Lightroom Fundamentals

Lightroom Fundamentals: The Import Process

2011-11-06 by jrista. 1 comments

Hello readers! Welcome to the second installment of our Lightroom Fundamentals column here on Photography.BlogOverflow. With this series, I’ll hopefully bring helpful tips, tricks and insight into one of the most powerful and essential tools in any serious photographers toolbox: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. In this article, I’ll cover the first step in any photographic editing workflow: the import process. Before Lightroom can offer its rich toolset to you for managing your library and developing your photos, you must first import. The import tool in Lightroom is quite a capable tool, and when used properly can greatly reduce the amount of time you must spend in the Library module adding tags and metadata. So, without further ado…


Starting an Import

To start a new import, go to the Library module. From the library, there are two ways to open the Import screen. The most obvious is the “Import” button at the bottom of the library contents panel to the left. This is the panel that contains the Catalog, Folders, Collections, and Publish Services sections. For those who prefer to tap their way through Lightroom, a module-specific hotkey for import also exists: CTRL+SHIFT+I. Using either of these options will bring up the import screen. As pictured above, the basic import screen is pretty simple. This compact import screen is shown when the arrow button of the lower left is toggled to point down. Clicking that button will expand the basic import screen into the advanced import screen, which provides considerably more options to tweak when importing.

The import screen contains several key areas that are common to both views. Along the top is a sequence bar that indicates where your importing from (the source), how the import will affect files (the action), and where your importing to (the destination). Below the top bar is the tools area, where you can see your sources, select the photos you wish to import, apply keywords and import handling options, and configure the import destination. First thing to do is pick a source. Along the bottom are a couple additional options, and the “Import” and “Cancel” buttons. To the left of the bottom bar is a button with an arrow. Click this to toggle between basic and advanced view. In the middle is a list where you can select or save import option presets. Import presets are a handy way of instantly selecting a source, import copy type, file handling and renaming, keywords, and destination options. We’ll cover more of these options a little later.


Performing and Import

Click the button in the lower left corner of the import screen to go to the advanced view, if you are not already there. In advanced view, you have the full options of the import screen at your fingertips. To the left is the source panel, which lists your available sources. Sources are divided up into devices and files & folders. Lightroom is capable of recognizing a fairly diverse range of devices…pretty much anything your computer can handle, including cameras, USB drives, phones, ipods and other music players, flash cards plugged into a card reader device, etc. (Note: Devices usually do not show up until they are plugged in, so make sure you turn a source device on and make sure it is properly connected to see it.) In addition to the source panel, you can also click the upper left part of the top bar to display a menu of sources in either basic or advanced mode. Once you have selected a source, give Lightroom some time to find all the images available on it. If you have a camera attached with a couple thousand photos, it can take a while for the count (in basic view) or the previews (in advanced view) to transfer to the computer and appear.

Once your photos are available, you can brows through them via the grid in the center of the advanced import view. Before selecting any photos, choose the import action at the top. Your options are Copy as DNG, Copy, Move, and Add. When importing from a device, the only two available options tend to be Copy as DNG and Copy, while Move and Add are available when importing from a folder. A note about Copy as DNG. This can be a useful option when importing RAW images. The DNG, or “Digital NeGative”, format is a container format. It is capable of storing image data as well as metadata like keywords, EXIF, etc. Using a digital negative can be useful from a physical file management standpoint, as all information, including original RAW data as well as previews and metadata, are kept in a single file. For purists who prefer to keep their original camera-native RAW format, the Copy option is what you will want to use. It is important to note that copying RAW images will copy any camera settings and EXIF information, but such metadata will only be stored in the Lightroom Catalog and not as part of the RAW file (unless your camera’s RAW format supports embedded metadata.) You still have the option of exporting XMP metadata from Lightroom so it will be saved alongside your original RAW images…just don’t forget to back up the .xmp files as well as the raw files when archiving.

