this came out of the camera as a JPEG, it is a throw away. I should note that LightRoom can edit JPEGS, you just have much more room to play with a RAW file.

Here we have the “After” which is my post processing in Lightroom. You will notice the haze is gone, and the colors look much better. The contrast has improved which is making the image “pop”. Notice the green that is in the background now? Ya thats grass and leaves, it is supposed to be green! The rock has texture and color and the dried up leaves in the foreground have shape and shadows giving depth. Looks much better doesn’t it?

So now you can see what Lightroom can do to your pictures. You might say… “this isn’t your picture, it is airbrushed, photoshopped, fake, etc….” Thats not really true. This is just like developing film. With a JPEG your camera does it for you, but it’s not perfect. You are just manually doing that process yourself. Even in the old “Film” days you were doing this process, remember they were film “negatives” so the images were actually “opposites”… you didn’t get them on paper with out fixing that right?

There are plenty of tutorials on how to use Lightroom out there. So I won’t get into that. If you are looking to have more control over your images appearance, start with Lightroom. It is very reasonably priced currently on sale with Amazon for $130 for a PC/Mac License. It is really easy to learn, and since it is non-destructive…. you can make mistakes and fix them over and over.

Keep shooting….

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