By default, every photo on the card is selected for import. You have a couple options for tuning that. Below the grid of previews, you have two buttons: Check All and Uncheck All. A quick way to select only the photos you wish to import, assuming you don’t wish to import everything, is to click the Uncheck All button once to deselect all photos. Find and select the first photo in a range you wish to import, then find and click, while holding the SHIFT key, the last photo in a range you wish to import. All of the photos between and including the first and last will be highlighted. Clicking the small dark gray square in the upper left corner of one of the highlighted photos will check all highlighted photos for import. You can select different ranges with SHIFT, as well as select multiple individual photos with CTRL, and check off multiple independent selections for import this way. Quite handy for only importing sets of photos you wish to work with, and saving the rest for later. In addition to selectively picking files for import, you can also choose to automatically exclude any suspected duplicates from even being available for import. First, click the “New Photos” link along the top of the preview grid. Second, in the right-hand panel’s File Handling section, check off “Don’t import suspected duplicates.” This will tell Lightroom to exclude any photos it believes have previously been imported and exist in the current catalog.

The final step before actually importing photos is to configure destination options in the right-hand panel. There are several sections in this panel, including File Handling, File Renaming, Apply During Import, and Destination. Depending on how you use the import tool, you may be able to collapse some of these panels if you never find any use for them. File handling is pretty basic. As mentioned before, it allows you to filter out any suspected duplicates so they do not get imported if your catalog already has them. Additionally, you can choose how previews are rendered from a variety of options, including Standard and full-size 1:1 previews. Finally, you have the option to simultaneously copy any imported images to a backup location immediately as part of import. This is pretty handy when you have a small but high-speed work drive (such as an SSD or a RAID drive), and a secure external drive where you keep a full archive of every photo. This panel can often be considered “set and forget“, as the options do not need to change most of the time. I usually configure it with Standard previews, Filter duplicates, and back up to my NAS device on my network via a mapped drive.

The File Renaming section allows you to configure how your imported files are renamed. Some may not find this section useful as they simply do not care what the files are named. By default, most of the file names used by cameras for each image are rather archaic, such as _MG_4459.CR2. For those who prefer to have meaningful names, you can use this section to rename your files according to a variety of preset templates, or even define your own custom template. Type in a base file name into the Custom Text area, and optionally specify a starting number for sequential templates. You can choose whether to change the extensions to lower- or upper-case, or simply leave them as they are. Finally, a sample of your new file names is shown (to see the whole thing if it is truncated, simply point to the sample and a tooltip will appear.) When it comes to custom templates, the options are quite extensive. A template editor allows you to build custom filenames with a wide variety of options, including custom sequence numbering, EXIF metadata, and even custom metadata information. For those who like to keep track of the native camera numeric suffix, that is also an option.

The next section is one of the most useful in the import screen. Using this section, you can apply both default development settings from a saved template, apply default IPTC and other custom metadata, as well as tag each imported image with a set of default keywords. The first option in this section is Develop Settings. From this list, you can select any of the built in or user custom development presets. Development presets allow you to apply settings from any and all of the development tools in the Develop module. Common presets include converting to black & white, duotoning, BW filtration, etc. Custom presets can be created in the develop module, a feature we will cover in a later article. Unlike the Library module, where you can select develop presets, crop settings, white balance settings, etc., the import screen only allows you to select just the preset…the other tools are not available. Develop presets will be applied to every photo that is being imported.

The two other tools in this section are Metadata and Keywords. The metadata tool allows you to create and apply full sets of non-EXIF, non-Keyword IPTC metadata  to each image being imported. This includes settings like copyright details, creator contact info, image details, even IPTC extensions such as models, artwork, administrative, and more. Its best to use this tool to apply generic metadata that does not contain image-specific details. Some of the obvious data is creator contact info and copyright. Any metadata that is likely to be specific to each image should be excluded, and managed per image in the Library. It is possible to create and save multiple metadata presets that fit different kinds of photography, which may be selected from a drop down list in the future. The keywords tool allows you to tag each imported image with a default set of keywords. As with the metadata, it is best to apply keywords that are common to all of the images being imported. Unlike metadata, it is pretty easy to remove keywords from multiple images in the Library module. If you have a batch of images to import that are all mostly the same, with a minority that might possibly require the removal of some keywords, its actually a good idea to tag everything with all the keywords, and remove keywords that don’t make sense from the few individual photos after import.

The last section in the import screen is the Destination section. This section is pretty strait forward, as it allows you to choose what folder to save the imported photos to. Lightroom supports organizing imported images into a date-based hierarchy automatically if you prefer, or it allows you to be a little more choosy and select an existing folder without any date hierarchy. You also have the option of specifying an explicit child folder to be created in whatever destination you choose with the “Into Subfolder” option. There are two primary schools of thought when it comes to importing photos into Lightroom. One is a pretty simplistic approach and works well on catalogs that only have a few tens of thousands of photos…import everything into a single folder. Lightroom has extensive and very powerful search and organization capabilities, and storing everything in a single folder simplifies Lightrooms disk access when it performs a search. The alternative approach is to store images in a custom folder hierarchy. This approach tends to take more time to manage, and for large libraries with a complex physical storage structure, search performance can take a hit. On the flip side, you have your photography organized into a physical folder structure which can be useful for manually finding photos with other tools besides lightroom, specifically those that lack any kind of search capability. If you intend to use Lightroom exclusively for managing your photographic catalogs, I recommend the first approach. If you intend to use a variety of alternative tools in addition to Lightroom, a more useful physical folder structure might offer greater benefit.

Last but not least, hit the Import button! Depending on how many photos you have selected for import, it may take only a few seconds to minutes or even a half hour or so. To maximize import performance, use the fastest interface you can find for connecting your device. USB 2.0 ports are pretty quick, but with the size of RAW files these days, a large import can still take quite a while. If you have the option of using a faster built-in card reader, it might be a better option to plug your memory card directly into the computer (note that many card readers still use USB 2.0 to connect, so this may not be an improvement.) If you have chosen to generate full size 1:1 previews, Lightroom will usually do that as a lazy parallel process. After a few photos have imported, full-size previews will be generated on another background process. This can tend to slow down an import, however if you wish to cancel the preview rendering process, there is usually a small progress bar in the upper left-hand corner of Lightroom with a small X at its end for each background process. You can cancel the preview rendering if it slows down your import too much. Lightroom is a fully threaded application, and you can start working with your photos the moment they appear in the Lightroom library viewport, even if the import process is still ongoing. You might notice a little lag every so often, but you can start working your import right off the bat. If for whatever reason you find yourself viewing the wrong photos, Lightroom always keeps your most recent import in the Current/Previous Import catalog in the Library (the name changes depending on the state of import…if you are importing at the current moment, this catalog will be called Current Import…otherwise it is called Previous Import). Clicking this catalog will always show you the most recently imported set of photos.

Well, happy importing! Till next time…


Next Up

Now that we have covered the import tool in Lightroom, its time to dive into the Library module. The library is fairly extensive, offering a multitude of tools, search features, etc. The next several articles in this column will be dedicated to managing your library, covering everything from creating and managing catalogs, to applying metadata, to picking and culling, to organizing your work with collections, to filtering and searching your photos. If you have any brilliant tips you would like to share that you may have discovered while using the Library module, let me know! If I don’t already know it, I’ll be sure to include it in one of the next articles.

Lightroom Fundamentals

2011-10-24 by jrista. 8 comments

Hello readers! Welcome to the first installment of a new column here on Photography.BlogOverflow: Lightroom Fundamentals. With this series, I’ll hopefully bring helpful tips, tricks and insight into one of the most powerful and essential tools in any serious photographers toolbox: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. We’ll start with the basics, covering what Lightroom is, how it is designed, and what a photographic editing workflow is. From there, we’ll move onto progressively more advanced topics, covering every aspect of this powerful editing tool. Some of the more advanced installments may also involve work with Adobe Photoshop, as there is very tight and seamless integration between the two products. Having a copy of Photoshop is not essential, and I’ll try to make sure any articles that involve it are clearly denoted. For the rest, its best to have a copy of Lightroom 3.x available. If you do not own the product, and cannot purchase it, you might want to give the free trial a go (the orange “Try” button to the right on this page. Note, the trial is limited, so you might want to wait for a bit, peruse through some of the articles, and try them out in a more compressed time-frame that fits within the trial). So, without further ado…

What is Lightroom?

Before diving right in, lets start with what Lightroom is. For anyone who is familiar with film processing in a literal darkroom…think of Lightroom as your digital darkroom. For everyone else, Lightroom is a tool designed to facilitate a digital photography development workflow. Modern digital cameras, namely DSLR type cameras, but also many of the new varieties of professional digital cameras that have arrived on the scene in recent years such as electronic viewfinder cameras, micro 4/3rds cameras, and any of a variety of interchangeable lens cameras without a reflex mirror and viewfinder, all support an image format called RAW. In the digital world, a RAW image is very much akin to a strip of film from an analog camera. In and of itself, it doesn’t look like much…and quite often cannot be directly viewed. A RAW image is simply a data dump of all the sensor pixels and camera settings from the moment a photograph was taken.  Like film, a RAW image must be developed to produce a final photograph. However, unlike film…a RAW file is processed with software rather than chemicals, optical enlargers and photographic papers. Lightroom is that software. Lightroom is the darkroom of the digital age, the bit bath the turns your digital RAW images into artistic photographs enveloped in your own personal style, published to your preferred online exhibitions, and printed on the perfect paper of your choice.

Like many a darkroom, Lightroom is more than just a tool to develop photos and produce prints. It is also a tool to manage your photographic library, compare photographs and examine them in detail, publish your work to various online sites like Flickr or SmugMug, develop prints, and even create slide shows for PDF, video, or web. It provides an extensive set of tools to view and compare photos, organize photographs in collections, search your catalogs, and much more. Lightroom is a complete digital photography management, post-processing, and publication tool that meets the needs of all but the most demanding photographers who require exacting precision and total, unfettered control. To meet the needs of the latter, Lightroom also provides seamless integration with Adobe Photoshop, where you have access to more advanced editing tools, such as full curves, layered editing, and the full extent of Photoshop’s tools at your fingertips. Edits made in Photoshop appear in Lightroom, including those saved to TIFF or JPEG format. It should be made clear that while Lightroom offers an extensive set of tools for post-process development, its tools are sometimes less advanced than those found in Photoshop. One such tool is the Curves panel, which only supports a single curve, and does not have support for independent RGB curve editing. In other cases, Lightroom offers more advanced or effective tools than Photoshop. On example of this would be the noise reduction tool, which is truly superb. (Most of the Lightroom develop tool set can be found in Adobe Camera RAW, or ACR, which is part of Photoshop. ACR lacks the library management and print/publication features of Lightroom, however…and from a workflow standpoint is considerably less useful.)

Familiarizing Yourself with Lightroom

When you start Lightroom, you are presented with a nice, dark UI that is ideal for working long hours in front of a screen. The low light emission is easy on the eyes, and really helps your photography pop. Lightroom itself has a modular design, which lends itself well to a largely linear workflow. By workflow, I mean the process by which you import photos from your camera, organize them, develop them, and “publish” them to one or more sources (such as web and print.) Another popular image editing tool, Apple Aperture, generally provides a non-linear workflow, allowing you to perform just about any action at any time once images have been imported. There are pros and cons to both methods, a linear and non-linear workflow, and in many cases the two can compliment each other. Sadly, Aperture is only available on the Mac platform, and is therefor unavailable to the millions of PC users who might prefer a non-linear solution. So, for those of you who prefer linear, and those who are begrudgingly stuck with it, here is an introduction on Lightroom’s modular UI and a general overview of an efficient linear workflow.

The Lightroom UI is divided into five separate modules: Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print, and Web. Each module is responsible for a specific, cohesive part of managing a digital photography workflow. The benefits of this modular design reveal themselves when you see how many tools are available in each module…which can be quite a few. Too many, in fact, to display them all at once, and still make them easy to find and use. (A contrary design might be found in Aperture, which always presents certain UI tools, and provides access to others via menus, hotkeys, etc.) Since any tool that involves photography is primarily focused on the photos themselves, Lightroom is optimized to provide as much screen space as possible to that end. The largest area of the Lightroom UI, the display surface or Viewport, is found in the center of the application. Your photos, either individually or as part of a grid, are always found here. Surrounding the viewport are the four primary control areas: The Module Picker above, the Panels to either side, and the Filmstrip below. Every module has the same layout, and the Module Picker and Filmstrip are always the same. The Panels change for each module, presenting a customized set of tools tuned for working within that module. There may also be additional tools embedded within the viewport, often along the bottom, possibly along the top or sides, depending on the module.

Lightroom’s UI is very flexible and customizable, and any part of the UI except for the viewport may be collapsed into the side it resides in. Lightroom may even be configured to run in full screen mode, using every scrap of available space to give you the maximum work area possible when working your photos. Continuing the flexible theme, Lightroom can be controlled by both the mouse and keyboard. Every command and tool available within the UI is accessible with the mouse, either via one of the panels or within a menu. Context menus with additional tools not present in a panel are often available by right-clicking a photo in the viewport or filmstrip, and sometimes by right-clicking a tool within a panel. Lightroom also provides an extensive set of keyboard shortcuts, or hotkeys, that can control many of the available commands. Hotkeys, combinations of keystrokes, allow quick access or application of commands without the need to scroll a panel or find a menu. Within Lightroom, some hotkeys are global and accessible from any module, while other hotkeys are specific to each module. You can discover the available hotkeys in one of three ways: by looking for keystroke combinations along the right-hand side of menus, by using the global hotkey CTRL+/ to display a non-intrusive popup containing module-specific hotkeys, or via the Lightroom help system by searching for “Keyboard Shortcuts” within Lightroom topics. I highly recommend users explore and learn the available hotkeys in Lightroom, at least for the modules that will be used most often. Keyboard shortcuts can greatly improve the efficiency of your workflow, particularly in cases where using a mouse is disruptive.

Working *with* Lightroom

Now that you have a cursory familiarity with Lightroom’s UI, its time to start learning how to use it effectively. The modular nature of Lightroom allows for an efficient use of screen space that highlights the photography…however it can also be quite disruptive to productivity if it is used incorrectly. Earlier I mentioned that Lightroom supports a largely linear workflow. At a high level, this is enforced by the order of the modules listed in the Module Picker: Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print, Web. These tabs can generally be translated into the following high-level task flow: Import > Organize > Develop > Publish. A new user is often inclined to import their photos within the Library module, and once that is finished, head strait to the Develop module to start tweaking. While not necessarily an invalid approach, later on down the road it can lead to a lot of manual digging through a large and growing library of photos to find past work. While the Develop module likely contains the key tools most photographers need to work with in most cases, it does not contain any of the photo management and organization tools. Neither do the other three modules. To find the necessary tools to manage and organize your photos, you must use the Library module. One could always return to the library after developing, or even during the development process.

Contrary to what may seem natural, a more efficient approach is to apply any metadata, decide your picks and rejects, and otherwise catalog as necessary to organize your photos immediately after import in the Library, before moving on to development. There are a couple reasons to approach library management this way. For one, after import you stay in the Library module, and all the photos you just imported are listed in the viewport. At this point, your photos are ideally prepped to be keyworded, have any additional metadata added to them, and appropriately culled. More importantly, however, is the nature of Lightroom’s Library module. Each set of photos imported is automatically listed in the “Previous Imports” collection. Any subsequent import will therefor override the prior import. Importing, developing, importing, developing, etc. can create a large backlog of photos that have little or no useful metadata associated with them, which makes finding them in the future a difficult and often frustrating process. Once an import has been updated with useful metadata, moving on to any other module for additional work is “safe”, and finding your work if necessary is usually a strait forward search, or possibly easier than that.

The Develop module is likely where most users will spend the bulk of their time. This is where you apply any edits you need to the photos you have imported and organized. The tool set available in this module is extensive, and the vast bulk of image editing can be performed here. There may be some cases where advanced users need more power, however in most cases the development tools should be sufficient to process most photos to your liking. RAW photo development with Lightroom is also a non-destructive process, and your original photo masters are always preserved in their original import location unless you explicitly choose to delete them. Each edit applied to a photo is atomic, and capable of being undone if necessary. One may even go backwards and forwards though a history of edits, and differences between points in time may be observed. Exposure control, basic curves, color adjustments and toning, detail tuning, camera adjustments such as lens corrections and tone curves, and much, much more can be edited in the Develop module.

Once an import has been fully developed, users can move on to the publication part of the process. Lightroom offers a variety of options for publishing your work. This includes creating Slideshows or Web Sites, uploading your work to online galleries like Flickr, SmugMug, and others, or printing your work. Publication should generally be the final step in your Lightroom workflow. You will generally want your photos to be fully developed before publishing them. Even if you are the type who prefers to do minimal post-processing work, there are always outliers where you over- or underexpose, did not have the shot aligned correctly, need a smidgen of color or toning work, etc. Once should always perform at least a cursory overview of your work in the development module before moving on to publishing. Once you are ready to publish, you have a wide variety of options. Lightroom’s publishing options support online publishing to various well-known photography sites, such as Flickr, SmugMug, and even FaceBook. Additional publishing plugins can be downloaded from Adobe’s Lightroom Exchange. A bit frustratingly, the publish plugins actually exist in the Library module, rather than within a more appropriate module. Additional publication options exist in the Slideshow, Print, and Web modules.

The Slideshow module allows you to create slideshows from any photo in your library, with the optional addition of some metadata such as the photographer, camera settings info, etc. Slideshows may be published to PDF or video in MP4 format up to 1080p resolution. The Web module provides a quick and easy way to create whole entire websites to showcase your photography. It contains a useful variety of templates that can be used to display your photography in the best complimentary format. Both straightforward HTML as well as Flash designs are supported. A handy layout alternative to HTML and Flash called “Alright” allow you to create very professional exhibitions of your work that can be uploaded to your personal websites at your own domain name. Publication to the web is supported via FTP. Finally, the Print module provides a basic but extremely useful tool to print your work. Unlike Photoshop, Lightroom’s layout capabilities are very advanced, allowing you total control over paper size, margins, even multi-photo layout grids with text and metadata options. Lightroom provides full control over print resolution, ICM, etc. for printing on custom papers and fine art papers. Unlike Photoshop, Lightroom does not offer any color and gamut correction tools, so if you require the best print with the best color and tone rendition possible, using Photoshop or your preferred RIP is still the better option.

Future Installments

Hopefully this introduction and overview of Lightroom’s built-in workflow support will help you get started using Lightroom effectively. Lightroom is an extensive program with many complex options and tools that will take some time to fully explore. It can take months to fully learn all it has to offer, and even then, you’ll find  yourself learning of new tools and new tricks a year or two down the road. More installments to this column are planned for the future, and will explore in detail the major modules of Lightroom, as well as it’s integration with Photoshop and even some of its publish plugins. As each module is a fairly extensive tool in and of itself, there will likely be several articles dedicated to each one. Articles will follow the natural process that Lightroom best supports, as described above, starting with photo import, working through library organization and management, a detailed exploration of photo development, and finally ending with the various publish plugins and modules and all they have to offer. I would also like to open up a channel for recommendations, tips and tricks, and any other knowledge readers may have about Lightroom. I know a fair bit of tips and tricks myself, however I have by no means explored every tool, setting, command, or option available in Lightroom. I would also like insight into other photographers approach to using Lightroom for all kinds of photography, as I primarily do nature and landscape photography myself. I also wish to encourage anyone who wishes to contribute any blogs on Lightroom to forge forward and do so! This column need not be the only source of Lightroom knowledge published to our blog. Happy reading!